NFL teams tend to draft proven collegiate talent with high upside. The first 14 lottery selections in the NBA draft are typically reserved for players just a year or two removed from playing in high school. So why is it, in Major League Baseball, that when trades go through we usually reward the team making the big name acquisition as the winner, while the team merely coming away with prospects plays second fiddle? Is the concept not the same as the two other sports? After all, prospects of any kind offer the most dangerous of all things beautiful: potential.
When the Rangers were finally finished twisting the knife in Atlanta’s back after the Mark Teixeira trade of 2007, they came away with the most impressive haul of prospects since the new millennium. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the cosmically ironic headline piece in the package, as he was also the first to be ostracized from the organization. Neftali Feliz almost instantly became one of the best high-leverage bullpen arms in the sport. Matt Harrison took a little longer to develop, but developed is now is, and he’s the team’s #2 starter. The final piece was arguably the hottest name, the one occupying a premium and scarce position, the one with the most potential. That was Elvis Andrus.
Only 24, Elvis never played a game above class AA. In 2009 he burst onto the scene, replacing the joke of a Gold Glove winning shortstop and purported Face Of The Franchise, Michael Young — a move that altered both the complexion of the team, along with signaling the start to a new organizational philosophy, centric to defense. The Rangers have never been the same since, and for the positive.
Elvis Andrus is arguably the best defensive shortstop in the Major Leagues (+28.0 UZR since ’09), as well as an elite base runner (+28.1 BsR since ’09). What he is not is an elite hitter. Each successive year he’s been in the Majors, Rangers fans tell themselves: “This is going to be the year he breaks out offensively,” when in reality he either (a) doesn’t have the swing, (b) doesn’t have the approach, or (c) just isn’t physically gifted enough to carry a ball out of the yard. It speaks to how exceptional he’s been in 4 years that he has provided 13.9 fWAR (about 3.5 wins per season) with only a glove and some wheels.
People like to think he is developing as a hitter. He isn’t. In 4 years his highest wRC+ is 95; he has also reached 91. 100 wRC+ is league average. For a shortstop, he is about exactly average offensively (which makes sense, since, you know, shortstops don’t hit for as much pop as 1st baseman, for instance). For big league hitters in general, he is slightly below average. That’s fine. I just don’t want you to be confused about his lack of offensive prowess. (And if you want to blame Ron Washington for having Andrus bunt so damn much, then yes, I agree it’s stupid, but it doesn’t dismiss his objective offensive statistics.)
If you’ve been following this blog for any stretch of time since August, you will come to understand my displeasure with Elvis still being on the Texas Rangers as of now. I’ve written about it so much the whole idea has become antiquated. He is represented by Scott Boras, so with teams like the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Phillies all figuring to be in the market for an elite shortstop when Elvis’s contract runs up in two years, we should all be resigned to the notion that he will not be coming back.
From that vantage point, this offseason would have been a good time to cash in on his value in favor of what we love and loathe the most: prospect potential.
If you’re looking for something to hang your hat on as far as Andrus is concerned, you’ll rest pretty comfortably on his defense and base running, which should be good enough for another 3.0-3.5 wins in 2013. If his bat shows the same life it did last year (95 wRC+), he’ll probably come pretty close to his 4.2 fWAR figure. Anything above that (100-105 wRC+, perhaps?), and we’re looking at a 5-win shortstop making pennies on the dollar at the going rate of elite talent.
For what it’s worth, Bill James has Andrus at a clip of .281/.349/.363 in 2013, while FanGraphs has him at .287/.351/.375, good for 4.8 fWAR.
If you’re asking me, which I don’t know why you would, I see no reason why Elvis won’t continue to improve his offensive palate in 2013, just not as much as we’ve always hoped he would. I’ve given up on the idea that he’ll ever pop 15-20 home runs in a season (like I expect Jurickson Profar to, for instance), but if he can add a few ticks to what he provided last year, it will easily be his best offensive season to date (which, again, isn’t saying a whole lot). You know what you’re getting on defense and on the base paths, so aside from those I’ll predict a marginal spike at the plate, and a season worth 5.2 fWAR in 2013.