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CARDINALS

Bird Bytes: Cards' search takes sharp turn

Good morning …

Let's update the Cardinals' search for a shortstop.

Scratch the names of Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar. They're almost certainly out of play after Wednesday's stunning deal that sent first baseman Prince Fielder from Detroit to Texas in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

The move eased the Rangers' middle-infield glut and enables the them to keep Andrus and Profar. Andrus will remain at shortstop, with Profar becoming the team's new second baseman.

Let's hit the local angle right away.

What does this mean for the Cardinals?

Plenty.

And you already knew that.

I don't think there's any question that GM John Mozeliak had an interest in one of the Texas shortstop properties. But this Detroit-Texas deal puts an end to all of that. This also means that Cards first baseman Matt Adams won't be going to Texas — well, unless he goes there on a vacation. Which isn't a bad idea, actually. Heck, I'd go to Texas on vacation just to go on a brisket-sampling tour.

Anyway, we still don't know what the Cardinals are willing to give up to get a shortstop. But at least we know that they won't be sending any of their coveted young players to Texas.

And we know that they still need a shortstop.

Let's reset some of the possibilities:

The Winning Lotto ticket: Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki. Dream on. The Rox are adamant: Tulo ain't going anywhere. And Mozeliak has sent word through the proper channels: even if Tulo was in play as a trade piece, the Cardinals have no interest in making an insane, preposterous deal. This standoff isn't likely to end. Unless the Rockies are lying, this is a longshot, at best.

The Free Agents, Part I: At the top of the list is Stephen Drew. A nice player, for sure. But by the time agent Scott Boras is done working angles, pitting teams against each other, floating the threat of a “mystery team,” thoroughly manipulating the media and dragging this thing out … it will be the 11th of July, and all of the shortstops will be gone. (I exaggerate to make a point.)

So good luck with all that, unless of course, you want to cave in and give Boras what he wants for Drew. J.D.'s little brother would be a fine if imperfect addition. His personality fits the Cards' culture. He's tenacious. He has some power, and a good glove. But he bats lefthanded, and the Cards have a lot of LH sticks. He could break down again. If the Cardinals want him, they'll likely have to overpay. And they'll likely have to increase their risk through length of the contract. The Cardinals have more than enough money to pay Drew, but I don't think Mozeliak is keen on the idea of issuing more than a three-year deal to a 31-year-old SS with a history of injuries. Four years? Are they willing to do that? And what other teams are truly chasing Drew?

Free Agents Part II: There's Jhonny Peralta, who this past season served a 50-game suspension for dabbling with the special chemicals that violate MLB's performance-enhancing drug policies. Peralta is a good hitter, and an underrated defender. He was popular with his teammates, who warmly welcomed him back from his time in Bud Selig's penalty box. So, what would it cost to sign Peralta?

Feel free to do what I did — laugh — after reading this in the New York Post, which detailed the Mets' preliminary efforts to explore a deal with Jhonny.

“Some of the Mets’ biggest convulsions from sticker shock occurred at last week’s general managers’ meetings, according to a source. Team executives met with Jhonny Peralta, believing they could get the free-agent shortstop on a two-year deal in the $20-25 million neighborhood. But Peralta made it clear he is seeking at least a three-year contract, and reportedly wants more than $45 million.”

Oh. OK.

Free Agents, Part III: Rafael Furcal, anyone? Do I see any hands out there? No? Anyone at all? Well, I can understand the negative reaction. And what the hell... if Peralta is going to get more than $45 million, then Furcal is probably thinking he's in line for $25 million, or something.

The Best Fit: That would be Baltimore's J.J. Hardy. He has proven home-run power. He hits lefthanded pitching. In 2013 he pulled off the exacta of winning the Silver Slugger and the Gold Glove. He has one year remaining on his contract. That's either good or bad, depending on Mozeliak's perspective. The problem is that the Orioles and the Baltimore media _ at least for now _ apparently believe the world as we know it would come to an end _ or at least all of the blue crabs in the Chesapeake Bay would disappear _ if the team took the ungodly, unimaginable action of trading Hardy. The Orioles need starting pitching in the worst way, and Mozeliak has a few arms to show them. But unless the Orioles put down the Kool Aid and come to their senses, there's no deal.

The Buyer Beware Option: that would be Oakland's Jed Lowrie, who actually remained upright and physically whole long enough to make more than 387 plate appearances for the first time in his career in 2013. Lowrie has some pop. He was also terrible defensively in '13, with minus 18 runs saved. The A's have said they have no interest in trading Lowrie, despite the fact that (A) he's apparently made out of porcelain and can shatter at anytime, and (B) they have a super-duper SS prospect on the way.

Look West: Arizona has multiple young shortstops, and can't play them all. Here's the roll call:

Didi Gregorius, 23, who bats left. He made 404 plate appearances last year, and had a .359 OBP and .429 slugging percentage against RH pitching. But he couldn't hit lefties at all, batting .200 with a .245 OBP.

Chris Owings, drafted out of high school by the D-backs in 2009. He bats right. Owings impressed in a late-season callup, batting .291 with a .361 OBP and .382 SLG in 61 plate appearances. He's Arizona's third-best prospect according to MLB.com.

Nick Ahmed, who is the organization's No. 13 prospect. He's supposedly an excellent defensive player, but hasn't hit much, batting .236 in Class AA this past season, and hitting .219 in the Arizona Fall League. Late in the season, Arizona GM Kevin Towers said this: “Ahmed, who defensively might be our best, isn't too far away.”

The Diamondbacks also have veteran shortstop Cliff Pennington under contract for 2014. But he has a light bat, with a .248 average, .313 OBP and .350 SLG in 2,253 major-league plate appearances.

So what will the Diamondbacks do with all of these guys?

“It's a good problem to have,” Towers said in September.

One obvious possibility is a trade, with Gregorius being the most likely candidate. But Towers is OK with a time-share, with Gregorius facing RH pitchers, and Owings starting against LH pitchers.

“You’d like to see them get more at-bats, but if it becomes a platoon situation where one’s facing lefties and one’s facing righties, who’s got the hot hand, you can probably make it work,” Towers said. “It’s probably no different than what we’ve had to do with our outfielders, juggling them around a little bit.”

Don't Forget About: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox: a slick fielder, with good speed and the ability to steal bases. Age 32. But he's faded offensively, with a meager .301 OBP and .372 slugging percentage over the past two seasons combined. He's under contract through 2015, with a club option for 2016. The White Sox are in the rebuilding mode, which should make Ramirez available. Does Mozeliak have any enthusiasm for him? There's some. The Cardinals looked into possibility of trading for Ramirez at the 2013 trade deadline but the talks never advanced to a serious stage. If the White Sox are realistic instead of delusional, Ramirez could be moved. 

The Usual Suspect: Asdrubal Cabrera, Cleveland. From 2009 through 2012 he was among the better shortstops in the game, batting .282 with a .340 OBP and .424 SLG over the four seasons, which computed to a healthy OPS+ of 111. But what's happened to him? Cabrera declined in 2013, offensively and defensively. He's also entering the walk year of his contract. The Indians have a SS prospect on the way. Surely Cabrera's trade value has dropped. If you want to look for some optimism, consider: (A) Cards coach Jose Oquendo might be able to get Cabrera back on track defensively. Cabrera is still only 28. And (B) Cabrera did hit 14 homers with 35 doubles and a .404 slugging percentage in 2013. His OPS+ of 98 in 2013 was only a sliver under average. And that production would represent a major upgrade at the shortstop position in St. Louis. The Indians need pitching _ starters and relievers.

The Defector: After jumping from the Cuban national team to seek his fortune in Major League Baseball, Erisbel Arruebarruena has created a buzz. But I'd be surprised if the Cardinals pursued him. He has a great-glove rep, but others insist he's overrated. And there's a big debate over his offensive potential, which may be limited. If that's true, I don't see why Mozeliak would jump through hoops to bid on the Cuban Pete Kozma. But that's just me. 

Anyway, here's what USA Today had to say: 

"Arruebarruena is known as an outstanding fielding shortstop in the mold of Jose Iglesias. He enjoyed the best offensive season of his six years with Cienfuegos of the Cuban league in 2011-12, when he batted .320 with an .887 on-base plus slugging percentage.

"However, noted Cuban baseball expert and author Peter Bjarkman points out that while Arruebarruena has displayed great defensive skills, especially range and the ability to throw from different angles, 'he tries to make too many impossible plays and is dubbed Errorbarruena in Cuba as a result.' 

"And despite the enhanced offensive production, there are major questions about Arruebarruena's ability to hit in the majors. Offensive numbers tend to be skewed in the Cuban league, where batting averages well above .300 are common."

Others to Watch: Erick Aybar, Angels. His name keeps popping up, but the Halos don't have a shortstop in waiting to take his place … Ian Desmond, Nationals. There's been no sign that the Nats are willing to trade him … Jimmy Rollins, Phillies. He was bad in 2013, his defensive skills have noticeably slipped, and he isn't getting any younger … Everth Cabrera, Padres. A pretty dynamic young player, but he got caught up in the Biogenesis mess and served a 50-game suspension this past season. The Padres haven't floated his name as a tradable piece, but some in the industry believe he could be had for the right price _ whatever that may be.

There's your obsessive shortstop update for the day.

Thanks for reading …

— Bernie