By Kevin Reynolds (@deckacards)
After winning 2-of-3 in Arizona, the Cardinals probably sound a lot like that AMEX commercial in the movie Major League.
“People still don’t recognize us, but…we’re contenders now.”
The irony is, while playing their way back into the NL Central picture, the players solidifying their spots on the team are filling previously-identified spots for trade upgrades. Tommy Pham and Randal Grichuk are igniting and driving the offense – and defense – so much for getting a left fielder. Jedd Gyorko is arguably the first half team MVP at third base – so much for a slugging corner infielder. And as long as Dexter Fowler is on the DL, Matt Carpenter‘s job as the leadoff hitter is probably safe. No go on the first baseman market either.
But, with his recent demotion of once-All-Star Aledmys Diaz, Mozeliak may have given an indication of his adjusted trade targets this July…IF the team continues to show their worthiness with a series against the Washington Nationals this weekend.
If so, he should at least check in on Elvis Andrus in Texas. Here are a few quick thoughts for those of you wondering why:
- Texas is 14.5 games back of the division title. Yes, they’re also 2.0 games back of the wild card, but with most AL teams – literally, most of them – in contention for the same spot, the Rangers may look at their sub-.500 record and acknowledge it’s time to reload.
- Elvis Andrus is owed $14-$15 million a season through 2022 with a vesting option in 2023. If the Rangers do decide to rebuild in anticipation of a tough Texas market (Houston?), clearing that salary would go a long ways to restocking their powder reserves.
- Andrus’ contract includes two consecutive opt-out clauses. The veteran shortstop can choose to opt out after the 2018 and/or 2019 seasons. If his numbers for 2017 continue, there’s a good chance he considers it this offseason, especially with two consecutive .300+ seasons under his belt. The Rangers may decide to get something for him before he walks this winter. As for the Cardinals, they could be fine either way. If he doesn’t opt out, he becomes an effective bridge to young shortstop prospect Delvin Perez, who is likely another three or four years away. If he does opt out, they’re off the hook for that salary after getting performance good enough to convince him to try free agency.
- And that opt-out clause might make him affordable. The very thing that makes Andrus enticing as a trade piece – two straight seasons of .300+ batting average and 10 home runs so far in the first half of 2017 at a premium position – is also what makes it more likely that he exercises his opt-out clause at year’s end. As a trade piece, that could put his value at somewhere between “cost controlled player for years to come” and “half-season rental.”
- About that vesting option… If Delvin Perez does work out and ascend to the major league level when expected, he’s going to play. That means it’s going to be tough for Andrus’ option – which requires 550 PAs in 2022 or 1,100 PAs combined between 2021 and 2022 – to vest. But if it does, that means he’s playing at a high level for a club that needed him, which means a vesting option is a good thing.
- What makes him attractive? With a .300+ average, .815 OPS, and 10 home runs, he would instantly become one of the Cardinals best hitters at a premium position – a newly vacated position currently being filled by a defensively shaky minor-league third baseman (DeJong’s position until moved to SS this season in AAA). He’s also a winning player with postseason experience, exactly the kind of steadying force the St. Louis lineup needs to keep it moving. His 18 stolen bases for the worst base-running team in baseball don’t hurt either.
If the Cardinals do decide to move on from Diaz at shortstop for the immediate future, Andrus is one player Mozeliak should consider this trade season.
UPDATE: A little context….
The Cardinals signed a 32-year old Jhonny Peralta to a deal that assured him more than $13 million per season for four years…and they did it KNOWING he would likely not play shortstop his final season or so under it and could likely finish his career with it. He finished with a .265/.327/.415 line with 46 home runs and was recently released for the remainder of that deal by St. Louis, meaning they’re paying him not to play for them. By comparison, Andrus makes $14.5 million per year for the next four years (fifth is an option that may not vest). He’s peaking at 28 years old with the potential for two consecutive .300 seasons, and he already has 10 home runs in 2017.
For the cash-rich Cardinals – just recently enjoying the spoils of a fresh new TV contract – the Andrus contract is simply not a problem.
Kevin Reynolds has covered the Cardinals for About.com, Yahoo! Sports, and various other entities. He’s been writing and podcasting about the Cardinals since 2004 at Stl Cards ‘N Stuff. Follow him and chat baseball on Twitter (@deckacards), and check him out on Facebook.
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