The Cardinals have a need for a middle infielder at the major league club, what does recent history indicate the cost would be in prospect(s) to acquire such a player?
First and foremost, lets take a look at two targets that have been connected (if even in fan speculation) this offseason, Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera. Amongst shortstops with at least 300 plate appearances, both Lowrie and Cabrera have almost identical wRC+ (via Fangraphs) with 111 to 112. Remember, 100 is average, so both players are in the top 5 for shortstops. Cabrera is 27 and won't turn 28 until after the 2013 season. Jed Lowrie is 28 and will turn 29 before the 2013 season. The main difference between the two players is their play with the glove. Cabrera has averaged -10 runs with the glove per season, his main issue being a lack of range. Jed Lowrie has been better, but hasn't had a positive year with the glove since 2009. However, with the most innings of his career this year, he was about average at shortstop.
Here's a very recent deal that does not include an infielder, but I think it comes close when you look at a player who plays a highly demanding defensive positions.
Minnesota Twins trade CF Denard Span to Washington Nationals for RHP Alex Meyer.
Denard Span is a player who plays a premium defensive position and is certainly within the top 10 best defensive centerfielders in the game. He is not a big power threat at the plate with a career slugging percentage of .389, but he knows how to get on base. Span is probably a better defender than Cabrera and Lowrie, but they have got the advantage over him at the plate. Finding comps is an exercise in futility, but I think they are all three within the ballpark when it comes to overall value to a team.
Let's take a look at who the Nationals gave up for Span in Alex Meyer. Meyer is a player who was drafted out of Kentucky in 2011 and was signed to a $2 million bonus. He pitched at both A and high A this year with a 3.09 K/BB ratio between both levels. From Mark Anderson at Baseball Prospectus after the trade:
Alex Meyer is an absolutely massive guy with an imposing presence on the mound. His long, lean frame can be difficult to keep in check throughout his delivery, but he made strides in 2012 with his consistency. With that improved consistency, Meyer’s fastball that sits in the 94-95 mph range found the strike zone more frequently. He can run his fastball up to 98 mph and there are times when his fastball plays up a grade because his long extension gets the ball on hitters more quickly than they expect when it comes out of his hand. Backing up his fastball, Meyer has a true plus slider that can miss bats and helps him maintain a high strikeout rate. His changeup is well below average and he rarely shows feel for throwing it.
And here's Kevin Goldstein,also from Baseball Prospectus on the Nats top 11 in January of 2012:
The Good: Meyer is a pure power pitcher. He's an imposing presence on the mound and sits in the low-to-mid 90s with a fastball that can touch 98 mph and features a heavy downward plane due to his size. He'll flash a plus slider and has some feel for a change. He's an intense competitor who worked hard to hone his raw abilities.
The Bad: Meyer's body and complicated delivery can lead to command and control issues. His changeup comes in a bit too firm at times and could use more velocity separation. He often racks up high pitch counts, and his overall package profiles better as a closer for some.
The one player that seems to match closely with Meyer is the Cardinals' RHP Tyrell Jenkins. Jenkins is further away from the majors than Meyer, but may have a higher upside when it is all said and done. Jenkins also was drafted in the first round and was also given a bonus over a million dollars.
Here's Kevin Goldstein again before the 2012 season: (Emphasis mine to show similarities.)
The Good: There are few more athletic pitchers than Jenkins in the minors. He has long levers, but his silky-smooth delivery allows him to throw strikes with an 89-95 mph fastball that should sit more consistently at the upper parts of that range as his game matures.
The Bad: Jenkins remains a very raw product. He'll occasionally show an impressive curveball and has some feel for a changeup, but they're both inconsistent offerings that will require plenty of refinement. He needs innings and repetition more than anything.
And here's Goldstein's former podcasting compadre Jason Parks on Jenkins after the 2012 season:
The 19-year-old Texan has a plus fastball, a pitch that can already work in the 91-95 mph range, and has touched higher in bursts. His curveball is a bat-missing weapon, a heavy, vertical breaker with depth, and every source I spoke with projected it as either a plus pitch or a potential plus pitch. Like his changeup—which shows good action to the arm side and deception from the fastball—the curve is still more flash than fire, but both have above-average potential.
Neither the Indians or Astros are looking like teams that will challenge for playoff position in the American League and both would be able to afford the wait until at least 2015 for Jenkins. For the Cardinals, he and his sky-high upside are a bit of a luxury with three high profile pitchers primed to graduate into the major leagues. Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez are all ahead of Jenkins on the depth chart and much closer to the majors.
If pitching prospects don't fit their fancy, the Astros are in motion to the American League and are in search of a Designated Hitter and the Cleveland Indians ran out the rotten husk of Travis Hafner most often at DH last season. Both teams could be a good fit for the Cardinals tailor made DH prospect, Matt Adams.
Would either the Indians or the Astros take any one of Tyrell Jenkins or Matt Adams and either one of Pete Kozma or Ryan Jackson for their shortstops? Would it take more? How much more?