Since this was announced on Monday, which was April 1st (aka April Fool’s Day), it feels like this isn’t happening; however, after it was made official, giving a career .275/.342/.353 line an eight-year, $120 million seems like a nightmare, especially after the club was unwilling to give Josh Hamilton an extension or make the first offer when he hit free agency this winter. After allowing a player who has averaged a .305/.363/.549 line to leave for their biggest rival, they gave Andrus $15 million per season on an extension, all while Jurickson Profar waits for a position to open up in Texas.
Andrus is a fine player. Since arriving in 2009, he has posted a 13.0 WAR, which is sixth among shortstops during that time. He leads shortstops in stolen bases (123), he is second to Derek Jeter in runs scores (341), and he is 21st among shortstops in OPS (.695). TWENTY-FIRST.
Andrus provides a solid batting eye (8.4 percent walk rate vs. 13.2 percent strikeout rate) to go along with his solid speed, which allows him to utilize his skills on the base paths to score runs in a very potent offense. While he can get on base and score runs, his defense is where his true value develops.
Andrus’ UZR/150 rating is 7.8, fourth among shortstops since 2009 behind Brendan Ryan, J.J. Hardy, and Alexei Ramirez. His .971 fielding percentage is 15th among shortstops since 2009. Of the three players above Andrus in zone fielding who have higher fielding percentages than Andrus, only Alexei Ramirez has a higher OPS. If Ramirez can field better and post better numbers at short, is he worth $15 million or more per season?
Ramirez is 31 and doesn’t have the favorable upside that Andrus possesses, but we’ve seen speed become useless several times before. In 2004, Cesar Izturis had his best season at the age of 24:
While he didn’t post numbers close to what Andrus did prior to his age-24 season, he displayed solid gap power, speed, and, of course, impressive defensive skills. He won his first and only Gold Glove in 2004, posting a .985 fielding percentage and a 3.8 WAR.
Compare that production to Andrus’ career stats:
Is there a whole lot of difference in the abilities of these players, outside of the fact that Andrus’ had four seasons completed prior to his age-24 season, which will be the 2013 season? Certainly, Andrus is better than Izturis, but would anyone have paid Izturis $15 million per season if every one of his seasons had been as solid as his 2004 season?
Luis Castillo was an excellent second baseman early in his career for the, then, Florida Marlins. Sure, he wasn’t a shortstop, but he had the same type of skill-set, possibly better, with more speed and on-base skills, while Andrus seems to have more gap power. Once Castillo hurt his feet, though, his 50+ steals potential was also hurt, and he became a 20 stolen base, empty .300-hitting middle infielder. If Andrus gets hurt or loses speed, where is his value? He can’t cover as much ground defensively and his ability to create runs with his legs is gone, as well.
Shortstop is a very tough position, but the value of defensive metrics have taken over the player’s ability to help the club in other ways, specifically with their bat. Cal Ripken, Jr., Barry Larkin, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada did a dirty, dirty thing to the position, allowing solid contribution across the board to become a reasonable expectation. Today, only Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes seem like those types of dynamic, offensive-minded shortstops, and for that reason, they appear to be worth exorbitant contracts.
The Rangers aren’t the only team that feels that defense is very important, though. When the Cincinnati Reds turned Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs into Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald in their trade with the Cleveland Indians this offseason, that was one thing, as Choo is a free agent after the 2013 season, but when the Indians flipped Gregorius to the Arizona Diamondbacks with Lars Anderson and Tony Sipp for Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, and, potential ace, Trevor Bauer, the new value of shortstops in baseball was apparent. Slap-hitting, defensively skilled middle infielders now have quite a bit of value.
So, if Gregorius, a career .265/.317/.370 hitter in the minor leagues, had that sort of value, then what is Xander Bogaerts worth? Bogaerts, a Boston Red Sox farm hand, hit .307/.373/.523 with a 4.13 range factor and .959 fielding percentage as a 19-year-old over High-A and Double-A in 2012. Gregorius had a range factor of 3.96 and a .964 fielding percentage as a 22-year-old over Double-A and Triple-A in 2012.
Furthermore, if Elvis Andrus is worth an eight-year, $120 million contract, then shouldn’t Troy Tulowitzki fire his agent? His extension for the 2015 to 2020 seasons gives him roughly $19.67 million per season, which isn’t nearly enough considering Andrus can’t carry his compression shorts with cup, since jock straps aren’t used anymore.
The good news for Andrus is that he has an opt-out clause after the 2018 season, allowing him to reach free agency during his prime, potentially earning more money if he reaches higher levels of production; however, if he under-performs or gets hurt, the Rangers don’t have an opt-out clause. The question now is: Was this a good contract for the Texas Rangers?
With Ian Kinsler signed through 2017 (with a 2018 team option) and Andrus locked up, where does Jurickson Profar go? What if Kinsler has another poor season, as his .749 OPS in 2012 was the worst of his career? Can they trade him? There have been leaks of Kinsler getting moved to left field or first base, but what happen to Mike Olt, another Rangers prospect, who is blocked through 2015 at third (possibly 2016, since Beltre has a vesting option)? Can Kinsler hit enough to play left? Do the Rangers trade Olt? Does Profar move to center even though Leonys Martin is hoping to prove himself there in 2013? Should they trade Profar?
The Rangers have committed to defense by signing Andrus and they have committed to spending a lot of money on mediocre offense. After letting Josh Hamilton walk, not addressing their No.5 starter situation this winter, and building excellent talent that they seem to be unwilling to commit to from their minor league system, the Rangers, who have made three straight playoff appearances, seem to have no clear direction to their roster makeup going forward.