Shortstop is annually a weak position on the free-agent market, and a year after Jose Reyes cashed in with the Marlins, the field of options is as weak as ever.
In fact, the starting-caliber players checking in as free agents start and end with Stephen Drew, and he is only available after the A's turned down their $10 million option on him.
Teams looking to for a starting shortstop this offseason are not without options though, as Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (h/t Terry Pluto of The Plain Dealer) and Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (h/t Richard Durrett of ESPN) are both potentially available on the trade market.
Here is a breakdown of what each player would bring to a team who sets out to acquire them, as well as why I think that Cabrera represents the better option to pursue.
Originally a top prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization, the Rangers acquired Andrus at the deadline in 2007 as part of the impressive package that Mark Teixeira brought in a trade with Atlanta.
A year-and-a-half later, he was handed the starting shortstop job at the age of 20 to open the 2009 season. He held his own, hitting .267 BA, 6 HR, 40 RBI, 33 SB to finish second in AL Rookie of the Year voting while playing fantastic defense.
His offensive game has rounded into form each year since, and he has emerged as a terrific No. 2 hitter slotted behind Ian Kinsler in the Rangers potent lineup while continuing to play Gold Glove caliber defense.
Most teams would consider a 24-year-old budding star like Andrus to be untouchable, but the Rangers have a shortstop prospect in Jurickson Profar who has the potential to be even better.
The 19-year-old Profar made his debut last season, as he's been moved aggressively through the Rangers system, and a .281 BA, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 16 SB line as one of the youngest players in Double-A shows just how advanced he is at such a young age.
It's a nice problem to have, but it's likely at some point this season the Rangers will need to find a way to get Profar into an everyday big league role, one way or another.
With Kinsler and Adrian Beltre locked in at second and third base, there aren't many options for getting creative. One potential move that has been thrown around is moving Kinsler to center field, but it remains to be seen if the Rangers would even consider that.
Instead, Andrus ranks as one of the biggest potential trade chips on the market this season, and while the Rangers certainly won't just give him away, they certainly have reason to explore every option available to them when it comes to dealing him.
Cabrera made his debut as a 21-year-old in August of 2007, and wound up taking over as the team's everyday second baseman for the stretch run. He hit .283 BA, 3 HR, 22 RBI in 45 games and helped the Indians to an ALCS trip.
Viewed as an obvious breakout candidate for 2008, he instead struggled to establish himself as an everyday player and hit just .259. That improved to a solid .308 BA, 6 HR, 68 RBI line in 2009, but injuries limited him the following season and he entered the 2011 season as a question mark.
Those questions were quickly put to rest though, as he finally broke out to the extent many thought he would with a .273 BA, 25 HR, 92 RBI season as he started at shortstop for the AL in the All-Star Game and took home the Silver Slugger.
That performance earned him a three-year, $21.05 million extension through 2014, and while he didn't quite match those numbers this past season, he remains one of the top offensive shortstops in the game right now and is still just 26 years old.
With the Indians headed for a full-scale rebuild, he represents one of the team's better trade chips. While he's not ready just yet, the team has a terrific shortstop prospect in Francisco Lindor as a long-term answer at the position, and by the time they are back to relevancy, Cabrera will likely be gone either via trade or free agency, so they will no doubt shop him this offseason.
Who Is The Better Option?
Both players are signed to reasonable contracts through 2014, as Andrus inked a three-year, $14.4 million deal prior to the 2012 season, and Cabrera a three-year, $21.05 million deal.
While Andrus is two years younger, Cabrera is undoubtedly the better all-around offensive player and entering his prime he has the potential to put up a .300 BA, 30 HR, 100 RBI season in the right situation.
Andrus is the better defender, without a doubt, but his offensive game is what it is at this point. He'll hit about .280 with a solid on-base percentage and 20-plus stolen bases.
At the end of the day, it comes down to asking price, and while neither player will come cheap, the Rangers will be asking far more for Andrus than the Indians will for Cabrera.
As a contending team, Texas does not simply want to give away one of their key cogs and turn the job over to an unproven rookie, even one as good as Profar. It will take them being wowed to give up Andrus. A swap for Jacoby Ellsbury or Justin Upton has been brought up, but it appears that the team would not even be willing to do a one-for-one trade for either of those players.
For a team looking to take the next steps towards contention and upgrade shortstop, Cabrera is far more attainable without selling the farm and, as a result, I think he represents the better option of the two on this year's trade market.
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