Ozzie Smith retired from baseball in 1996 after 15 seasons with the Cardinals. During that time, he won 11 Gold Gloves and was voted to the All Star Team 14 years.
In the 16 years since his retirement, the Cardinals have had 6 different shortstops (Royce Clayton, Edgar Renteria, David Eckstein, Cesar Izturis, Brendan Ryan and Rafael Furcal) and, other than Edgar Renteria's 6 years, none has spent more than 3 years at the helm.
I understand that in this day and age, it is difficult to develop and retain a player. Renteria, the best of the bunch, left the Cardinals for greener pastures after the 2004 season. Whereas the other players were either traded (Clayton, Ryan) or allowed to leave via free agency (Izturis, Eckstein) and chances are Furcal will join the latter group.
The cheapest way for the Cardinals to find an heir to Ozzie's throne would be via the draft, whereas the Cards can control the rights of the player for several years at a below market rate. However, the Cardinals have already tried this route twice, drafting Tyler Greene in the first round (30th overall) in the 2005 draft and selecting Pete Kozma 18th overall in the 2007 draft.
Greene never panned out for the Cards, hitting .218/.295/.329 in 495 at bats over 4 years before being traded to the Astros. Kozma doesn't look much better, despite his strong September and postseason, as his .236/.308/.344 career line in the minors hints that his performance was a small sample size fluke.
So, with Furcal likely gone after this season, where can the Cardinals turn to fill the gap?
One option is free agency. However, a quick look at the potential free agent list for 2014 reveals a bunch of players on the wrong side of 30. Yeah, you could take a chance on someone like Yunel Escobar or Stephen Drew, but they are not a long-term solution.
The best bet is to trade for a young, major league ready shortstop. This is where the Texas Rangers come in. The Rangers have two young shortstops in Elvis Andrus and top prospect Jurickson Profar and it seems likely that they would move one of the two to fill a hole elsewhere.
One such hole is starting pitching. The Rangers have been searching for starting pitching all offseason, pursuing the likes of Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez and Edwin Jackson, before they signed elsewhere, and recent reports indicate that the Rangers are looking more at trades than free agency to improve their team at this point.
The Cardinals have an abundance of young pitching that they could offer, including Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha. It seems, on paper at least, that the two sides could work something out.
However, despite Buster Olney's speculation that the Rangers would likely trade Andrus this offseason, the Diamondbacks tried unsuccessfully to land either Andrus or Profar for Justin Upton, before settling for Didi Gregorious in a 3 team trade involving their top pitching prospect, Trevor Bauer.
So, could the Cardinals pry either one away from the Rangers? Probably, but it will be costly. I'm guessing it would take at least Lynn and one of the other 4 youngsters to land Andrus. Profar may be a little cheaper in terms of prospects, as he is as still unproven, but he is generally considered the top prospect in the game and would still likely require two young pitchers in return.
A trade like that would put a big dent in the Cards pitching depth. But, if it fills the Cardinals hole at short for the next 10 years, it would be worth it.