Jurickson Profar for Oscar Taveras: A Thought Exercise

The Texas Rangers have two good middle infielders, so the best prospect in baseball is starting the season in Triple-A. The St. Louis Cardinals have three good outfielders, so the second best prospect in baseball is starting the season in Triple-A. The Cardinals one glaring weakness is at shortstop. The Rangers spent all winter trying to trade for a young power hitting outfielder, only to fall short at the end.

So, naturally, there’s seemingly constant speculation about a possible trade between the two franchises. This speculation got pushed to the forefront on Tuesday, when Cardinals GM John Mozeliak was asked about the idea by Jim Bowden:

Mozeliak’s comment essentially boils down to “yes, I’d consider acquiring a 20-year-old potential superstar shortstop if I had the chance”, which, well, of course he would. There’s nothing there to suggest that the deal has been actually discussed by either organization, or that this hypothetical trade has any chance of happening. Even with Elvis Andrus signing his long term extension today, the Rangers still have plenty of options to keep Profar, and the Cardinals have other shortstop options that won’t require them to give up Taveras.

There’s a reason the #1 prospect in baseball — per Baseball America’s rankings, anyway — has never been traded in the season that he was considered be the best overall prospect in the game. A swap of the #1 and #2 prospects — technically, BA rated Taveras #3 this year, but given that Dylan Bundy is starting the season on the DL with elbow issues, we’ll just give them credit for flipping those two to better account for pitcher attrition — would be historically unique. It’s probably not going to happen. But, let’s just say it was on the table… does either side say no?

It’s a fascinating thought mostly because the two players are so different. Profar is an outstanding prospect, but he’s partially an outstanding prospect because he’s got a very high floor. As a shortstop who can handle the bat, hit for some power, run the bases, and has shown a willingness to draw a walk, there’s not a lot of bust potential here. He’s an extremely safe bet as far as prospects go.

Taveras, on the other hand, is a bit more of a boom or bust guy, because his value is likely to be tied almost entirely to how well he hits. If the bat is for real, he’s Vladimir Guerrero. If the aggressiveness is more of a problem than is being accounted for, then he’s Delmon Young. The spread of outcomes with Taveras is simply larger than with Profar because everything is tied to how well his bat develops, but you could argue that the upside might be larger as well, especially with the way the market pays for power.

In general, I think it pays to be a bit more risk averse with premium prospects, as I’d rather have a 70% chance at a +4 win player than a 55% chance at a +5 win player. I know some others prefer to go the other direction, valuing upside above all else, with less consideration for the likelihood of getting there, so whether you prefer Profar or Taveras might just depend on your personal risk profile.

But, for the Cardinals and Rangers, this completely hypothetical decision has to go beyond simply projecting each player’s future in a vacuum. These rumors essentially sprang up from each team’s current roster construction, and while you don’t want to give up on a franchise talent to patch a short-term problem, there are real efficiency of asset issues involved for each franchise. And probably even more so for the Cardinals.

Oscar Taveras is an exciting prospect, but odds are that he’s not going to make a major contribution to the Cardinals this season. It’s not that he couldn’t perform if called upon, but he’s simply not going to beat out Matt Holliday or Carlos Beltran for a starting job this season. They’re too good to take a back seat to a 20-year-old. Beltran’s durability problems mean that Taveras could end up getting some playing time this summer, but come October, there’s just not a spot in the line-up for him. And this Cardinals team is built to win now. Beltran is 36. Holliday is 33. Yadier Molina is 30 and has carried a heavy workload behind the plate for a decade now. The Cardinals have some good young supporting players, but a marginal win to this team now is worth significantly more than it is in the future.

Jurickson Profar would be a significant step up for the Cardinals right now. The Pete Kozma/Daniel Descalso platoon is projected for about +1 WAR over the entire season, while Profar’s projected to be a +3ish win player all by himself. Slotting Profar in at shortstop could be the difference between a playoff berth and sitting at home in October. Taveras, for all his offensive prowess, will not have the same impact this season.

Even if you think Taveras is the better prospect, and you prefer upside to a higher floor, Profar is probably the better fit for St. Louis simply due to the discount you’d have to put on when the value would be produced. Or, to think of it another way — if the Cardinals already had Jurickson Profar playing shortstop, would they even think about trading him for an outfield prospect that they couldn’t fit onto their 2013 roster? You almost never see teams in St. Louis’ position trading present value for future value, and for good reason. If the players were flipped, I don’t see any way St. Louis even considers this deal, simply due to the construction of their roster at the moment.

So, yes, John Mozeliak would have to consider dealing Oscar Taveras for Jurickson Profar if that was on the table, because even if the Cardinals have an internal valuation on Taveras that places him ahead of Profar — or if they simply trust their evaluation of their own player over that of one in another organization — they simply need a shortstop more than they need an outfielder, and they should be willing to trade some future upside for some present performance. In fact, I think you could make a pretty good case that the Cardinals should be willing to offer Taveras and something else for Profar, even if they don’t see Profar as the significantly better prospect.

For the Rangers, the calculation is perhaps even more difficult, because it’s not just a production issue, but a personality issue. If they keep Profar, it necessitates Ian Kinsler changing positions at some point. Over the winter, he resisted a move to first base when it was brought up. The Rangers have just gone through a bad experience pushing a veteran out of a middle infield spot for a younger player, and probably aren’t in a hurry to sign up for that kind of public circus again. So, from their perspective, trading Profar for a similarly valuable outfielder might help them avoid an unwanted conflict.

And, while the devaluation of a player moving down the defensive spectrum is often overstated, it is true that Profar will be somewhat less valuable as a second baseman than as a shortstop, and Kinsler would be somewhat less valuable as a first baseman than as a second baseman. In terms of simply maximizing individual player value, a trade is preferable shifting players to positions they are overqualified to play. Of course, the Rangers should be interested in maximizing their team’s overall value and not in simply playing each player at the spot that makes them their most valuable. If they’re a better team with Profar in the line-up than Mitch Moreland, that’s still an upgrade, even if Profar is less of an upgrade for Texas than he would be for St. Louis.

The Rangers, though, are in a similar position to the Cardinals on the win curve, and should also be prioritizing present value wins over future roster efficiency. Taveras probably isn’t going to push Nelson Cruz to the bench either, and you may run into the same problems trying to turn him into a first baseman mid-season that you’d have trying to convert Kinsler, especially since Cruz is a free agent to be and probably doesn’t want to increase the perception that he’s a defensive liability. So, while Profar is a great fit for St. Louis, Taveras is a little less of a great fit for Texas at the moment, though he’d be a perfect fit to slide into right field when Cruz departs next season. And Taveras is good enough to potentially push Cruz out of the way this year, while that’s not going to happen with Profar and Kinsler.

And, finally, there’s the elephant in the room that has to be at least mentioned — Giancarlo Stanton. If the Rangers would consider trading Profar for a power hitting outfielder, perhaps they’re better off waiting for the Marlins to put Stanton on the market than they are making a move now and putting themselves in a worse position to be the team that lands Stanton whenever he is eventually moved. While they could always turn around and offer Taveras later if Stanton became available this winter, there’s a bit of a stigma attached to offering up a guy you just traded for, and the Marlins might wonder why two different organizations were willing to trade him in the first place. Toss in the scarcity of shortstops, and keeping Profar probably puts them in a better position to win the Stanton lottery, whenever that occurs.

So, where does that leave us? There are some legitimate reasons for Texas to consider swapping Profar for Taveras, but they also have some real reasons not to do so. St. Louis’ incentives almost all point towards Profar as the better fit for their organization. While there might not be a massive gap between them in terms of future value, it seems like St. Louis would have to include something additional to make Texas give up their young shortstop.

Taveras for Profar works for St. Louis. I’m not sure it works for Texas as well, and once you start getting into Taveras and something, it’s going to be even tougher for the Cardinals to pull the trigger. Which is why I don’t think this trade ever even gets serious consideration. Mozeliak’s public admission of consideration aside, my guess is that this never gets past the thought experiment stage. The Rangers love Profar, the Cardinals love Taveras, and neither side is itching to give up their crown jewel.

Even if it would be one of the most fun trades in baseball history.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

61 Responses to “Jurickson Profar for Oscar Taveras: A Thought Exercise”

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  1. steex says:

    Fair or not, I’m sure both GMs (and indeed franchises) also see such a trade as as potential risk to their reputation. If Taveras doesn’t work out (randomly selecting one side of the transaction) with the Cardinals, it’ll be a disappointment, but there won’t really be any questions to answer. However, if they trade for Profar and he doesn’t work out while Taveras thrives in Texas, there would be a LOT of questions to answer. To that end, there’s less risk in sticking with your own prospect than making the trade.

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    • SKob says:

      This is true to some extent, but trading for a need gives a team a pass in some instances. If either player failed, the team who traded for him would still be able to say they had to try to fill the need. You don’t see too many people going back and killing Cincinatti for dealing Hamilton for Volquez because they were desperate for a starting pitcher with ace potential. Although it failed, they had to do it! Plus, they’ve managed to maintain a great team. If the Royals deal for Shields looks awful in a year, it makes a larger difference to that franchise, so holding your prospect is usually the safer bet in that case.

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      • steex says:

        I don’t disagree with you, SKob, but those are different scenarios because one or both teams were trading someone with known major league success. The Royals can point to Shields track record compared to the risk that still exists with Myers, whereas the Rays can point to the years of control they got over Myers when they were destined to lose Shields either way.

        In the Cards/Rangers scenario, while they certainly could point to the great positional needs, in the end they’re choosing to take a risk on someone else’s prospect instead of their own. There is just a lot more opportunity to end up with egg on your face that way.

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    • Baltar says:

      I believe you have hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head with the proverbial hammer.

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    • Aggie E says:

      Not exactly the same since Hamilton had other risks that everyone knows about and the Reds basically got Hamilton for nothing…

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  2. Travis Marshall says:

    Miami awaits the Sliding Dutchman…

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  3. Youppi! says:

    eithier for kinsler and some fodder thrown in solves problems for dodgers and rangers as well. i’m surprised i haven’t seen this floated before. or maybe i’ve haven’t been reading enough.

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    • Amish_Willy says:

      From Texas’ POV, wouldn’t whomever (NYY/LAD) misses out on Cano next year be a great fitj for Kinsler… the Kinsler/Ethier match isn’t new and I’d personally rather have Ethier & Profar than Kinsler & Tavares.

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    • rogue_actuary says:

      I’m always surprised when people suggest that Ethier is, accounting for his contract, worth anything. Ethier is basically dead weight at his contract right? I mean, for a team with gobs of money, he’s not replacement level or anything, but in terms of portable value, … he has … none.

      Over the last 2 years: (Ethier vs. Kinsler)

      Fld -> 4.0 to 15.7
      BsR -> negative-5.9 to 14.1
      fWAR -> 5.7 to 10.2
      BABIP -> .340 to .257 (which I found really interesting when compared to…)
      ISO -> .154 to .194
      Contract (both 5 years starting in 2013) -> $85M to $75M

      Ethier looks like a lot of downside at this point. His Fld is negative-30.2 for his career. He only has two seasons with fWAR over 3; one at 3.0 (last year) and one at 3.2 (in 2008).

      It seems pretty optimistic to think that he is going to play well enough to earn the money he’ll be paid over the next two or three years, let alone years 4 and 5 of his contract.

      And I haven’t yet touched on the fact that Ethier should probably have a platoon partner against LHPs. His wOBA splits are .389 / .289 (RHP / LHP). So, you’re good against RHPs, but, against LHPs, you’re sending out a hitter with the profile of an all glove, no bat middle infielder.

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      • Daniel says:

        The thing is, when comparing the last 2 years of stats, of course Kinsler comes out on top. His 2011 season was phenomenal. However, in 2012 he lost power, speed, his amazing plate discipline and overall value. I agree that Kinsler is better for the price, but he may be going downhill quite a ways

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    • Aggie E says:

      I am not a fan of Andre Ethier and the fact that he is looking more and more like a platoon player makes him even less attractive…

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    • l1ay says:

      Ethier is a platoon OF. The Rangers already have plenty of those. It’s pretty laughable that the Rangers the ones throwing in the “fodder” to make the deal happen.

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  4. Bo Diaz says:

    Eithier isn’t worth close to what Kinsler is.

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    • Baltar says:

      Hence the fodder.

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    • Amish_Willy says:

      I dunno, one guy Kinsler has benefited greatly from his home park (.306/.389/.526 vs. .238/.311/.396 on the road), while the other has hit consistently at both places, which IMO is more impressive considering he plays in a pitchers park, and with the Giants/Padres, 100 of his 162 games come in such places just from his division, hitting .309/.377/.524 at home and .272/.347/.429. Not to mention Ethier is coming off a better season with the bat, .350 wOBA vs. .327.

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  5. FJ says:

    Excellent analysis, Dave.

    You definitely get the nuances of why the Rangers would have issues with a straight Profar-for-Taveras swap even though the value is similar.

    And I agree that this thought experiment doesn’t have very much of a chance of happening given the risk-averse nature of most GMs and particularly the GMs being talked about.

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  6. Am I crazy for thinking that Profar is much more valuable considering the lack of quality shortstops in the league now? I mean, after the oft injured Tulo there’s a very real drop in quality.

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    • cody k says:

      the thing is though that SS’s might have 5-6 of the top 20 positional prospects right now

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      • carligula says:

        That’s typically the case, but most of those top shortstops prospects aren’t really shortstops – Bogaerts and Baez are probably third baseman before long.

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    • Joe says:

      Profar is the #1 prospect BECAUSE he is a SS. If he played OF, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. It’s not like all things are equal EXCEPT their positions.

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      • Aggie E says:

        Every team but texas wanted him to be a pitcher. Not sure what it has to do with the current discussion though

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  7. Robsteak says:

    Those damned Carindals, with their birds and their squirrels and their stripey socks.

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  8. Tom says:

    Another reason this works for the Cards – after next year, they could move Craig to RF and start Matt Adams at 1B. The future with Profar/Craig/Adams at SS/RF/1B is probably better than Kozma/Taveras/Craig.

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    • Preston says:

      I hadn’t thought of that, I was thinking they were in the same position as the Rangers because Beltran was going to be a FA next year. But Adams at 1b and Craig in RF would definitely maximize their value (unless Adams unexpectedly excels at 2B). So I think the question becomes how much should the Cardinals be willing to give in excess of Taveras to get Profar and would that be enough for the Rangers to accept it. I also wonder if Taveras could play an adequate CF right now, because that would mean him and Cruz could both play everyday.

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    • Buddhasillegitimatechild38 says:

      This is true and Adams is agreat hitter but Greg Garcia may wind up being very good and Adams walk rate is pretty troubling. Additionally, while i really don`t want it, the dh may be in the NL soon, plus with Holliday aging and Craig’s recent bad leg luck maybe eventually shaving some starts from him so Adams would likely get plenty of starts for Holliday or Taveras with Craig shifted+ Adams. You also get into a sustainability of Jay’s BABIP (which to be far has settled through 2500 PAs) vs Taveras ability to stick at center. Taveras could also shift then Craig and adams getting more starts, though Robinson is a perfectly fine 4th OF.

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    • Buddhasillegitimatechild38 says:

      So you are really looking at profar plus Adams additional time which may be less and/or less valuable than you think plus Cardinals crappy Adamsless bench vs Taveras plus the Cardinals crappy SS situation. I think Profar plus 100-200 Adams PAs plus more Wigginton or Descalso isnt much different from Taveras plus Kozma/Garcia/0-3WAR FA that is likely closer to 0 but hopefully closer to 3.

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  9. Grant Brisbee wrote a clever, piece about this on March 3. Highly recommended

    (I hope its kosher to link that, I’m not saying Grant covers it better or anything, but if you like baseball why read just one good column on a topic? Read another! And another!)

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  10. attgig says:

    I’m surprised that stanton for profar have only be in rumor mills and not in actual news….

    just what ARE they doing in miami?!?!

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  11. Buddhasillegitimatechild38 says:

    Mostly agree, but one other thing is that Beltran is gone after next year just like Cruz would be for Texas, so Taveras isnt just upside potential he still makes great sense for the Cardinals. Also positional adjustment is already factored into WAR so the only reason to push for SS over OF is a lack of availability to fill the hole. The one thing people really are looking past is how Texas could happily trade Kinsler and some other peices for a different OF. The trade would make sense and be fun and isn’t likely going to happen, those are all correct, but Taveras isnt blocked any more than Profar and the Rangers have more options with Kinsler other than just switching his position or dealing Profar, Kinsler would be valuable in a trade as well

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    • tomjef says:

      Agree that the present value (this year) ramifications get clouded in GMs minds by the effect on future value, the result of which is reluctance to pull the trigger on such a trade. Thinking of future value (the simplest version of which is just next year), with all of the other roster implications, becomes quite the complex formula, the easiest way out of which is to sit. The Rangers have 2 great SS commodities, you would think they would trade one (otherwise why get 2 in the first place). But if they agree that Taveras’s downside could be Delmon Young in a more fungible OF position, he might not be the right target, opting for a slight older but more mlb proven OF commodity (or other position they need). I also would not take my best prospect and turn him into a 2b, just for the injury risk alone.

      Another consideration I heard being discussed by the cardinal announcers, was the importance the Cards place on consistent instruction, coaching, and messaging throughout their farm system and big league club. The Cards have a history of developing their own talent, their way. I’m not sure there is recent history of Cards trading for prospects developed by other organizations, and if they did, that prospect would have to fit their profile. I’m not really sure what that profile is.

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  12. KCDaveInLA says:

    Maybe one of the teams will do something stupid and trade either prospect for James Shields.

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  13. Anon says:

    I think it is worth noting that the management and front office for the Cardinals appear to value Kozma much more than the projections.

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  14. Sparkles Peterson says:

    I’d take the position that less time in the outfield could only lessen the perception that Nelson Cruz is a defensive liability.

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  15. Cardinology says:

    Love the work, today and all others, so just picking out a small idea in the piece but you noted how “the market pays [more] for power. Do you think the market is catching up in terms of paying for the whole skill set? I mean, yes Prince Fielder got an outrageous contract while being a bad defender and base runner, but we just saw Andrus get paid and Crawford before that. I do think power is still valued more (e.g. Hamilton and Swisher vs Bourn) but I think the gap is closing and may be less significant a factor when Profar and Taveras reach free agency.

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  16. Pat G says:

    I’d be interested in your opinion on the value of the good defensive player vs the high output outfielder in regards to future savings in retaining said archetypes Dave. ie, is there additional value attached to someone (profar in this instance) based on the market rate for defensive runs saved vs offensive runs produced?

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  17. The Humber Games says:

    A couple things this doesn’t mention that have to matter to the Rangers:

    1. They could get some bullpen help along with Taveras in exchange for Profar, and they seem like they could use it

    2. Who’s to say that the Marlins, who just traded for Hechavarria to be their SS of the future, would prefer a package with Profar over one that fills a position of need? If you’re holding Profar in the hopes of getting Stanton, you have to take into account SS isn’t the top need in Miami.

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  18. murphym45 says:

    As a fan of the Cardinals, it would be sad to see Taveras play somewhere else, but the idea of Profar and Wong anchoring the middle infield for the next six years is pretty amazing.

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  19. Tim says:

    I don’t know that I think any of this would be the best for the Rangers if they were going to trade Profar. They could probably get both present help and a slightly lesser top prospect from somebody lower on the win curve. If you’re the Rangers, would you rather have Taveras (or even Stanton) over, say, Josh Willingham and Miguel Sano? The Twins and their complete lack of shortstops would have to at least think hard about that.

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  20. Game6 2011World Series says:

    Cruz is such a defensive liability, he cost the Rangers a trophy

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  21. ElvisMVP says:

    Awesome analysis, Dave. Most fans just look at the rankings of the two players. There are so many variables and motivations in big-asset trades.

    But because of the difficulty of luring free agency arms and the paucity of pitching depth, I suspect that if that Rangers do trade Profar…they do it for premium pitching.

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  22. Anon says:

    Sounds more like the Cardinals should be going after someone like JJ Hardy…

    Hardy is better now than Profar, so helps them better contend for playoffs, which they are projected to be on the verge of making.
    Orioles have this Machado fellow they can slide over so can afford to lose Hardy.

    So what would it take to get Hardy from the Orioles from the Cards?

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    • kevo8 says:

      A lot. It would open a huge hole at third base for Baltimore and they aren’t about to trade Hardy without getting back someone who could help them this year. They are still a playoff team and played the best baseball in the MLB in the second half, including a +70 run differential. There is not reason for the Orioles to trade Hardy right now. They have no one who can play third competently (the “competently” rules out Betemit), Hardy is possibly the best defensive shortstop in baseball, and just last year he had a 4.3 WAR year with 30 homers. It would take a much larger package to get Hardy than I think the Cardinals would be willing to pay.

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    • jrogers says:

      I thought about that match too. How about Matt Carpenter as part of the deal, if not a straight-up swap? He plays third and is a decent major-league hitter, cheaper and probably around for longer than Hardy.

      Orioles side: you like Hardy and Machado, or Machado and Carpenter?
      Cards side: Kozma, Freese/Carpenter, and Carpenter/Descalso, or Hardy, Freese, and Descalso?

      Also, this Nelson Cruz talk… wouldn’t it be David Murphy who Taveras would push to the bench in Texas?

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  23. rebel.lion says:

    Taveras for Machado doesn’t get brought up a lot, but wouldn’t that make about as much sense for both sides as Taveras for Profar?

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  24. Balthazar says:

    I can’t recall any previous straight across swap of two prospects of the present projection of Profar and Taveras. Maybe it happened, but thinking over the last 40+ years I don’t see it. Such prospects do get traded, but usually for someone who already has some track record in the majors. Adrian Gonazalez got traded twice, and neither time was his stock as high. And we just saw Wil Myers get shipped, though most would say that Profar is a notch above him, not least for that high-probability floor.

    These deals just don’t happen. I’d infer that the reputational risk to the GMS mentioned above in the thread is the reason, or the largest reason. Until a guy has a half season in the bigs at least, nobody really knows what his level is. Swapping a once-in-a-career prospect out of your org for any kind of question mark just has to be too hard to shake on. Getting a realistic probability back, now that’s a different premise.

    . . . And I more than wonder it Texas is in fact edging toward trading Profar. The ‘permanent signing’ of Andrus is a surprise, to me. Texas _really_ likes him, even thouth Profar really is a SS and might well even be better. Texas just isn’t playing their cards like Profar is the future. Of course, that could be front office confusion given the power struggle of a sort in the ownership group there. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Profar is traded, but it’s hard to conclude that Texas would do it for Taveras, even if he was the best all round match outside of risk. There is no ‘outside of risk’ place to stand on and do a deal . . . .

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    • Balthazar says:

      That said, would _I_ do the swap? Yeah, it makes too many kinds of sense. It’s also interesting to consider Profar for Bogaerts, with Xander sliding to an infield corner as he’s ready and Texas simply keeping it’s middle infield for the next few years. Profar looks great; but Texas already has someone who’s pretty darn good at what he does, and _another_ major league level SS prospect.

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  25. Dan says:

    Taveras’ downside is not Delmon Young. As good as Young was in the minors, his numbers were still not as good as Oscar’s, especially when you consider K/BB ratio.

    It’s surprising to me how often this is overlooked. I read a lot about prospects, and very often you’ll see this about a guy with great tools: “He’ll be good if he can cut down on the strikeouts”. Sometimes they do because they figure out a better approach, but if they’re up there striking out a lot and doing it three times as often as they walk, they’re going to falter against better pitchers. They’re used to getting by with their raw skills, but they don’t know what they’re doing at the plate. They don’t have skills the way Pablo Sandoval and Oscar Tavares have skills. Those guys can square up enough pitches to make up for a poor-to-middling approach. Guys like Delmon Young can’t. Guys like Brett Jackson maybe can figure it out. He strikes out a lot, but he walks enough to maybe become Mike Cameron-ish. I’d bet against it though.

    Bubba Starling? Meh, probably won’t be good. This is easy!

    Oscar Taveras does not have a high strikeout rate, and his ratio is good. He has struck out 190 times and walked 115 times so far. His floor is not Delmon Young, because he’s nothing like Delmon Young. His floor is easily higher, maybe like Pablo Sandoval in a bad year, an average or so hitter.

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