The St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers faced off in a classic World Series in 2011, but now they can come together for their mutual benefit. The Cards’ pursuit of a shortstop and the Rangers’ apparent willingness to deal from a middle-infield surplus have emerged as prominent story lines early in this offseason.
Here's a deal I think works for both sides:
Rangers get: first baseman and designated hitter Allen Craig, along with right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller
Although some reports suggest the Cardinals are looking first at acquiring Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, such a deal would be pretty difficult to swing, explains Dave Cameron of Fangraphs. The Rangers, though, could make for a better trade partner.
Pete Kozma, the incumbent St. Louis shortstop, is great defensively, but he’s basically a non-entity with the bat. Andrus is also a glove-first shortstop, but he possesses a nuanced offensive skill set that brings extra value where a Kozma-type doesn’t. Specifically, he gets on base at a respectable clip, and he’s also been one of the best baserunners in MLB since he broke in five years ago. It doesn’t sound like much, but that makes a big difference, at least for metrics like WAR.
For the Rangers, they get to satisfy two needs in this deal.
First baseman Mitch Moreland proved he’s not an everyday player last season, and Texas general manager Jon Daniels has said he wants to add more punch to the lineup. Craig, a flawed player but an offensive asset, can do just that.
A right-handed hitter, Craig makes tons of hard contact, and has been worth 3.25 fWAR per 600 PAs in his career, almost all of which is derived from his performance at the plate. He’s a defensive liability even at first base, and his power took a downturn last year owing to his surging line-drive rate, but Craig can hit. Moving to Texas, where the ball flies, should help him regain some of that lost power, as his batted-ball distance should rebound a bit, as Fangraphs’ Matt Podhorzer explains.
The tricky part is getting Craig those 600 PAs—which he’s yet to do in the Major Leagues—but the idea here is that allowing him to be a DH on occasion will help to keep him on the field (or at the plate, as it were).
Miller was a blue-chip prospect and lived up to the hype in his rookie season at age 22, posting a 3.06 ERA/3.67 FIP. He throws hard, struck out nearly a batter per inning and walked fewer than three per nine. Miller is already a top-of-the-rotation starter and probably has some room to grow considering his age and upside.
Miller would slide into the Rangers’ rotation nicely, joining Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando for a formidable 1-5.
In terms of contracts and money moving in either direction, this one might be more equitable than you think.
Andrus' eight-year, $120 million deal (which kicks in in 2015) would be the biggest one in the trade by far, but it may not end up being as burdensome as it appears. Andrus has opt-out clauses after both 2018 and 2019, so the Cardinals aren’t necessarily on the hook for the entire $120 million. He’s set to earn $15 million per year beginning in 2015—which is about fair-market price for a shortstop of his caliber—so he will have earned $60 million or $75 million at the time of a potential opt-out. That’s not cheap, but it’s not onerous, either, especially if he’s healthy and doesn’t decline unexpectedly in his late twenties.
Craig is owed $31 million through 2017 as part of an extension he signed in March, which essentially bought out his years of arbitration eligibility. There’s also a $13 million team option for 2018, with a $1 million buyout. Miller is under team control for five more years and will be dirt cheap the next two years before he’s even eligible for arbitration for the first time after the 2015 season.
In drawing from their respective roster surpluses to make this deal, the Cardinals and Rangers free up positions for other players to step in. The Cards have Matt Adams ready to take over at first base. He brings more power to the table than Craig, and his presence in the lineup means the Cardinals no longer have to shoehorn Craig’s shoddy defense into right field to keep his bat in the lineup. It also means the Cardinals need a right fielder—whether that be prized prospect Oscar Taveras or perhaps a free agent, such as Carlos Beltran.
Miller’s departure from the Cardinals’ rotation isn’t insignificant for now or the long-term future, but they still have Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly, and they can also move Carlos Martinez from the bullpen back into the rotation, as he’s been groomed as a starter throughout his minor league career prior to joining the Redbirds’ relief corps late in 2013.
Who would be the winner of this proposed deal?
In moving Andrus, the Rangers can pivot to another prized prospect, infielder Jurickson Profar. He can take over at shortstop, while Ian Kinsler remains at second base.
The Cardinals probably get the best player in this deal in Andrus, at least today, but he's also the most expensive, and Miller projects to be the most valuable relative to what he costs when you consider his talent and how little he’ll earn for five more years.
It seems intuitive, but a trade like this one is an illustration of the importance of consistently drafting and developing good young players.
What does everyone else think?