The Pursuit of an Ace

Each MLB Pro team has an Opening Day pitcher, a #1 in the rotation, a pitcher that each team believes is the leader of the rotation and someone they can count on in any given game. The range of #1’s across the league at any given time though can be quite wide. Some times rely on veterans who are well established workhorses, while others turn to a young, and up-and-coming arms with pure velocity and hope for the future.

When it comes to MLB Pro #1’s, a pitcher that has long sat at the very top of the list of starting pitchers has been St. Louis Cardinals lefty Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, preparing for his tenth MLB Pro season, has long been established as a premier pitcher. The league’s career leader in ERA, FIP, WAR, strikeouts, and WHIP, is coming off of a year in which he went 13-7, with an ERA of 2.75, 258 strikeouts and just 29 walks in 203 innings.

Jeffery LeBlanc, Kershaw’s teammate and a fellow lefty pitcher, described Kershaw as, “the consummate pro, he’s a guy that the whole clubhouse looks up to.”

What LeBlanc had to say about Kershaw has long been echoed by teammates throughout Kershaw’s career. And with the Cardinals coming off of a 94 win season and as the favorite to again win the NL Central, it brings about great questions as to why the Cardinals are rumored to be trying to trade Kershaw.

The question at this point in time does not appear to be whether Kershaw will be traded or not, but rather, to whom? Kershaw, as dominant and consistent as he has been, will be 33 years of age on Opening Day and is scheduled to make $70,000,000 over the next two seasons, before he has a pair of player option decisions to make in 2023 at $25,000,000 and in 2024 at $15,000,000. Here is a look at possible trade destinations and packages that could be in play:

Orioles Trade: SP Mason Denaburg, SP Seaver Sheets, CF Marco Luciano
Cardinals Trade: SP Clayton Kershaw

After winning 102 games in 2018, the Orioles have won 71 in back-to-back seasons. While Clayton Kershaw alone would not turn the Orioles into a playoff team, he would help turn the franchise into a team that can be a .500 team. Denaburg and Sheets are each Baseball America Top 50 prospects, with Denaburg’s stuff being graded as very good. Luciano, while years away from the bigs, has all five tools. In addition to the prospect haul, the Orioles have an ability to take on the entire Kershaw contract without any consequences or limitations when it comes to needing money to re-sign players in the near future.

Red Sox Trade: C Jacob Realmuto, 3B Manel Penetra, SP Logan Allen, and SP Edward Small
Cardinals Trade: SP Clayton Kershaw

The Red Sox recently made a big splash by adding free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole. They could make another big addition by acquiring Kershaw. This package is headlined by top 50 prospet Manel Penetra who at just 18 years-old, some scouts believe he has a future in the middle of an MLB lineup. Logan Allen possesses an elite changeup as part of a four-pitch arsenal that could land him in the middle of a rotation by 2022 or 2023. Realmuto and Small could immediately join the Cardinals roster, albeit with Realmuto joining a logjam behind the plate. Like Baltimore, the Red Sox would be in position to acquire all of Kershaw’s contracat.

Twins Trade: SP Ian Anderson, SP Shane Baz, LF Griffin Conine, and SP Chubba Purdy
Cardinals Trade: SP Clayton Kershaw

The Twins scored the 5th most runs in the American League this past season, but with the pitching staff ranking 12th in runs allowed, the Twins finished just 76-86 last year. With the Indians and White Sox having passed Minnesota last year, acquiring Kershaw would be a shot in the arm for the Twins who look to win now while still having Gary Copeland. Baz is a top-100 prospect who was joined at AA by Ian Anderson, each of whom are coming off of quality seasons. Griffin Conine, a former 2nd-round pick, is a quality base-runner, an above-average defender, and someone whose bat is not far away from finding a home in an MLB lineup. Like the other teams already mentioned, Minnesota too could manage a deal taking on all of Kershaw’s contract.

Angels Trade: OF/DH Masutaro Ohayashi, SP Alex Holtman, SP Carter Stewart, and RP Chris Hughes
Cardinals Trade: SP Clayton Kershaw

The Angels having lost Ryan Copeland in free-agency make a surprise move and acquire Kershaw using the best MLB piece offered to the Cardinals in OF/DH Masutaro Ohayashi. Ohayashi slides into a spot in the corner outfield and heart of the Cardinals lineup. Holtman is a top-50 prospect who touches 97 on the gun with a mix of a fastball, slider, and changeup. The Cardinals would free up money, while remaining very competitive with the addition of Ohayashi, they would just have to feel comfortable with a player who is a free-agent after the 2021 season. The Angels replace Copeland and create room for the bat of Bryan Hennessey at DH.

Astros Trade: SP Juan Davilla, SP Josh Norbe, 3B Jordan Walker, and RP Julian Gompertz
Cardinals Trade: SP Clayton Kershaw

The Astros off-season goals have been clear, they want to compete in 2021. A team on the rise for the past few seasons have already added a young and promising arm in Ryan Weathers, by adding Kershaw, the Astros immediately join contention in the American League. Davila is just 24, and showed promise at times last season and would provide quality depth for St. Louis. Norbe is a top-50 prospect who rose quickly through the ranks last year. Walker was the 17th overall pick in this past draft and is someone who has light-tower power. While he has a history of far too many swings and misses, he has immense potential. The concern with adding Kershaw would come in regards to the free-agent to be status of Jose Abreu (after 2021), Jose Gonzalez (2022), and both Arredondo and Bill La after 2023.

Mariners Trade: SP Mark Appel, SP Matthew Thompson, OF Robert Hassell, and RP Cole Kelley
Cardinals Trade: SP Clayton Kershaw

The Mariners are coming off of a 104-win season and are positioned to add Mark Appel back to the mix. But after tearing his rotator cuff in 2019, the Mariners use the former All-Star to add Kershaw and form a 1-2-3 of Hultzen, Kershaw, and Hooper. Thompson is already blocked behind a loaded rotation and with Hassell and Kelley not ready to help in 2021 or 2022, the Mariners go all-in. A team that previously moved countless prospects for Cabanas does it again here. St. Louis does it because Appel has the potential to match Kershaw’s numbers if his arm is in fact healthy in 2021. Thompson has the makings of a future top-half of the rotation arm while Hassell’s bat shows enough promise to also be a future regular.

Nationals Trade: SP Mark Davies, 3B Oneil Cruz, SP Reid Detmers
Cardinals Trade: SP Clayton Kershaw

Mark Davies was acquired in 2015 as part of the Stephen Strasburg trade. He quickly made his ways to the bigs and had a terrific rookie season in 2017. Davies pairs elite stuff with elite control. The only things that some question are his durability and his ability to go deep into games. He pitched in just 109 innings last season after dealing with arm issues. Oneil Cruz was signed in 2018 out of the Dominican Republic, he shows plus power having hit 70 home-runs across A & AA play the last two seasons. He shows decent plate discipline and is someone that will hit in the middle of an MLB lineup in several years. The Nationals with a durable front-line starter instantly become a likely playoff team and someone few if any other NL teams would want to face in a short series.

Braves Trade: SP Austin Brice, SS CJ Abrams, 3B Jordan Groshans, SP Tony Gutierrez, SP Sam Bazley
Cardinals Trade: SP Clayton Kershaw

Ever since trading away Armando Cabanas and Mark Appel, the Atlanta Braves organization has been turned upside-down. Management is tired of rebuilding and is looking to find ways to compete as soon as possible. With boatloads of quality prospect depth, they are able to build a deal around three top-100 prospects, while keeping four others. CJ Abrams is a spray hitter who uses his tremendous speed to be a pest to opposing teams. He has gold-glove potential and can be a leader on a team. Jordan Groshans mixes contact and power potential to be a piece many would covet. Tony Gutierrez has a raw arm, an ability to hit 98 on the gun, and a four-pitch mix that have mid-rotation makeup. Sam Bazley could turn into an elite reliever with stuff that scouts rave about. What makes Kershaw to Atlanta possible is an option to change many of the names listed her with the likes of Millard Thomas, Bo Bichette, Mick Abel, and many other highly-regarded prospects. Kershaw would join Kolby Allard and Brady Aiken to quickly establish the Braves rotation as an NL wrecking force, while keeping enough prospects to continue, but quickly push forward the rebuild.

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