Signals: The Andrus extension.

After yesterday’s random Conor Jackson-Ian Kinsler coincidence-arama, I’m happy to report I have another one to shoehorn into your day.

A few weeks after my “Which team wouldn’t?” trade hypothetical – “On December 12, 2013, the Texas Rangers trade shortstop Elvis Andrus, lefthander Martin Perez, righthander Cody Buckel, and third baseman Christian Villanueva to the Los Angeles Dodgers for lefthander Clayton Kershaw and catcher Gorman Erickson” – news emerged yesterday that both Andrus and Kershaw had signed multi-year contracts on Tuesday to avoid upcoming arbitration hearings.

Pending a physical, Andrus gets a three-year deal (for a reported $14.5-15 million) that fully wipes out his arbitration window.  He’ll be a free agent after the 2014 season unless the contract is ripped up beforehand and replaced with a lengthier one.

Kershaw gets $19 million for two years.  According to Dylan Hernandez (Los Angeles Times), the Dodgers proposed a four-year commitment that would have bought out the lefthander’s first year of free agency (2015) as well as a package that included a fifth-year club option.  But Kershaw rejected both.

The Kershaw contract is reminiscent of the one Texas signed Mark Teixeira to in January 2006, a two-year, $15.4 million commitment that covered his 2006 and 2007 arbitration seasons but left open his final year of arbitration (2008) before he could become a free agent.

With the right to control Teixeira only through 2008 (at an unknown but predictable number), Texas traded the first baseman in July 2007.  (Yes, for a package including Andrus.  Irrelevant to this discussion.  But you knew I couldn’t resist.)

If the Dodgers, under new ownership, can’t get Kershaw to commit long term before this time two years from now, they’ll go into that final arbitration season with the specter of the Dallas native hitting free agency when the 2014 season ends.

So even with yesterday’s announcements, my December 2013 trade idea stands.

But the real reason I wanted to write something this morning was to address an issue that I assume bothers some of you, if a handful of Tuesday night emails raising identical concerns is any indication.

Some of you asked:  What sort of signal does the Andrus contract send to Jurickson Profar, who should be ready long before the contract expires?

Answer: An awesome one.

The Rangers did it for Hank Blalock, Michael Young, and Kinsler, and on a smaller scale for Teixeira, Josh Hamilton, and Scott Feldman – committing multiple years before they needed to for players they identified as part of the core, even when those players weren’t yet in a position to command extended guarantees.  Taking care of Andrus fits the pattern.

Yesterday’s announcement signals a commitment from Texas that sets Andrus’s family up for life.  He probably gave up some earning potential in exchange for that long-term security, and in that sense everybody gets to call it a win.

But the win for the franchise goes beyond the cost certainty it now has with Andrus in 2012, 2013, and 2014.  This move sends an important statement to Profar.  And Perez.  And Mike Olt.  And Buckel and Jorge Alfaro and Matt West and Yohander Mendez and this June’s draft class and this July’s international crop.

The three-year contract that Texas and Andrus have agreed to doesn’t mean the shortstop won’t leave after that as a free agent, and it doesn’t mean he won’t be a Ranger for life.  What it does is reward Andrus right now financially, and symbolically, too, the latter of which may not be quite as important to the Rangers as the ability to define (if not contain) costs going forward.

But it’s not a trivial point (like, say, Andrus-Kershaw and Jackson-Kinsler commentaries), because the signal this contract sends to the next Andrus or the next Kinsler or, we can all hope for one day, the next pitcher on a Kershaw arc, is one that helps lock in the brand internally, designed in part to increase the chances that they might be players, when it’s their turn to sit at the table, who have very little interest in leaving for another place to play.

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