Thoughts on the Rangers' reported extension with Elvis Andrus

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by OR MOYAL

WFAA Sports

Posted on April 1, 2013 at 5:18 AM

Updated Monday, Apr 1 at 2:32 PM

The Rangers are close to a significant extension with shortstop Elvis Andrus, a source confirmed to our Joe Trahan.

First off, the money is substantial. The initial report from Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal had this as a six-year extension to an existing two-year contract. But Jon Heyman now reports the deal is for eight new years and $120M in new money - so if this pans out, Elvis Andrus will be a Ranger for ten more years, over which he will earn $131 Million. That assumes Andrus plays out the deal, rather than taking an opt-out clause, which TR Sullivan reported might be included in the contract. So, $131 million. $11 million over the next two seasons, then a $15 million average in the following eight.

Yeah, that's a lot.

It's a lot for a player with only 14 career home runs. It's a ton for a player who has yet to be an above-average offensive player. It's more than you'd expect the Rangers to commit to a player whose replacement lies waiting in AAA, more-or-less unanimously deferred to with the title of 'best prospect in baseball.'

It's still a fair number.

Elvis Andrus may be the best shortstop in baseball not named Troy Tulowitzki. He's MLB's 3rd-best over the last two years, and has shown steady improvement over the last three seasons. He's a sublime defender, a uniquely valuable baserunner and capable of much more than what he's shown to date.

Elvis Andrus is 24 years, 7 months and 6 days old. That makes him 4 years, 3 months and 3 days younger than Craig Gentry, who's going into his second full year as a Ranger. As Lone Star Ball founder Adam Morris pointed out on Twitter, it makes him a single day older than prospect Mike Olt, who's in AAA waiting his turn. Players who attain the type of success Andrus has at this young an age generally go on to phenomenal careers. Here's the full list of shortstops from 1938 to today who were more valuable to their teams from the age of 20 to 23 than Andrus has been.

Alex Rodriguez (14-time all-star, 3-time MVP)

Cal Ripken (19-time all-star, Hall of Famer)

Jim Fregosi (6-time all-star)

That's it. Three guys. Three guys in the last 75 years.

Here's the point: Elvis Andrus is in rare company. We dismiss him as a punchless defensive specialist because we have that ingrained in our heads, but he's younger than a lot of rookies. Elvis isn't done growing by any means. The Elvis you'd have seen when his contract expired in November of 2014 could have been a totally different player, one very capable of busting way past Jose Reyes' six-year, $108 milllion and reaching that hallowed salary level reserved for Jeter and Tulowitzki.

Getting Elvis locked up now allowed the Rangers to do a couple of things -- a couple of important things.

First off, it gave them security. For the rest of this decade, the Texas Rangers will have Elvis Andrus. That's huge. They have a sure thing, a star, at a position where talent has become very scarce.

Second, they paid the going rate for Elvis as he is. Over four years in the league, Elvis has been worth $57.4M, an average of right around $14.5 million. Adjust for a yearly five percent inflation, and Elvis could easily be worth his contract without improving at all. By locking Elvis up now, rather than waiting for him to have a breakout year or 29 competing bidders, the team got him at a relatively cheap rate.  Teams give huge contracts to free agents because they provide certainty, because of what they've done. They almost never expect them to improve. The reason Alex Rodriguez got $250M+ here was that he hit the market at 25 years old. Scott Boras told the Rangers they could reasonably expect to get a decade of elite play... and he was right. For all his faults, A-Rod was tremendous over that decade (That SECOND $250M+ contract, though.... Woof).

The Elvis investment provides a rare blend of certainty and upside. Historical logic, conventional trends and the hunches of some of the best baseball people I know indicate Elvis Andrus' best days are ahead of him. The Rangers didn't wait for Elvis' best ways. They got this deal done now, securing a franchise cornerstone through his prime years. That's not just a smart baseball move. It's a beautiful thing for fans of the team, and one we don't get to see enough of.

Okay, great. Elvis is here for a decade. How does this affect the 2013 team? Quite a bit, I think.

The Rangers now have three very attractive middle infield options and only two middle infield positions. Oh, the humanity! One is 24 and just committed to being here for a decade. Another is (barely) 20 and the best prospect in the entire sport. The third is 30, entering a five-year contract and trying to rebound off a (still above-average) off-year. While he may not like it, Ian Kinsler is the third wheel here. Kinsler did not want to move to first base this season, scrapping the initial master plan for getting Profar to Arlington ASAP. Has he changed his mind? After one game and an Elvis signature.... no, still probably not.

So this comes down to a few possibilities:

 
A: Rangers stash Profar in AAA. There's no rush. Jurickson Profar is crazy, crazy-young. The kind of young that even Elvis Andrus wasn't when he began his major-league career. Ian Kinsler is probably a little better right now and he's definitely got a track record of being spectacular in some years. Keep your infield the way it is, call up Profar in August to fill in through the stretch run, then pocrastinate your decision to next year.
 
B: Rangers force Kinsler to move to 1st, make Profar the regular second-baseman. The 'tough luck' approach didn't work well with Michael Young and it probably won't go over well with his friend Ian either. It's also not likely to win any friends for a front office that's already being questioned for 'meddling' with the room. It's bold, and it might get the most current talent on the field, but I don't think it's likely.
 
C: Rangers quietly begin shopping Kinsler. Yes, he's owed $80M over the next five years. No, that's not a problem. The Red Sox were somehow able to move more than $250M of unattractive salaries to the Dodgers' ledger while getting legitimate prospects back. The Marlins just sold their entire (very substantial) 2012 free-agency class to the Blue Jays and bragged about winning the trade. Moving one of the league's better 2nd baseman and his $15M salary won't be an issue if the Rangers go that route. But do they want to? It would deal a blow to a room that has already lost many of its established faces, likely would make the 2013 squad worse and might not lead to a big return acquisition. On the other hand...
 
D: Rangers look for blockbuster deal involving Profar. This may be the most unlikely of all options, mostly because there probably aren't more than 15 players Texas would deal Jurickson Profar for. It might take another team taking the initative to make their star available. It might take months of teeth-gnashing and internal debate. But if Andrew McCutchen, David Price, Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun or another of their very select friends goes on the trading block, don't rule anything out. The Rangers love Profar. They would loathe to part with him. But to get a true young superstar, whether on the mound or the plate, I think they'd legitimately consider it. Remember that whole thing about paying for certainty? Yeah, that's what the certainty of the Elvis deal buys you. The ablity to be bold elsewhere.
 
 
My final thought is not analytical. It won't come with stats. It won't link to anything and doesn't deal with anything definable.
 
From 2000 to 2008, the Rangers had eight losing seasons and one winning campaign. They finished last in the AL West four times. Things were rough here for a long time. The attitude around here, as far as most fans were concerned, was "Oh, it's just the Rangers. That's who they are. Keep your expectations low and see if they surprise you."
 
Elvis, to me, defines the Rangers' current era. Since he's been called up, we've seen four winning seasons. Three playoff appearances. Two trips to the World Series. We've seen a 366-283 regular season record. We've seen a fanbase rejuvenated to the tune of more than 3 Million seats in a season. An area rejuvenated as a baseball town, whether Josh Hamilton realizes it or not. Finally, we've seen the glorious thing that is expectations. Every game is make-or-break, every season championship-or-bust. That's an incredible thing, and that's the stage that was set from that fateful season in which a 20-year old prospect was named the team's opening-day shortstop. 
 
Elvis is 24 now, which is weird to think about because I can't imagine anyone else playing shortstop for the Rangers. I honestly can't. And part of that probably stems from the joy with which he plays the game, his attitude and love for baseball. That's what we long for from all of our athletes. Elvis is a joy to watch, and he embodies the reformation that has overtaken Rangers baseball since it began bearing the fruits of that fateful Mark Teixeira trade. I've broken down the deal and I'm happy with the numbers. But in this case, I don't need to be happy with the numbers. I'm not even thinking about Ian Kinsler or Jurickson Profar or Giancarlo Stanton anymore.
 
I'm thinking of Elvis Andrus. Because the way things look, he's going to be here for a long, long time.
 
 
***Update: Numerous reports, including this one from Jeff Wilson, indicate the Andrus opt-out comes four years into the new deal (so, after the 2018 season), in which case this would be a 4-year, $60M extension. If Andrus does opt out of the deal, you can bet the Rangers would likely be very happy with what he did during those four seasons.
On the other end of the spectrum, Evan Grant says there's a vesting options for 2023 which could potentially raise the overall value of the contract to $150M.
 
Our own Joe Trahan confirms the deal is very close, with a Monday physical perhaps the only remaining step***
 
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