The year was 2007. I was 17, on vacation with my family in what was the last full summer I got to enjoy before I left for college the following August, in 2008. My parents drove my two brothers and I from our home in Southern California up to Washington state to visit my aunt and uncle, opting to detour through Nevada, Colorado, and Utah, before boomeranging around Montana into Idaho before reaching the most eastern portion of Washington where Spokane is located. That’s where my relatives lived.
It was July 31st, the day of the most epic and franchise-defining trade deadline the Rangers have ever partaken in. I was in Montana at the time, and I remember it being a sunny but very chilling early afternoon. The ground outside still looked frigid from the morning dew, and listening to oldies on the radio I couldn’t help but feeling encased by the vast, open fields surrounding me in every direction, jack pines lined up like fortification off in the blurry distance.
This was the version of America only seen in photos to a Southern Californian, so naturally I was basing myself in reality the only way I knew how: checking for updates from ESPN on my small Samsung flip phone.
After I refreshed the page for the 14-thousanth time, I finally got the news I had been waiting all day for — Mark Teixeira was traded, to Atlanta, no less. In return the Rangers were to receive star catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia, AA left-hander Matt Harrison, rookie-ball flamethrower Neftali Feliz, and some 18 year-old shortstop named Elvis Andrus *.
I didn’t know what to think at the time. I’d never heard of any of the prospects; mainly I was just happy we found a suitor for Teixeira, elated to see him out of the organization.
The next few years defined what can now be considered one of the most lopsided trades in the history of baseball, and more importantly for the Rangers and its fans, the foundation of the franchise as we now know it to be.
* Lefty pitcher Beau Jones was also included in this deal.
* * * * * *
It’s now 2012. More specifically, it’s the offseason of 2012.
Elvis Andrus has been in the Major Leagues for a full four seasons up to this point. And with two years left, and a little over $11M owed to him, it’s regretfully time for him to leave.
He might be the most dynamic defensive shortstop in the Major Leagues, conflating his above average to near-elite talents with an almost childlike passion for playing the game of baseball. I love to watch him play, and feel the last four years of having him on my favorite team is a privilege I am lucky to have experienced over the course of my young lifetime.
And as much as I’d truly hate to see him go, it seems the most rational and efficient way to progress the franchise.
The first and most important reason why we need to trade Elvis Andrus actually has nothing to do with him, but rather, what is going to happen to the most productive hitter on the Rangers in the last 5 years. That’s Josh Hamilton. As everyone knows, Hamilton is a free agent, and unless you’ve been reading too many of Richard Durrett’s articles, you also know the odds of him returning to Texas are about as slim as planting a one-dollar bill into the ground and expecting a tree of money to start cultivating through the roots in your backyard.
On Friday, the Rangers offered Hamilton a qualifying one-year, $13.3M contract to ensure a first-round draft pick as compensation when Josh opts to leave in free agency sometime this winter.
That leaves Texas with an outfield collection of David Murphy, Nelson Cruz, and a platoon in center of Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin. Murphy (4.0 fWAR) had the best season of his career in 2012, and Nelson Cruz (1.3 fWAR) had one of his worst; if you assume they each regress to their career mean outputs in 2013, you’re looking at about 4 WAR between the two. The Martin/Gentry platoon is the real wild card here, and they could very well equal the output of Murphy and Cruz over the course of the year, but you also have to figure that’s a pretty optimistic way of viewing matters. The other side of the coin says Gentry is nothing near the player he was in the limited time he saw the field in 2012, and that Leonys Martin is nothing more than a bust that Jon Daniels splurged on a couple years ago. It just depends how you look at it.
Not to be outdone, the second factor into why now is the best time to trade Andrus is because his replacement is already here, already ready. That person is the game’s top prospect, Jurickson Profar. Profar, only 20, should be the starting shortstop on Opening Day just as Elvis Andrus was at the same age back in 2009. At AA Frisco, Profar produced a triple slash line of .281/.368/.452 in over 500 plate appearances, totaling a wOBA of .364 with a wRC+ at 127. Andrus, at the same age and at the same level, was at .295/.350/.367, with a wOBA hovering in the .330 range, while accumulating a wRC+ of 93. Profar is clearly the more advanced offensive specimen.
Because of how sparingly Ron Washington deployed his bench in 2012, we really didn’t get ample time to see Profar in the field, but, based on scouting reports, although his range and glove aren’t on Elvis’s level, they are well above league average to go with an absolute cannon for an arm. Over the course of a theoretical 2013 season with Jurickson playing shortstop, it’s fair to say we may be losing between 5 and 10 runs with him playing short instead of Andrus, but there’s no reason to believe Jurickson’s bat won’t more than make up for that differential.
Again, it’s not that I want to see Elvis Andrus traded; it’s just that the pieces in play make it such that it would make a lot of sense.
At the beginning of 2012, Ian Kinsler was given a 5-year, $70M extension in his age-29 season. If you were a member of the Rangers front office, having to decide between Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus, who would you select? I think that answer is pretty simple: Elvis Andrus. He’s younger, plays better defense, and his smile is easily more marketable. But it wasn’t Andrus that got the extension. Why could that be?
Well, a major factor has to be that Scott Boras is Andrus’s agent, and he generally doesn’t like his clients taking deals before they reach their free agency window. Elvis Andrus is going to be in the prime of his career when the 2014 season concludes, and he’s already one of the top-3 shortstops in all of baseball. What do you think that equates to?
Money. Lots of money.
It’s not out of the question that Andrus was, in fact, the real person of interest for the Rangers front office in 2012, but that his agent, Scott Boras, elected to play with the leverage he had and say his client was more interested in testing the market when his contract expired. If you figure Andrus will be 26 when his contract runs up, he stands to receive a contract in the range of 8-10 years, and, being that he plays a priority position and is one of the best at it, it’s conceivable to think he will be making something between $17M and $20M per season average annual value (AAV). That equates to a commitment, at the very minimum, of $136M over 8 years, and at a maximum of $200M over 10. Is that really how much you’d like to spend on a guy who can’t bang out 30-40 home runs per year, or even 10?
The simple answer is no.
Listen, I understand this article is going to be met with a lot of “You must be an idiot to think like this, IT’S ELVIS ANDRUS.” I get that. But what we’re dealing with here is simply a matter of what’s more important, your heart or your mind? Your heart tells you that you love watching Elvis Andrus play, that you’re happy he’s on your team and can’t imagine a scenario where he’s playing somewhere else. Your mind tells you this is just business. The best business decision isn’t to pay Elvis Andrus an exorbitant amount of money, but instead that it would be more valuable to trade him, to get a big bat to help supplement the loss of Josh Hamilton’s production, that there may even be a player replacing Andrus whom you’ll also love.
In a magical sort of way, we admire watching the players who come and go from the franchise, but no one player is bigger than the franchise itself.
So I say trade him. The most obvious candidate to satisfy this transition is Arizona’s Justin Upton, who still has 3 years and $38M left on his own contract. Over the last 4 years Upton has produced 16.4 fWAR, and he’s still yet to hit his prime years. He’s young, controllable, and satisfies our needs on defense without Josh Hamilton patrolling the open Arlington outfield. More importantly, he would give us a viable #3 hitter in our lineup to help spark an offense that was clearly lacking in comparison to its harmonious 2011 season. If Texas presented a package of Andrus, David Murphy, Rougned Odor and Justin Grimm, I don’t see why the Diamondbacks wouldn’t be willing to listen. There is no team out there with more talent to offer than the Rangers.
With the glaring need for a powerful outfielder and a younger, cheaper, higher-ceilinged replacement ready to take over the position which has become his, It’s Time star Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus experiences what it’s like to be on the other end of a trade. He’s no longer 18 going from high-A Myrtle Beach in the Braves organization to Bakersfield where the old Rangers single-A team played. Now it’s bigger. It’s to help with the next major transition in Rangers baseball.
I don’t know where I’ll be if and when the news actually hits the wire. Maybe this is all in my head and I’m just a delusional baseball theorist. But I do know, like every other major move that’s ever went down, that I’ll remember where I am.
Then maybe in 5 years I can write another article like this to see how far we’ve come.