Could Elvis Andrus' contract extension be the precursor to a Jurickson Profar trade?
The St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers both have glaring needs on their big league roster. And some have suggested they can fix this with a simple phone call between general managers John Mozeliak and Jon Daniels.
Top prospects Oscar Taveras and Jurickson Profar have incredibly bright futures in Major League Baseball. But with both players just 20 years old and no vacancy St. Louis or Texas, they will start the 2013 season in Triple-A.
However, what if there was a situation that came up where Taveras and Profar were to be swapped in a one-for-one trade?
The idea has been kicked around, mostly for fun, over the spring since the Cardinals need a shortstop and Rangers need a power-hitting outfielder.
Mozeliak appeared on Sirius XM's Inside Pitch on Wednesday and was asked by Jim Bowden what he would do if the Rangers called him up and said we want to give you Profar for Taveras. After chuckling at the question, here is what the Cardinals GM said:
I'd have to think about it, in terms of what we would do...You know, you look at these types of talents at the minor league level and they're elite players. And, you know, for us, I do think we're pretty well set in the outfield for years to come. We're not that strong up the middle, but having said that, what Pete (Kozma) has done has opened some eyes and we certainly want to give him some opportunities.
Mozeliak did make a point of saying that he wasn't comparing the talents of Profar and Kozma, just that the Cardinals like what they have seen from him. Of course, anyone can look at Kozma's .652 career OPS in six minor league seasons to know that he probably isn't an everyday player there.
So, what are the potential benefits and detriments to a hypothetical Taveras-for-Profar trade between the Cardinals and Rangers?
Before we do anything else, we want to look at who these players are and where they stand in the game.
Most scouts and analysts consider Profar and Taveras to be the top-two position player prospects entering the 2013 season. Some would say that they are No. 1 and 2 overall—Prospect Pipeline had them ranked first (Profar) and third (Taveras).
Profar is widely regarded as the top prospect in baseball because of his unique combination of skills, maturity and ability to adjust from pitch to pitch at such a young age. He is a natural shortstop who plays plus defense and hits for average power with an incredibly advanced approach.
Taveras' stock exploded last season after his raw power started to play in games. He is not as controlled as Profar with the bat in his hands, as his swing is very violent and has a lot of moving parts, but he makes it work with incredible hand-eye coordination and innate ability to square up the ball.
The Cardinals have used Taveras as a center fielder, but he profiles best in right field with a plus arm and more than enough bat to be one of the premier players in the game.
Both players, despite their young ages, could have started the 2013 season in the big leagues without missing a beat.
Pros to Taveras-Profar deal
Fills Immediate and Long-Term Need for Both Sides
As mentioned before, both the Cardinals and Rangers would come out ahead in this trade.
Even though Profar is ranked as the top prospect in baseball right now, there really isn't much separation between these two in overall future potential.
The Cardinals have a solid starting outfield in place. Matt Holliday is signed through 2016 with a team option for 2017. Jon Jay is still very cheap since he hasn't hit arbitration and won't be eligible for free agency until after 2016.
Right field, which I see as Taveras' future position, is worth keeping an eye on.
Carlos Beltran is signed through 2013. He also slumped badly in the second half of last year, hitting just .236/.302/.440 in 69 games.
There isn't a strong free-agent right field class next winter, with Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz and Hunter Pence being the best available options. This is assuming they don't re-sign with their current teams before the end of the year.
What they don't have is an immediate or long-term answer at shortstop.
Rafael Furcal could have been a one-year stop gap, but he had Tommy John surgery in March and will miss the 2013 season.
Kozma is not the answer, regardless of what the Cardinals front office will say publicly. He can't hit and isn't a good enough defender to make up for it. Ryan Jackson is a much better defensive player than Kozma and was a better hitter in the minors, posting a .335 on-base percentage and .705 OPS in four seasons.
Despite some thinking that the Rangers would just plug in Profar at shortstop when Elvis Andrus was traded or hit free agency after 2014, the team will lock up Andrus with an eight-year, $120 million extension (via Jon Heyman of CBS Sports).
That means Profar doesn't have a future at shortstop in Texas for the foreseeable future.
He could slide over to second base, with Ian Kinsler moving to first base, or the outfield to accommodate the young star.
Though that doesn't exactly maximize Profar's value on the diamond.
There is also a hole in the Texas outfield thanks to the loss of Josh Hamilton, who signed with division rival Los Angeles in the offseason. They need a power hitting corner outfielder who can step in soon, because Nelson Cruz has a long injury history and is a free agent at the end of the year.
David Murphy is a solid player in left field, but he isn't anyone's definition of a star. Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry are platooning in center field because neither one is capable of starting every day.
Taveras has superstar potential no matter where he plays in the outfield because his bat is that good.
It is very rare that trades benefit both sides, especially right away. Often we see deals between teams with an established star on one side and a prospect going the other way that take years to evaluate.
This would be a case of St. Louis and Texas taking advantage of weaknesses on the big league rosters and using their considerable assets to get stronger.
Unique Strategy That Could Change the Game
Teams have grown more and more cost conscious over the years.
They are realizing that it is more financially practical—and in a lot of cases better for the on-field product—to build around prospects. This way, the team has six years of financial control over them, and the number of elite prospects to get traded dwindles each year.
No one wants to be the one to give up on an elite prospect if he turns into a star because you have that player for six years at a huge discount before they hit free agency.
Who would benefit the most from a Taveras-for-Profar trade?
Having the Cardinals and Rangers put together a one-for-one deal that involves two elite prospects with no service time—or in Profar's case, just nine games—could shift the paradigm in baseball for future deals.
The Yankees and Mariners did something similar in January 2012 when Jesus Montero was traded for Michael Pineda. But this is a different situation because Pineda had a full season of experience under his belt.
Obviously, that deal has yet to really pay off for either side.
Although the Mariners are way ahead because they have at least gotten something from Montero in the last year. Who knows when Pineda will be able to pitch for New York and how effective he will be.
This would obviously be the perfect storm of circumstances coming together to make it happen, but all it takes is one move to get everyone else on board. The "Moneyball" era of the Oakland A's has made it not only wise but necessary to have an analytics department to evaluate and exploit market inefficiencies.
Now, with the exception of the Philadelphia Phillies, every team in baseball employs some type of statistical and analytical department to try finding platoon players, relievers, undervalued starters, etc.
Instead of having every team hang onto its best minor league assets forever, this could be a springboard to make them think harder about trading them in the right deal. After all, a big part of having a great farm system is being able to use it to acquire other assets for the major league roster.
But again, it has to be the right deal.
No one liked what Kansas City got from Tampa Bay in exchange for Wil Myers last December. The Royals acted like they were ready to win now, but only got two years of James Shields and three years of Wade Davis. And they gave up six years of control on a player who could turn into a superstar and MVP candidate at his peak.
Cons to Taveras-Profar deal
Sets Expectations Even Higher
Whenever you see prospects get traded, no matter what situation they are going to, it sets unrealistic expectations.
Going back to the Pineda deal with the Yankees, everyone loved what he did as a rookie in 2011 (173 strikeouts and 133 hits allowed in 171 innings).
Then, because of going to New York, Pineda was expected to be the next CC Sabathia. He would be groomed for the No. 1 starter's role until the former Cy Young winner was no longer able to handle it, then become one of the best pitchers in baseball.
However, injuries have completely derailed Pineda's career to the point that it would just be nice to see him pitch one game for the Yankees.
Obviously the rate of attrition in pitchers is much higher than position players, but the general idea remains the same. Taveras and Profar already have off-the-charts expectations without having played more than a handful of games in the big leagues.
But when you forever link these two incredible talents together with a trade designed to give both the Cardinals and Rangers a potential superstar, it makes it hard for them to match that hype. They would have to turn into Hall of Famers in order to make it all seem worthwhile.
The media is, at least to some degree, to blame for this.
It sets the expectations for these players with as much hype and press as prospects get now. But this is a special case with two rare talents who already have all the pressure in the world on their shoulders when they eventually debut.
The Devil You Know...
One reason that you will find teams reluctant to part with their own players is because they watch and observe them so closely every single day that they can pick them apart with their eyes closed. They see the development of a player and have so many internal notes on them that it becomes hard not to fall in love with the upside.
By using Taveras and Profar in this respect, the Cardinals and Rangers would be banking on the few observations they have made in scouting the other player to get a handle on what they are investing in.
Scouts and front office executives do talk to each other, so Mozeliak and Daniels could use their crew and contacts to get even more information on the player they would be trying to acquire.
But that doesn't change the fact that the Cardinals know Taveras better than anyone else and the Rangers know Profar better than anyone else. All of these preseason prognostications and reports from various websites are great, but it doesn't provide the level of knowledge the two teams have on their own assets.
So why should the Cardinals trade a player widely regarded as the best pure hitting prospect in the minors who will fill an eventual need for someone they clearly have some knowledge about and everyone says is going to be a superstar?
And why would the Rangers trade the best prospect in baseball for a player who, while very highly regarded in every circle, doesn't play a premium position? You can find power in a corner outfield spot much easier than you can find a five-tool shortstop.
Knowledge is power, but it can also be a curse in a trade like this.
Both the Cardinals and Rangers know how good their top prospects are right now and can be in the future. As much as everyone likes to think of need as a precursor to a deal, these teams aren't going to pull the trigger on something of this magnitude without doing a lot of homework.
You are talking about giving up six years of control for a potential superstar, on both sides. That's not something a general manager just rushes into for a quick fix on his roster, even if both players are, for the time being, blocked by someone in the big leagues.
If the Taveras-Profar trade did happen, it would be like a fantasy baseball trade come to life. There is no real indication it will, but it is fun to speculate what would happen for both sides if something came about.
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