The Red Sox are looking for an upgrade at shortstop this offseason and their best opportunity would be to acquire either Elvis Andrus or Asdrubal Cabrera in a trade.
Jose Iglesias has continuously been called the future of the shortstop position for the Boston Red Sox. However, he has yet to step out of the shadows and cement his spot on the roster. His defense was amazing in the minors and we've seen flashes of that brilliance in his short time in the majors, but the knock on Iglesias has always been hitting.
In the low minors it was serviceable, but he never showed much progression as he ascended the ranks. While hitting is not crucial to the defensive whiz, it seems the Red Sox want to see more production before giving Iglesias the starting role.
If that weren't the case, the spot would be his based on defensive merit. Thus, the Red Sox are looking elsewhere.
Stephen Drew is the only available free agent shortstop worth the Red Sox giving a second look, but they're better off passing on a guy who's added injury problems to his declining offensive play. Instead, the Sox should look to the trade market and use some of the surplus of young, quality prospects they have to improve the team.
And what do you know? There are two shortstops being shopped around, to varying degrees, that would fill this great need.
The Two Players
The first is Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers. Outside of the Boston Herald's Michael Silverman suggesting the Red Sox try to acquire Andrus, there have been no official reports linking the two clubs. There's no reason to doubt the Red Sox have interest, though.
Andrus has been a mainstay at the top of the Texas Rangers order since getting promoted for the 2009 season. In addition to being the runner-up for Rookie of the Year that season, Andrus also has two All-Star selections.
Andrus's strength, much like Iglesias's, comes in his defense. He has been one of the better shortstops in the Major Leagues.
However, he is not a slouch offensively. He has seen a gradual increase in all of his slash categories, and his speed and ability to steal bases constant makes him a threat at the top of any order. He's also still young and could see even more improvement.
Coincidentally, he is the opposite of Andrus. Where Andrus is valued first on defense and then offense, Cabrera is valued on his offense before his defense. And, depending on what stats you look at, you may not want to look at Cabrera's defense at all. According to Fangraphs, Cabrera has been a lousy defender at shortstop.
He more than makes up for it with his offense, though. Cabrera has been a good hitter for the majority of his career in Cleveland, but he's recently added some pop to his bat. If he would repeat or better his 2010 stat line (.273/.332/.460, 25 home runs, 96 RBI) at Fenway, then his offense will more than make up for his lousy defense.
The all important factor here is the price it would take for Boston to acquire either of these two shortstops.The fact that both players are under contract, modestly priced, for the next couple of seasons means they won't go easily.
For Andrus, there are conflicting reports. Jon Heyman of CBSSports tweeted in late September that the Rangers weren't shopping Andrus. Baseball America's Jim Callas noted (via dallasnews.com), though, that Texas could trade Andrus, but it would probably be straight up for equal value.
The Indians, if they are to trade Cabrera, are looking for young, quality starting pitching in return, according to ESPN's Buster Olney. There was also speculation that the Indians could take a page from the Marlins or, coincidentally, the Red Sox before them, and trade away Cabrera with added salary relief.
Luckily for Boston, they are capable trade partners in either situation.
If Texas is looking for equal value in return for Andrus, then they have a willing trade partner in the Red Sox who might be shopping, according to Silverman's article, Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury's injury history requires a second look, but he is the ideal replacement for Josh Hamilton in Texas's lineup.
An Ellsbury-for-Andrus swap makes sense in terms of equal value. Ellsbury is a better player than Andrus, but he is older, with a slight injury history and will cost more. The gap in price may require the Red Sox to part with another middling prospect.
Boston is also a fit for Cabrera because they can provide Cleveland with both a young pitching prospect(s) as well as some salary relief. The conversation probably starts with, among some other pieces, Matt Barnes, the Red Sox' best pitching prospect. The Red Sox would probably be hesitant to move Barnes in a trade.
However, Boston is also interested in reacquiring Justin Masterson. Adding him with Cabrera, while also taking on Chris Perez's salary, would make including Barnes an easier pill to swallow and a trade more feasible.
Both shortstops would be welcome improvements to the current Red Sox lineup. Andrus's speed would replace Ellsbury's at the top of the order, while Cabrera's bat would slot right in to solidify the heart of the order.
In the end, though, Boston would be best served choosing Andrus.
While Cabrera's defense is an issue, it's a good bet that his offense would negate the poor defense. His price, though, is the deal breaker.
Unless Boston was certain they could get Masterson as well, they won't and shouldn't, give up their top pitching prospect. At least, you would hope they learned their lesson with the Adrian Gonzalez trade, though I don't know if Barnes has the ceiling Casey Kelly does.
Ellsbury is an All-Star center fielder, but Boston is not willing to pony up the money that he and agent Scott Boras are asking for. By trading him for Andrus, they can rectify that situation while getting a quality return in a position of need.
Andrus is a top shortstop, but he is also much cheaper than Ellsbury, signed through the next couple of years and he's younger. All three of those things are the three biggest points on the new player checklist for Boston as they enter this pseudo-rebuilding stage.