While there are several options on the free agent and trade markets available to help the Cardinals improve upon the anemic offense of shortstop Pete Kozma, it seems to me that there are two players who stand above the rest.
It's a matter of whether the Redbirds would rather spend talent or money to try to solve their problem.
In my book re-signing Rafael Furcal to an incentive-laden deal is an emergency fallback position. Inking free agent Jhonny Peralta is a risky move because of his diminishing range and his checkered PED past. Colorado's Troy Tukiwitzki would be an ideal addition to the St. Louis offense. But the Rockies want a mint for him in trade. And Tulo's got a ridiculous contract that makes him a double hit. He'd cost the Birds a bunch of prospects AND a bunch of money.
That leaves the two best choices, Boston free agent Stephen Drew and Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus.
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Drew will likely be the most expensive of the free agent shortstops available on the market. I've seen his price tag pegged in the $10 to $12 million for three to four seasons by baseball pundits. $40 or $45 million over four years is a lot for a player who is still trying to rehab his career after a devastating leg injury a couple of years back when he Drew was with the Arizona Diamondbacks. But those potential paychecks are a lot less substantial than the money Tulowitzki and Andrus have coming.
The appeal with Drew is the fact that he is a free agent and the Redbirds could land him without having to dip into the team's talent pool to make a trade. To keep the young arms -- and Oscar Taveras -- in the house while filling a big hole is an appealing thought. And St. Louis would still have about $30 million to re-sign or replace right fielder Carlos Beltran and fill any other holes if it gave Drew $10-12 million.
Drew, who will be 31 just before the start of the 2014 season, isn't an offensive power house. He's about a .265 hitter who'll crack 12-15 homers a year. He's not really a speed demon with six stolen bases last season. But he'll offer more offense that Kozma and Daniel Decalso combined. And he'll cover a lot of ground at shortstop.
Andrus has more offensive appeal.
He's a .278 hitter with a .339 career on-base percentage. But his real attribute is speed. Andrus stole 42 bases last year and the 24-year-old shortstop has failed to steal at least 32 bags only once in his five years in the big leagues. It's not a surprise to see an American League player add 10 points to his batting average by moving to the Senior Circuit. That could make Andrus close to a .290 hitter with a .350 on-base percentage. I'd love to see him take over the lead-off spot in the St. Louis batting order with Matt Carpenter moved to the second spot.
Imagine Andrus flying around the bases while Carpenter smacks doubles behind him. It would make the St. Louis offense much more dynamic than it has been in years.
Andrus would cost more than Drew because he's got an eight-year deal worth up to $120 million signed last spring. But the contract only guarantees $66 million over the next five years and then Andrus could opt out in hopes of a longer contract.
The question is what the Cardinals would have to trade to get him. The Rangers might like to have Texas native Shelby Miller and the Cardinals could dangle David Freese with the idea that a change of scenery -- and the move to a hitter-friendly ballpark could revive his career. They'd probably have to add something else to sweeten the pot. But, as far as I am concerned, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and the rest of the Redbirds top prospects are off limits.
Incidentally, the Rangers are said to be fielding overtures about both Andrus and his potential replacement, Jurickson Profar. I'm not sold on trading for Profar because the cost in prospects doesn't seem to be any less and Profar hasn't proved himself like Andrus has. This is a relatively rare case where the money isn't as much of an object for the Birds as is what the club would have to give up in terms of talent.