Throughout the 2010s, the Cardinals have consistently been rumored to be in the market for a new shortstop. Following the 2010 season, after rumored squabbles between manager Tony LaRussa and incumbent shortstop Brendan Ryan, the latter was traded for Maikel Cleto. Ryan's replacement, Ryan Theriot, was supplanted at the 2011 trade deadline by the newly acquired Rafael Furcal. After Furcal suffered an injury in 2012 which carried over into 2013, Pete Kozma became the top choice. And even after Jhonny Peralta signed a 4-year, $53 million contract after the 2013 season, there were still sporadic Troy Tulowitzki rumors until the Blue Jays mercifully rid Baseball Internet of its favorite hypothetically moving piece.
But with Peralta's injury comes a new wrinkle in the recurring "Cardinals pursue shortstops" story: actual, pressing need. While the Cardinals have internal options--primarily Aledmys Diaz, Greg Garcia, and Jedd Gyorko--none is an established everyday MLB shortstop. And on Sunday, MLB Trade Rumors reported that the Cardinals are considering such a player in Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Ahmed, who turns 26 today, appears on the surface to be at least somewhat disposable to the Diamondbacks. With the acquisition of Jean Segura from the Brewers, Ahmed is now at #2 on the team's depth chart and it would likely require Segura or second baseman Chris Owings to miss time in order for Ahmed to receive significant playing time.
Let's start with the good about Nick Ahmed: he is a very, very good fielder. Ahmed was acclaimed defensively in the minors and although his 1198 2/3 career innings at shortstop in MLB are not an overwhelming amount, his stats in the big leagues so far reflect his initial acclaim.
Among all shortstops with 1000 or more innings over the last two seasons, the MLB leader in Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games is former Braves and now Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons. And #2 is Nick Ahmed. In 2015, only Simmons and Adeiny Hechavarria surpassed Ahmed's UZR among the 23 qualified shortstops. For reference, while Ahmed was 3rd, Jhonny Peralta was 22nd.
At the plate, however, the prognosis for Ahmed is a bit more grim.
Of the 25 shortstops with 450 or more plate appearances last season, Nick Ahmed's wRC+ of 67 tied Alcides Escobar of the Royals for 23rd. Ironically, it was only Ahmed's likely Arizona replacement Segura who trailed Ahmed with a 62 wRC+.
But the question isn't Ahmed vs. Segura. The question is Ahmed vs. what the Cardinals currently have to offer. Since the in-house options do not have much of a track record to which Ahmed can be compared (Gyorko on defense; Diaz or Garcia at all), here's how Ahmed stacks up with recent Cardinals shortstops.
|Brendan Ryan, 2010||486||2||6.8%||12.3%||55||14.1||1.2|
|Ryan Theriot, 2011||483||1||6.0%||8.5%||87||-14.8||0.2|
|Rafael Furcal, 2012||531||5||8.3%||10.7%||86||-11.2||0.6|
|Pete Kozma, 2013||448||1||7.6%||20.3%||49||8.0||0.0|
|Jhonny Peralta, 2014||628||21||9.2%||17.8%||120||12.7||5.3|
|Jhonny Peralta, 2015||640||17||7.8%||17.3%||105||-6.9||1.7|
|Nick Ahmed, Career||534||10||6.0%||17.0%||62||13.9||
Nick Ahmed doesn't appear to be particularly close to 2014 Jhonny Peralta, and that's fine. But what he appears to be is something close to Brendan Ryan: more power and a slightly more refined overall offensive package, while giving away a little bit defensively.
This may seem like a bit of a knock on Ahmed, but in the cases of Ryan and Ahmed, each is a useful MLB-caliber player, if not a superstar. In theory, Ahmed could compliment, say, an Aledmys Diaz; while Diaz has a bigger bat, Ahmed could fill in as a defensive replacement even if Ahmed is unable to improve upon his previously lackluster offense. And that's a worst-case scenario for Ahmed.
Any reasonable fan should be happy to have Nick Ahmed with the Cardinals in Spring Training in a vacuum.
AZ Snake Pit looked at the rumor yesterday, building upon Peter Gammons's speculation that Luke Weaver could be the type of prospect the Diamondbacks seek. Of particular note is that the Diamondbacks' off-season suggests that they are trying to win sooner rather than later, with such moves as signing Zack Greinke.
Nick Ahmed for free would be a wonderful thing. But to trade the organization's 5th best prospect by VEB's rankings and get not a cornerstone-type shortstop but rather a bit player would be quite underwhelming. The Diamondbacks may be motivated sellers, but they aren't in the business of giving players away. And unless the asking price turns out to be noticeably beneath what is hypothesized, I do not expect nor want the Cardinals to make a major push for Nick Ahmed.