The greatest of E’s.
In 2007, 19-year-old Elvis Andrus, who had yet to play a baseball game above Class A, told a couple Rangers officials at Fall Instructs that his favorite ballplayer, the man whose game he wanted to pattern his own after, was not Omar Vizquel, or Dave Concepcion, or Luis Aparicio, or another decorated Venezuelan shortstop.
It was Derek Jeter.
“Because he’s a leader and a winner, and that’s what I am.”
Jeter was the player in whose footsteps Andrus wanted to follow.
And now he won’t.
At least not in that way.
The contract that Andrus instructed Scott Boras this spring to negotiate, to keep him in Texas, was agreed to on Sunday, hours before the season opener, and announced yesterday, a day before the home opener, a standard-bearing moment for a franchise built on a commitment to scouting and developing winning baseball players.
Had the Rangers managed to sign Andrus in January 2005 rather than the Braves – which could have happened – then who knows, maybe Carlos Gonzalez and Conor Jackson would have become Rangers in July 2007, with player to be named Brett Anderson joining them in September, and CarGo would be the player locking up long-term now with the Rangers.
But when 27-year-old Assistant GM Jon Daniels and 27-year-old Manager of Professional and International Scouting A.J. Preller (who had been with the Rangers for a few weeks) sat down with the 16-year-old Andrus in the Dominican Republic late that January, and increased their offer to the shortstop during the meeting, it still wasn’t quite enough to get a deal done.
Daniels and Preller would have had to wipe out close to their entire 2005 international budget – six months before that summer’s J2 class would be eligible – to meet Andrus’s number. But the organization was committed at that time to reestablishing a presence in Latin America that had long been flat-lined (which was a large part of the impetus for hiring Preller away from the Dodgers), and they were reluctant to roll all of that year’s allotment in one player.
In retrospect, the Rangers would have better off paying Andrus rather than the 19 players they did sign, only two of whom remain with the franchise – though third baseman Johan Yan is now a relief pitcher, and catcher-first baseman Alberto Puello is now a coach at Hickory. Instead, Atlanta offered Andrus nearly $600,000 to sign, and he accepted it.
Two years later, when Daniels, by then GM, convinced ownership to allow him to trade Mark Teixeira as part of a wholesale effort to revitalize the farm system and rededicate the organization to a philosophy grounded in scouting and player development, the Rangers were targeting Atlanta just as much as the Braves were chasing Teixeira.
The Braves reportedly wouldn’t trade outfielders Jordan Schafer or Brandon Jones, but they were willing to trade Andrus, with Edgar Renteria in place at shortstop and Yunel Escobar having just broken into the big leagues two months earlier.
Schafer and Jones weren’t at the top of the Rangers’ list, anyway. Andrus and Neftali Feliz had to be in the deal, as far as Texas was concerned.
The Rangers moved Teixeira, and got their man.
And that’s not where the Teixeira story ends.
Andrus, like Teixeira a member of Team Boras, surely understood the present reality as the 2013 season approached. As a key part of the Teixeira trade that made Andrus a Ranger, the trade that sent the star first baseman away so that Texas could maximize his value to the franchise, the shortstop is now at the service level that Teixeira was at when Daniels decided he needed to move him in 2007. While the Rangers were a bad baseball team then, able to trade Teixeira during the season, times are different now, and if Andrus didn’t extend when he did, he’d certainly survive the schedule but be a prime candidate to be traded next winter, a year away from free agency.
If not traded before now. Andrus’s value, whatever it is at this moment – or more to the point, whatever it was one week ago – would have decreased with time, with each day that the expiration of his contract grew nearer. He’ll be worth less in trade next winter than he was this past winter, and Texas has a shortstop most believe is ready to contribute. If the Rangers were convinced – as they were six years ago – that their star player was counting the days until free agency, their track record suggests they were going to explore all possibilities rather than just let things play out and collect the draft pick.
Maybe Andrus wondered who the flashy Class A prospect was that he would have been traded for.
We learned yesterday that he was motivated to stay, to make sure he wasn’t traded.
And it’s easy to see why Texas was motivated to lock him up now.
Aside from the obvious reasons to hang onto a young player that’s such a vital cog on both sides of the ball, there’s also the way the landscape of the game is changing. More star players are locking up before free agency. Free agent classes are getting watered down as a result. Meanwhile, TV money is exploding.
The result is that the best free agents are going to be even more wildly overpaid going forward, with a handful of teams eager to spend (and now restricted like never before in the draft and internationally).
And yes, that almost certainly means Andrus is going to opt out of this contract as a result, after either the 2018 season or 2019 season. That doesn’t mean he’ll leave (Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia stayed), of course, but it does mean this is probably a four-year, $62 million extension ($15 million annually in 2015-2018, plus his $2 million signing bonus) rather than eight years and $120 million (or nine and $135 million if his 550 plate appearances in 2022 or 1,100 plate appearances in 2021-22 guarantee a 2023 option).
Fine. If Andrus does opt out after 2018, Texas will have had him in the big leagues from age 20 through age 29.
We can worry about the 24-year-old’s thirties another time.
And we can worry (if that’s the right word) about how the Rangers will sort out their middle infield situation later, too. As Daniels said yesterday, “We’ve got some options. And we’ve got some time. We’re not going to rush into anything.”
Maybe Jurickson Profar gets traded in July, or December. Not for Oscar Taveras (Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said this week he’d have to think about a deal like that – that doesn’t mean Texas would – while Ken Rosenthal [Fox Sports] reports that the clubs haven’t discussed the idea), but instead in a package for David Price or Giancarlo Stanton.
Though as Dayn Perry (CBS Sports) suggests: “You don’t trade Jurickson Profar. You make room for him.”
And Dave Cameron (FanGraphs) adds: “Profar would have been a good replacement for Andrus had Texas needed to go the trade route, but now, he might just be an even better teammate instead.”
So maybe next winter Ian Kinsler gets moved to first base. Or left field. Or another team.
Or maybe Andrus gets traded in the winter after all.
He’ll make only $6.475 million salary in 2014, and can’t block a trade until after the 2016 season, when a limited no-trade clause kicks in, allowing him to designate 10 teams he’d need to consent a trade to (though if traded once, a full no-trade clause is triggered).
Trading Andrus is massively unlikely, of course.
Kinsler is under control through 2017. Profar is under control beyond that. As Peter Gammons said: “Now that they know they have Andrus past ’14 – as his offense blooms – the Rangers have time to consider all Profar/Kinsler alternatives.”
Unlike with Andrus prior to this week, that analysis will be based on baseball, not contract factors.
And nothing will happen anytime soon. Kinsler is not going to change positions or be traded during the season. As for Profar, the Marlins and Rays aren’t trading anybody until the second half, and he isn’t going to join the Rangers unless Andrus or Kinsler gets hurt.
That’s where Profar differs from Andrus. The veteran was 20 when he made the jump from AA to the big leagues, the same age Profar is now, but because Kinsler refused in the off-season to switch positions, there’s no spot for Profar. So he plays in AAA – something Andrus never did – getting his Round Rock career off to a nice start last night, contributing two singles, a walk, a stolen base, and a run scored in a 3-1 Express win.
Daniels said this yesterday: “Among the key moments in building toward where things are now was bringing a 20-year-old from AA to the big leagues. It was consistent with what we want to be about: a team that plays an up-tempo, aggressive style with a priority on tough at-bats, pitching, and defense. He epitomizes all of those things. The charisma, the smile, the connection with fans and the connection with with teammates. He’s everything we’re about.”
It’s the type of thing he could have said about his new phenom, if the club had made room for him this spring.
But it was said about Andrus, who will be cheered loudest when his team is introduced along the chalk this afternoon, minutes after which he’ll lead the defense’s charge out of the dugout, like he always does.
Yesterday, like Daniels did, Ron Washington recalled Andrus’s early days in the big leagues. “The first time I tried to bury him, he accepted it. I told him I was going to keep the pressure on him. Because if you can’t handle pressure from the one who loves you the most, you won’t be able to handle the pressure between the lines.
“You have to find out who can take what when you dish it out. And he proved to me the first time he arrived that he was special.”
Andrus on the same subject: “As a young player, that’s what you want. You want, as soon as you make a mistake, to be lucky to have someone to teach you and make you better.”
Wash: “I only had to ride him two years. Last year I was able to back off of him because he showed me that he became the pro that I thought he could be, and I let him grow at his own pace.
“You will continue to see growth, because that’s just what he’s about. That’s in his heart. That’s the type of blood that flows through his body. And that’s the type of people we want to have here in Texas.”
We’ve all seen it ever since Andrus arrived. If you saw him play at Frisco in 2008, you saw it. When I saw him at Fall Instructs in 2007, I was struck by how different a player he seemed to be, even at age 19. I wrote this in October 2007:
For some players, the ball just sounds different coming off their bat. Some can spin a breaking ball in such a way that you know the hitter has no chance before the pitch is halfway to the plate. There are others, like Andrus, who you can tell are different simply by how they carry themselves. I’m struggling as to how to explain it. It’s not really a swagger that Andrus has. It’s more of a comfortable magnetism. He reminds me of a feature tailback, or a really good cover corner, with that smile that says he knows he’s going to beat you more often than not. He’s going to be a leader.
One of my two favorite moments at yesterday’s press conference took place while nobody was watching, and only one person (I think) listening in.
The main portion of the presser had concluded, and there were separate breakout interviews going on with Andrus, and with Daniels, and with Boras in different parts of the room. There was some of that with Wash, too, but once reporters were done with him, he leaned back against a wall as Andrus’s older brother Erold, an outfielder whose career with the Rays and Yankees and Twins never surpassed Class AA and who spent a few weeks in Rangers camp in 2011 before calling it quits, shuffled over to say hello. Two men who had invested a lot of time mentoring the kid whose day this was.
With the same demonstrative inflection you’d expect if he were surrounded by reporters rolling tape, Wash said to Erold and no one else, about Elvis: “You know, he just has fun. He plays hard, but he plays. This is a game, and at a young age he was able to figure that out. He’s a pro.”
He plays hard.
But he plays.
And we love him for that.
The other moment that stood out for me was when Andrus, who’s 10 days younger than Justin Grimm and a year and a half younger than Tanner Scheppers, six months younger than Leonys Martin and a day older than Mike Olt, said something a leader says.
“I love to play here. This is my family. I’m not going to rest or sleep until I win a World Series. I think of myself as a winner. If I don’t get my ring, if I don’t get this city a ring and this organization a ring, I won’t sleep.”
I think of myself as a winner.
That’s exactly what Andrus said to the Rangers six years ago, when he was a Class A teenager in a new organization, undoubtedly with the same confidence and charisma that he displayed yesterday as baseball’s 42nd $100 million man, and that he will at 1:05 today, when his team sprints onto the field behind him to kick off the franchise’s 42nd home opener.
It would behoove the Yankees to start looking for a different shortstop to follow in Derek Jeter’s footsteps.