The rumor mill around the Cardinals search for an upgrade at shortstop has hit red alert levels of speculation. Yet while the names of nearly every player in the game at the position has crossed the lips of one person or another about what direction the team could go in, the easiest way to solve the problem will require some sacrifice—in the form of a contract to Stephen Drew.
Drew is not the sexiest option on the table; those honors go to Troy Tulowitzki and Elvis Andrus. Likewise, he is not as potent of an offensive threat as Jed Lowrie or Jhonny Peralta, or even the pure fielding genius that Pete Kozma was. Over the past three years, the 30-year old has played for three different teams and never hit over .255 at any stop. What’s more, the 124 games he played in this past season in Boston, while hitting .253 with 13 home runs, 67 RBI and 112 hits were all high marks that he had not touched since 2010.
None of that sounds too great, does it? Not when there are numbers floating around like Tulowitzki’s five years of 24 or more home runs, or Andrus’ 40 steal summer are in the mix. Add in the fact that it is going to cost in the neighborhood of $13 or so million a season for his services (with negotiations overlooked by Scott Boras of all people), and a pursuit of Drew sounds like a full-fledged ride on the Crazy Train.
But stepping back from the surface level of it shows that the investment into Drew is perhaps the safest route of action for the team. For one, the cost of acquiring any of the numerous players that could be explored on the trade market is heart stopping strong. Teams are going to sift through the plethora of cost-controlled, Major League proven, sub-25 year old talent that the Cardinals have built the core of their team around. This is a group that includes Shelby Miller, Matt Adams, Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Joe Kelly among others at the MLB level (it has been stated that Michael Wacha is not available under any circumstances), and could stretch into inquires around Oscar Tavares and Kolton Wong at the next level. A combination of any of those players is a tough pill to swallow, for any player and dents what allows the Cardinals to consistently compete at the level that they do: having high-talent, low cost returns throughout their middle market salary capabilities.
Despite the notion that he “has” to move some of them, especially considering what seems to be a logjam off starting pitchers; John Mozeliak has repeatedly stated that he is not keen on moving his young arsenal of talent. And there is good reason to see why he feels this way. The rotation is ever evolving and outside of Wainwright, there is no proven year in, year out presences in the mix yet. Basically, the time is now, but the picture is still developing and making a brash move while the incubation stage is not quite finished yet could be a leap of faith off the wrong cliff, even if the return is an elite talent at another spot.
So in the end, how do you remedy this situation, while still bringing in as much improvement at the club’s biggest need position still? Pay the price for Drew. Market value often gets tied to numbers, but it is almost always determined more by being in the right place, at the right age, at the right time. Drew is likely to command in the neighborhood of $52 million over the next four years, and quiet honestly is worth it. Yes, he’ll get more than he is worth, and will therefore become prone to inherit the crown of thorns that Matt Holliday has so expertly won in the court of public opinion over the past four years. But the simple truth of it is every deal can’t be one that the team wins. Meaning that cost for a plus shortstop is not going to be a fair one; it is a high demand position that can name its own price within reason. The good thing is that money isn’t an obstacle for the Cardinals, who cleared over $35 million dollars from its 2012 roster between the departures of Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, Jake Westbrook, Edward Mujica and Carlos Beltran from its ranks.
And speaking of Beltran, it is his original purpose that a Drew acquisition most closely replicates. No, he will not hit 30 home runs or even be guaranteed to make two All-Star Games in as many years as Beltran did. Realistically, the team does not need that from its shortstop. But what he will be able to do is fill a major void in place that has to find an answer at, which is exactly what Beltran was acquired to do in December of 2011 on the heels of the Pujols departure. He came to town with a big dollar figure, and an injury prone reputation, but in return he gave the team everything it needed and erased what was a briefly a gaping hole.
That is what Drew represents, an instant replenishment that does not create a new one via acquiring his presence. Look past the numbers and see the truth; the smartest move does not always have to be the cheapest one, rather it should be the most comprehensively effective one.