2016 Position Preview – Shortstop

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 08:  Elvis Andrus #1 of the Texas Rangers fields a ground ball against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the top of the ninth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 8, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Is Elvis Andrus one of the most polarizing Texas Rangers to exist? We love the stellar plays on defense, we love the play between he and Adrian Beltre and really the rest of the squad, we love how involved and interactive he is with the fans. We hate the mental lapses that result in unmade plays and errors. We hate the appearance of stubborn plate approaches for long stretches of time. And we really, really hate that he hasn’t (and may never) lived up to the $15,000,000 that he started earning last year and will earn through 2023. But would we ever want to see a Rangers team without him?

In 2015: Overall, 2015 was a “down” year for Elvis Andrus. Despite playing in a career-high 160 games, he posted lower-than-career-average numbers in several key areas – batting average (.258), on-base percentage (.309), hits (154), and others. He found a little more pop in his bat, hitting a career-high seven homers and one below his career-high in doubles (34). He also tied a career high in errors in the field with 22. At one point, Andrus was on pace to make 44.5 errors. Those numbers tell the story of Andrus’ year: Flashes of brilliance marred by completely avoidable missteps.

His first half was horrid, prompting many to see if Andrus was a good “Change of Scenery” candidate, despite the giant contract money that is owed to him over the next seven years. He was making careless errors in the field, losing his aggressiveness on the base paths, and not showing good judgment at the plate, striking out 50 times in 322 at bats.

What changed?

Here’s what he heard coming out of the All-Star break this year from third base coach Tony Beasley, who also has worked closely with the infielders: “You are not a very good shortstop right now.”

In those exact words. -Evan Grant, The Dallas Morning News

It wasn’t talk of a trade, it wasn’t talk of being benched, it wasn’t a public admonishment by the manager on an otherwise laughable glove toss at a line drive well over his head.

He needed to hear that he wasn’t a very good shortstop.

For a guy that looks up to greats like Derek Jeter and Omar Vizquel, that takes pride in his position and his place on the team, that can be a game changer. It was for Andrus. He came out a house on fire after the All-Star break and the baseball world saw a more focused, more disciplined, more worthy Elvis Andrus playing for the Rangers. He was finally playing to the potential that the Rangers Front Office had seen and paid him for and was an instrumental figure down the stretch as the Rangers overtook the Astros and won the AL West Crown.

Unfortunately, Andrus’ season was book-ended during the Division Series against the Blue Jays, committing two crucial errors and botching another catch in one half-inning, on three consecutive plays, which ended up being the turning point that gave Toronto the right to move on in the playoffs. Andrus’ ability to erase that no-good, terrible half-inning from his memory is going to be crucial for Texas going into next season.

In 2016: Andrus is going to be the team’s shortstop come Opening Day. On top of the guaranteed money making his contract practically impossible to trade, Andrus represents the best option that the Rangers have. There is no option on the free market that the fans would want to have that would represent a better shortstop than Elvis. There is no additional price that the Rangers are willing to pay to obtain a better shortstop than Elvis Andrus (because they’d have to eat at least 80% of his contract, on top of a mid-to-low level prospect or two).

In short, Andrus is not the best shortstop in the game, but he’s the best one the Rangers have.

Keep in mind that while Jurickson Profar, the former number one prospect in all of baseball, who, at one point, could have been viewed as a suitable replacement for Andrus, raked in the Arizona Fall League, that was only as the Designated Hitter. Profar, recovering from a shoulder injury plus a setback in recovery, has not made an in-game throw from shortstop to first base. Barring a substantial injury to Andrus, Profar will be in the minor leagues for the majority of 2016. Even so, the club is likely to turn to Hanser Alberto to spell Andrus.

Speaking of injuries, the fewest games that Elvis Andrus has played in a season was 145 – his rookie year, 2009. He just finished playing the most games of his career, 160. It may not be consistent production all the time, but there is no more reliable or durable option in the game.

Finally, the best that we can look forward to in 2016 is what we saw in the second half of 2015 from Andrus. That was a driven, focused, Gold Glove-potential shortstop who has the ability to be the backbone of this team. Now, Elvis Andrus has seen it come to life. Now, Andrus knows what it takes to get back to that level. Now, maybe it’s his time to shine brighter than ever before.

From the Hot Stove: The moves the Rangers made and will make will be for internal competition as the utility infielder. Hanser Alberto is the incumbent at that position, and the Rangers signed Pedro Ciriaco to a non-roster deal with an invite to Major League Spring Training.

The “Richard Durrett” Three Questions at this position:

  1. Was the second half of 2015 more indicative of what Elvis Andrus will be over the rest of his Rangers career…or was it just a blip of brilliance in a relatively mediocre body of work?
  2. If you don’t want Andrus at shortstop, who would you take and what would you give up to get it?
  3. Will Jurickson Profar be playing the field for the Texas Rangers in 2016?

Next week, Shutdown Inning previews one of the biggest questions in the Rangers lineup and defensive alignment – left and center field.

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Matt Fisher
Matt Fisher is an Editor/Staff Writer for ShutdownInning. He is a baseball lifer, preferring to use the eye test and rely on the knowledge and analysis of baseball minds greater than his, while using relevant stats to encourage situational discussions. He is also co-host of The Most Valuable Podcast on the NextWave Radio Network, talking sports, entertainment, and sports entertainment.

While Matt's favorite team will always be his hometown Texas Rangers, he knows the ongoing story lines of every team in Major League Baseball. If you sit next to him at a game, be prepared to hear him try and do play-by-play. If you're famous and reading this, just know that he's not afraid to drop names.

Matt Fisher. ShutdownInning Editor/Staff Writer

One comment

  • 1. No idea – hope its the former. Perhaps the ALDS meltdown will have the same and longer effect as the Tony Beasley insult.

    2. Going to be hard to trade him with that contract if he’s not playing well, and if he’s playing well there’s almost no one I’d rather have at SS for the Rangers. Love watching a happy and productive Elvis play baseball.

    3. Don’t know but it is interesting that despite all the good reports we’ve gotten on his health and his bat in the Fall League…you’re right in that he STILL has not thrown a ball in a game in two years. I don’t think you can expect a single thing from Profar until he starts playing live baseball in spring training and his shoulder doesn’t immediately explode.

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