The St. Louis Cardinals' offseason shopping list appears to be a fairly short and direct one. The team is poised to make a change at shortstop and find a replacement for current starter Pete Kozma. They have shown minor interest in a few players other than shortstops, but the vast majority of talk around the Cardinals has centered around various middle infielders that can fill the obvious need in the Cards' lineup.
Action at this point in the long, cold months without baseball games is at a typical level. There is a lot of talk and a lot of rumors that begin to float around. The team becomes linked to every player that is possibly being shopped. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com illustrates this well in his survey of baseball executives. One executive surveyed voted for the Cardinals to be a landing place for Tampa Bay Rays ace pitcher David Price. That seems a bit far-fetched, even for the most fanatical rumor purveyor.
Meanwhile, the team has seemingly shown interest in a number of free agents, mostly shortstops, thus far in the offseason. The slides that follow take an in-depth look at each of these players, ranking them based on the team's suspected interest level.
All statistics in the following slides are sourced from Baseball-Reference.
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The Cardinals are looking for a shortstop and that lead to speculation that the team would be interested in Baltimore's J.J. Hardy. Fuel was thrown on the fire when ESPN's Jim Bowden posted to Twitter that John Mozeliak had stated that he would trade a young starting pitcher for a young, controllable shortstop.
Hardy is certainly high on any list of shortstops, if he is available. A defensive standout and offensive threat, Hardy is almost everything the Cardinals' could hope for. The problems with Hardy are that, at 31, he is not particularly young, nor is he under team control past 2014.
The Orioles took their shot, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, offering Hardy in exchange for Shelby Miller. The Cardinals dismissed that offer quickly and seemed to send a message that Hardy was not on their radar.
Due to his age, short time under contract and reports suggesting that the Cardinals have already turned down initial trade talks, Hardy ranks last on the list of players St. Louis has an interest in.
The only non-shortstop to make the list still comes in fairly low when it comes to interest level of the Cardinals. Carlos Beltran, who has spent the last two seasons playing right field for the team, has reportedly drawn interest from multiple teams, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.
Despite Beltran turning down the Cardinals' qualifying offer and the team's interest in moving forward with younger stars, it still seems there is some mild interest between the club and the veteran outfielder. Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com noted on Twitter that Mozeliak continues to leave the door open for discussions.
Though both the player and team are saying the right things in front of the media to ensure there is no bad-blood, or bad press for that matter, the interest level is still fairly low. Beltran will most likely end up in the uniform of an American League team. All things considered, he ends up sixth on the list of players the Cardinals have the most interest in.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports decided to dig a little deeper into the rumor and seems to feel, according to this tweet, that Lowrie is not available. The A's have young prospect Addison Russell on the way and, according to Rosenthal's sources, the team intends to stick with the plan for Lowrie to hold down the position throughout 2014.
Lots of speculation that #Athletics would move Lowrie. Keep hearing no. Plan was for him to be two-year bridge to Russell. This is year two.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 12, 2013
Lowrie, who is 29-years old, will become a free agent after the 2014 season. The Cardinals seem to be leaning towards acquiring a player that can be a long-term answer at the position and Lowrie does not seem to fit that need. The team could make a play for him but the players offered in the deal would likely be less likely to be major league ready.
Lowrie's short contract places him low on the list of players the team is interested in.
Looking into free agency brings the first player to the list that would not cost the Cardinals one of their highly-prized prospects. Jhonny Peralta, recently of the Detroit Tigers, offers an attractive solution via the free agent market.
At 31-years old, Peralta offers the Cardinals a veteran bat and a slightly below-average glove to fill their need. He also comes with the stigma of a suspension for performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) last season after his involvement in the Biogenesis situation.
Suspension or not, Peralta is a lifetime .268 hitter that averages 18 home runs and 82 runs batted in over 162 games. He would add much needed power to the lineup at short and could also provide some insurance at third base, if the team felt they needed that. Peralta also comes without the draft pick compensation that a qualifying offer attaches to a player, making him slightly more attractive, and likely more expensive, than his counterparts on the market.
ESPN's Buster Olney reported via Twitter that Peralta is looking for "big time money" to the tune of three years and $45 million.
Jhonny Peralta's reps said to be looking for big-time money, far more than 3/45m.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 14, 2013
His offense fits the bill but that may be where the common ground ends. His suspension should be a huge concern for any team. His age and durability will come into question as the Cardinals look for a long-term solution.
Ultimately, Peralta ranks in the category of moderate interest for the Cardinals and may be the fall back option should the team not acquire any of their top targets.
Should the Cardinals go by way of free agency to fill their shortstop needs, Stephen Drew is a name they seem to be very familiar with.
The Cardinals have show interest in Drew in the past, being linked to the player during last offseason and then again this year. Drew offers a steady glove, lively bat and consistent play to a team willing to take a gamble on his injury history.
It is the injury history that would seem to worry the Cardinals the most. Drew would provide a substantial upgrade over incumbent Pete Kozma, but the team would have to be concerned that Kozma would still be their starter for a portion of the 2014 season if Drew maintained his fragile ways. Cardinal third baseman David Freese already is injury plagued and it could leave them very vulnerable on the left side of the infield.
Drew received a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, meaning that he will cost a team a draft pick as well as the handsome contract he will likely demand. The Cardinals seem willing to entertain the idea of signing a player with draft pick compensation attached to him since they will receive compensation from the team that acquires Carlos Beltran.
Drew showed some durability during the 2013 season, playing in over 100 games for the first time since 2010. While on the field, he provides some power from a position the Cardinals have not found power from in quite some time.
Many project Drew as the top of the free agent class at shortstop and that allows him to climb our rankings of players the Cardinals have the most interest in. Interest aside, the Cardinals should approach Drew with a "buyer beware" mentality.
Troy Tulowitzki bring us near the top of our list of players the Cardinals are interested in. The prolific, yet oft-injured, Colorado Rockies shortstop brings an established veteran presence to the discussion.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported prior to the GM Meetings this week that the Cardinals and Rockies would "discuss possible Troy Tulowitzki trade" during the meetings. Passan goes on to note that the discussion would not be new to either team:
Officials from the St. Louis Cardinals and Colorado Rockies are expected to meet at the GM/owners' meetings in Orlando this week and discuss parameters of a potential trade involving Troy Tulowitzki, which already has been broached in informal talks between the parties, sources with knowledge of the situation told Yahoo Sports.
The Rockies organization continues to deny discussing a deal involving Tulo and suggests that they would much rather keep their star shortstop and build around him going forward. While this may be an honest statement it could also be a position to force the Cardinals to increase their offer for the shortstop in order to convince the Rockies that it would be the right move.
The Cardinals are one of the few teams that would have the prospects to offer the Rockies in exchange for Tulo while also having the payroll flexibility to absorb his salary.
While his health may be an issue, he is often considered to be the best shortstop in baseball today. A strong hitter and agile defender, Tulo does come with his share of injury history and durability questions. He is only 29-years old, however, and could easily shift to third base before the end of his contract in 2020.
The price, both in contract and prospects, seems to be high for Tulowitzki, which lands him just shy of the top spot on our list. He is an attractive player that the Cardinals certainly have an interest in.
As we reach the top of the list, it only seems fair to include a pair of shortstops from Texas. Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus seem to be high on the Cardinals' list of players they find a strong interest in. Finding a package of players that both teams can agree on is a different story.
Remember, the Cardinals want a young, controllable shortstop. Both Andrus and Profar meet both of those criteria. Andrus is just 25-years old and, thanks to a contract extension just last year, is under contract through 2022. Profar broke into the major leagues this season at the age of 19 and will not be eligible for free agency until 2020.
Both players offer the Cardinals above average defense and speed, a quality the St. Louis team seems to be lacking in. Both players have the ability to get on base regularly while Profar seems to have the edge when it comes to power. Andrus holds the advantage of security, providing a player that the team can be sure of at the major league level. Profar carries the tag of "can't miss prospect" even despite a lackluster rookie campaign.
The price for either player seems to be steep but not to a point that it would be inconceivable for the Cardinals to pull the trigger. ESPN's Jim Bowden notes that the Rangers and Cardinals "remain strong potential trade partners" via Twitter.
Rangers &Cardinals remain strong potential trade partners with STL wanting Profar or Andrus & TX wanting Miller and/or Taveras and/or Adams— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) November 11, 2013
Shelby Miller and Matt Adams or Oscar Taveras in exchange for Andrus or Profar is not that far-fetched an idea. A reasonable offer from Texas could make this deal happen soon and helps place these two Texas infielders at the top of our list of players the Cardinals are interested in.
No matter which direction the Cardinals decide to move in regards to their shortstop situation, manager Mike Matheny will have a new dynamic in his lineup in 2014. The various options could add an element of speed, an increase in the ability to get on base or even a powerful middle-of-the-order type bat.
The next few weeks will likely shape the Cardinals 2014 season in a big way. The Cardinals seem to be set to pursue a shortstop from Texas or Colorado with options in free agency to fall back on. The rumor mill may even add an unknown player to the list soon.
No matter what happens, the Cardinals are almost certain to improve the makeup of the team before 2014.
Who do you think the Cardinals are most likely to pursue and ultimately acquire? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.