With the Orioles re-signing shortstop JJ Hardy, what was already thin free agent market at the position became threadbare. Beyond Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera and Stephen Drew the cupboard is largely empty, leaving big-market clubs like the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Tigers -- all of which will look to sign a shortstop this off-season -- in a lurch.
Among many in the Rangers community, the developing market is viewed as the perfect situation to shop the team's incumbent shortstop Elvis Andrus. Andrus is owed $118 million over the next eight seasons, and is coming off his worst season as a professional. It might be time, the thinking goes, to give Luis Sardinas a shot to hang on until Jurickson Profar is fit to play regularly.
It's an exceedingly bad idea.
First, the obvious. If Profar were completely healthy and wasn't giving off a distubing "he might be broken" vibe, this would be a different discussion. As recently as 18 months ago, the erstwhile top prospect in baseball still looked like the guy who might be able to hit like Roberto Alomar while playing above-average defense at short, a guy who needed to get his shot, with the Rangers or another club. Now, that just isn't the case. Profar's delta is so high that he can't be counted on to bring much back in a trade, much less be an able replacement for the best shortstop in Rangers history. As for Sardinas, he's provides important organizational depth but it's doubtful if he can hit enough to keep from drowning in the majors.
(Editor's note: In the following paragraphs, Stephen switches to a language that appears to be somewhat similar to English. He swears baseball fans will understand it, and that's good enough for us. Non-fans and other lollygaggers can check out the video at the bottom for a short summary of baseball's complexity.)
Andrus, of course, is no offensive stalwart. In his best offensive season, 2011, he had an offensive bWAR of 3.6, thanks in large part to the boosts Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement formula gave him for baserunning and playing at a premium position. In 2013 and 2014, Andrus sported an identical 2.3 ObWAR, a number that is completely serviceable for an elite defensive shortstop.
The reason Andrus' total 2014 bWAR was so terrible, clocking in at an even 1.0, was his defensive metrics. Despite being universally regarded as a premium defensive player at a premium defensive position, Andrus actually turned in a negative defensive bWAR in 2014 (-0.4). That performance can be chalked up to multiple factors: 1. Andrus was paired with multiple, inexperienced second baseman throughout the year. That he had his worst defensive season ever when Rougned Odor got the bulk of the playing time at the keystone is no coincidence. Andrus and his previous double play partner, Ian Kinsler, had an innate recognition of appropriate positioning with regard to each other, something that often manifested to spectacular effect. Andrus and Odor haven't gotten there yet. 2. The defensive metrics used in WAR calculations are notoriously fickle. Whether it's the Ultimate Zone Rating score used by Fangraphs or the Total Zone number preferred by Baseball Reference, single season numbers must be taken with a full shaker of salt. In a sample as small as one season, any defender's performance is subject to too many variables to be viewed in a vacuum. 3. A lack of engagement. Andrus, even in a down year, is always capable of the spectacular. When the Rangers are winning, he's locked in on the routine plays as well. Over the three seasons previous to 2014, Andrus never had DbWAR of less than 1.5.
If you believe that Andrus, who just turned 26, is done as an elite defensive shortstop, then trading him makes sense. If you don't, and the eye test suggests that you shouldn't, then dealing him is absurdly risky.
Over the eight seasons remaining on his contract, Andrus will average a salary of $14.75 million. A marginal win is worth somewhere between five and six million bucks. For the purposes of this argument, let's use $5.5 million, the number favored by ESPN advanced stats guy Dan Szymborski. At a salary of $14.75 million, Andrus only needs to average 2.68 WAR to earn his keep. If you throw out 2010 and 2014, both years Andrus had a weirdly low DbWAR, Andrus has always hung around four bWAR. Getting a four win player for under $15 million is bargain that any general manager in the league, at least among teams that can afford any $15 million players, would take.
Going forward, Andrus certainly won't be the steal he was when he was subjected to rookie and arbitration contracts, but his contract won't be a bust by any means. The era of superstar offensive shortstops coming along anymore than a couple of times in a generation is over.