Rewind just two years and the future of the Texas Rangers organization hinged on a 20-year-old shortstop with only 94 games of major league experience to his name. Now, after a solid performance in the Arizona Fall League Jurickson Profar has re-emerged as the point upon which the Texas Rangers’ future may hinge.
After two seasons away from the game due to reoccurring shoulder injuries, the Rangers are once again confident that Profar will be healthy enough to play shortstop in spring training (despite the fact that he did not throw in the Arizona Fall League playing only at the DH position for precautionary reasons).
If Profar is indeed healthy and able to resemble the player that was the No. 1 prospect in the game in 2013, Texas could have a major ace up their sleeve. The team already appears set in the middle infield after the 2015 emergence of 21-year-old Rougned Odor at second base. Odor hit .261 with 16 homers and 61 RBI in his first full season as a regular in the Texas lineup.
Paired next to veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus, Odor was a huge cog in the Rangers’ second-half surge from last place to the American League Western Division title. But there is a catch with the Rangers’ middle-infield situation. Elvis Andrus’ contract.
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Currently signed through the 2022 season, Andrus is due to receive an unbelievable $103 million over the next six seasons. That is far too much money for a player that has never hit over .286 in a season and has seen his batting average fall from .271 in 2013 to .258 in 2015.
Andrus also lacks the power Texas thought he would have developed at this point in his career. While no one expected him to belt 40 long balls per year, a player making that type of money is expected to hit more than seven a year, which is Andrus’ career high, achieved just last season.
Now numerous reports are surfacing that Texas is interested in trading Andrus to get out from under his massive contract. Already saddled with the fiscally unwise contracts of DH Prince Fielder ($120 million through 2020) and OF Shin-Soo Choo ($102 million through 2020), Texas added the heft salary of starting pitcher Cole Hamels ($87.5 million through 2019) in 2015.
Keep in mind that ace pitcher Yu Darvish will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2017 season and one can see that Texas will need to find a way to rid itself of at least one of these massive contracts.
The most logical choice appears to be Andrus. Unlike the other players Texas is paying $100 million to, Andrus is still under 30 and plays a premium defensive position at which there is a lack of talent in Major League Baseball.
This brings us back to Jurickson Profar. It is unlikely that Profar will be able to prove himself fit to be the Rangers’ everyday shortstop by opening day of 2016 meaning that trading Andrus this offseason would be a huge risk.
However, should Profar start 2016 in AAA and re-establish himself as a viable shortstop capable of making all the throws needed to play the position, Texas could begin to shop Andrus as early as next season’s trade deadline. This would be the most desirable outcome for Texas because trades in July bring much greater return from desperate teams than do trades in the winter when teams have time to pick apart every component of a potential deal.
Profar becoming the Rangers everyday shortstop would keep the team’s championship window open for the foreseeable future by allowing the Rangers to more easily swallow the massive contracts the team has thrown out in the past three seasons.
His upside appears to be higher than that of Andrus. By this point, Andrus is in his physical prime and what he’s shown is that he will be at best a slash hitter with a below average on base percentage.
It is not too far fetched to believe that Profar can at least duplicate the numbers Andrus has put up and do so at a significantly discounted rate. Many experts, both inside and outside of the Texas front office, believe that Profar can surpass Andrus as a player.
Fansided.com recently reported that the San Diego Padres are interested in trading for Andrus, which makes complete sense. Their general manager A.J. Preller is a former Rangers’ front office operative and the Padres know that Texas would not ask for a king’s ransom in return for Andrus considering it a blessing to rid themselves of his contract.
But all of Texas’ flexibility hinges on Profar. The one-time hottest prospect in baseball has disappeared over the last two years due to injury and now he must prove that he is healthy and ready to be an everyday player. If he does, the Texas Rangers will be in a position of flexibility that could set the franchise up for success far into the next decade.