Now there’s the big fish. Not Darwin Barney, not Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus. There’s actually been chatter for years about how great it would be for the Tigers to acquire Elvis Andrus, but it was all entirely idle. Not only would the price for Andrus have been very high, but the Rangers simply would not have been interested in dealing him.
I’m wondering if that might have changed. The first reason you might imagine is that the Rangers DO have (as mentioned earlier) an excess of middle infielders, they can afford to trade any one of them away if they get the right deal. This might have been true a year ago, but they may not have wanted to lean heavily on Jurickson Profar at that time. I think the second and third reasons are at least as significant: the Rangers signed him to a big contract extension and he didn’t have a very good year in 2013.
Sep 23, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (1) follows through for a single against the Houston Astros during the first inning of a baseball game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
If you sign a 23-year-old to a $120 million dollar contract extension, you’re probably expecting him to develop rather than just keep doing what he has been doing in order for him to be worth the money. Andrus is relatively affordable for 2014, but he’s going to be an expensive player starting in 2015 and going to continue to be an expensive player through his mid=30s. As such, the Rangers penny-pinching management (apparently burned by some bad deals a decade ago) had to be dismayed with Andrus’ 2013 season in which he struck out more, walked less and hit for less power than in 2012 or 2011 (in addition to a lower BABIP). Of the 17 shortstops who qualified for the batting title last year, Andrus finished 14th in OPS. Not that Andrus had no value in 2013, but as of March it was easy to imagine him as being on an inevitable upward trend: .643 OPS in 2011, .708 in 2012, .727 in 2012, .740 in 2013? .760 in 2014? Nope. 659 in 2013 and who knows what in 2014.
I’m not sure that there is a great reason to expect a “bounce back” in 2014 and beyond from Andrus… it was the 2012 BABIP that was the “outlier” rather than 2013. Nonetheless, “Steamer” does project a bit of a recovery in BB% and a bit of a recovery in K% leading to a bit of a recovery (to a .704 OPS) in his on-base-plus-slugging. But… Andrus still had value even in 2013 – he plays great defense at a premium position and he wreaks havoc on the basepaths. If the Detroit Tigers want to change their team’s direction toward better defense and better baserunning to improve their ability to win close games there is probably no better guy to chase than Elvis Andrus – a top of the order bat with top of the order gloves and an elite glove in the middle infield. IF the Tigers were to be able to get their hands on him, either he or Iglesias would have to switch to second base, a position neither has any extensive experience at. I would imagine, as the veteran, it would be Andrus who would be allowed to keep his current position. Both Andrus and Iglesias have fantastic range and the reaction times and agility needed to turn tough double plays. The first order of business – as far as I’m concerned – should such a deal be completed ought to be to sign both Doug Fister and Rick Porcello to long-term contract extensions. If you have ever wondered what it would look like if Rick Porcello could hold a .270 BABIP, you will find out. To give the whole thing away: it looks like Doug Fister’s 2011 campaign. This is not a fact many draw attention to, but Doug Fister and Rick Porcello are the two most extreme groundballers in baseball right now and have been playing for a team that only punishes those tendencies.
The last question is what it would cost to get Andrus, my presumption is not that he has become cheap but that the Rangers may now be open to trading him at all. I’d have to say that the discussion would start with either Max Scherzer or Nick Castellanos. For any Rangers fans reading this, feeling that I am plotting to steal your beloved shortstop and planning to flame me in the comments section, I don’t imagine Andrus could be had for a song (or a Prince Fielder). I would say that either Scherzer OR Castellanos would not be enough to get Elvis Andrus but that Scherzer AND Castellanos would be far too high a price for the Tigers to accept. Scherzer (combined with one or two of the Tigers top 20 prospects not named Nick Castellanos) in particular is probably a price most Tigers fans (and maybe the Tigers owner) would balk at – but I think I would make that trade. I would even go so far as to make this bold prediction: IF Andrus for Scherzer gets done, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello will put up about the same numbers as Max Scherzer in 2014. Such a deal might not make the Tigers appreciably better in 2014 (though it would save a little money), but it would make them vastly better in 2015 than they will be when Scherzer walks.