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Trading for a Very Specific Kind of Shortstop

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It's early yet, Spring Training-wise, so what's there to do but overreact about sub-atomic news particles? Joe Strauss's recent Tweet that it's "appearing more likely Cardinals trade for infield depth than sign it" doesn't make sense to me yet, with Felipe Lopez both cheaper than most tradable shortstops and not (as of this morning) demanding the Cardinals send another player away in exchange for his services, but whether it's for Lopez leverage or not it is apparently something that's going on. 

The only veteran who's shaken loose in recent weeks is Carlos Guillen, made a little less relevant in Detroit by Johnny Damon's arrival. Guillen can still hit—he managed a .376 OBP in 2008—but he hasn't played shortstop since 2007, which makes him a switch-hitting, rich-man's Julio Lugo. He's also similar to Julio Lugo inasmuch as he's making $13 million in 2010 and 2011. Interesting player, interesting fit as temporary shortstop, third base contender, and left-handed bench bat, remarkably uninteresting contract. 

And that's the problem with a trade like this—there's a very small sweet spot the Cardinals have to hit. A prospective infield acquisition would have to be—

  • Better than Tyler Greene, so somewhere more than a win above a replacement shortstop.  
  • Not too much better than Tyler Greene, so that the Cardinals can afford him; in the current farm system only Jaime Garcia, David Freese, and Lance Lynn seem ready to be average right now, and that's the kind of player the Cardinals would be looking for in any significant move. 
  • Cheaper than Felipe Lopez, because if he's better than Felipe Lopez he violates clause two. 
  • Who meeting all these criteria exists, and what would the Cardinals give up to get him? It's like trading a player through the proverbial eye of a needle, and to be honest I don't think it'll happen. But my best guess at the answer for the latter, much as it pains me to trade him even hypothetically, is Allen Craig

Because the Cardinals are basically looking for the shortstop version of Allen Craig. The third base/left field version of Allen Craig gets his value differently—this hypothetical shortstop would probably account for most of his value on defense, with questionable offensive upside, and yes, I realize this is sounding like Tyler Greene again—but if the shape of their value would be different its mass would have to be pretty similar. 

But who's out there like that? Reid Brignac, currently fighting with Sean Rodriguez (I'm a big Sean Rodriguez fan) for time at second base in Tampa Bay? Brendan Wood, the autopilot response to shortstop problems for the last two or three years, has finally got a spot in Anaheim to himself. 

The minor league free agent scene is little better—the Cardinals already got the pick of the infield litter when they signed Ruben Gotay, and even the Miguel Cairo/Juan Castro class of mediocre infielder has already been picked through. A guy like Wilson Betemit, for instance, would have been an interesting flyer to take, but Kansas City signed him all the way back in November. There's not much left when your shortstop has surgery in February. 

Right now the Cardinals have two less-than-optimal replacements for Brendan Ryan. Julio Lugo can't play shortstop and might not be able to hit anymore, and Tyler Greene has exactly one season to his name that suggests he's a Major League hitter—even a bad Major League hitter. But unless the Cardinals are willing to really dent an already weak minor league system the best non-Lopez scenario is that they come up with a third less-than-optimal replacement, and one of the three ends up in Memphis.