Why Elvis Andrus Is the Perfect Shortstop of the Future for the Boston Red Sox
Ever since Nomar Garciaparra left town in 2004, the list of players the Boston Red Sox have used at shortstop is just as long and twice as twisted as the list of all the James Bond villains who have come and gone over the years.
At the moment, the situation is as uncertain as ever. The Red Sox could finally use Jose Iglesias as their everyday shortstop in 2013 after sending Mike Aviles to the Toronto Blue Jays as compensation for new manager John Farrell, but Iglesias still needs to prove he can hit if he wants to stick around in Boston long term.
The Red Sox do have some shortstops waiting in the wings below Iglesias, but the best of the bunch probably doesn't even have a future at shortstop. Top prospect Xander Bogaerts could soon outgrow the position and be moved to third base or the outfield.
The Red Sox could find an everyday shortstop from outside the organization, but probably not through free agency. This year's shortstop market is pretty barren, meaning that Sox GM Ben Cherington is better off trading for a new shortstop if he's that desperate to acquire one.
It's been widely speculated that the Rangers will move Andrus this winter to open up a chance for top prospect Jurickson Profar to play shortstop on an everyday basis in 2013. Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald thinks the Sox are a possible trade partner for the Rangers because they have a trade chip of their own who the Rangers should be interested in: Jacoby Ellsbury.
The Rangers could be willing to do a deal like that if they lose Josh Hamilton to free agency as expected. If they are, then the Red Sox shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger. Andrus is just the kind of guy they're looking for to solve their ongoing shortstop dilemma.
He's a Reliable Defender
Andrus has developed a reputation for being a jack of all trades and a master of none, but his strongest attribute is surely his defense.
While Andrus does have a tendency to get careless on defense—he's made more errors than any AL shortstop since 2009—he makes up for it with his range and his ability to make plays that a lot of other shortstops can't.
As far as the advanced stats are concerned, the only poor season Andrus has had on defense since he came into the league was in 2010. In his other three pro seasons, he's finished with well above-average totals in regards to UZR and defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs. In 2012, he was on pretty much the same level as Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford defensively, which is darn good company to keep.
Credit where credit is due, Mike Aviles played very good defense for the Sox in 2012, posting a 5.3 UZR and a DRS of plus-14. For the most part, though, the shortstops the Red Sox have used since Nomar left town in 2004 have been a mixed bag on defense, ranging from downright awful in Edgar Renteria and Julio Lugo to very good in Alex Gonzalez to serviceable in Marco Scutaro.
Given the circumstances that are now in play, it's in Boston's interest to be strong up the middle with a quality defensive shortstop going forward. Sox pitchers are going to need one.
Former Sox pitching coach John Farrell is in place as the team's new manager and the word from Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com is that pitching guru Rick Peterson is the favorite to become the team's new pitching coach. The team is clearly determined to make its pitching problems a thing of the past, and part of that process should be making sure the team's defense is as good as possible.
If a pitching-and-defense approach is what the Red Sox have in mind going forward, then Andrus would fit the club's new direction—if you'll pardon the pun—like a glove. With him at shortstop, Dustin Pedroia at second base and Will Middlebrooks at third base, the Red Sox would have the makings of an elite infield defense.
For those of you who like a little more offense with your shortstops, fear not. Andrus is a decent hitter too.
He's a Solid Top-of-the-Order Hitter
A couple years ago in 2010, Andrus went 674 plate appearances without hitting a single home run. In 1,376 plate appearances ever since, he's hit eight home runs.
Yeah, he's not exactly a big bopper. Andrus will likely never fit the mold of the powerful shortstop that was all the rage back in the late 1990s.
Offensively, Andrus is more of a throwback to the days when shortstops were pesky hitters who specialized in just getting on base and then making things happen with their legs. He's stolen at least 20 bases all four years he's been in the league. And though he has an unspectacular career OBP of .342, his OBP has gotten a little higher every year he's been in the league.
Andrus has spent the majority of his career hitting in the No. 2 spot in the Rangers' batting order behind Ian Kinsler, but he's a better fit to bat leadoff. He has a higher OBP batting leadoff in his career than he does batting second, not to mention a higher BABIP.
In Boston's lineup, John Farrell could bat Andrus leadoff while keeping Dustin Pedroia stationed in his customary No. 2 hole, where he has a career OPS of .837. The Sox wouldn't be able to expect much more than singles and walks out of Andrus, but Pedroia is the kind of hitter who could make those singles and walks count with situational hitting a few hits of his own.
There are certainly much better leadoff hitters than Andrus out there, but the Red Sox won't get to be choosers if they trade Ellsbury for Andrus straight up. They'll need a new leadoff hitter, and Andrus will be the most convenient solution.
The Red Sox will obviously be hoping for the best if they bring Andrus aboard and stash him in their leadoff spot. The bright side is that their hopes wouldn't be misplaced.
He's Young and He Still Has Some Upside
If Andrus was 28 years old and he still had a career batting line of .275/.342/.353, there would probably be talk of him being better suited to come off the bench or to play in a shortstop platoon somewhere.
But Andrus is only 24 years old, and he's only coming off what was technically his 23-year-old season. Thus, the prime of his career may still be a few years away, in which case the numbers he's already accumulated to this point in his career are actually somewhat encouraging.
Andrus' career numbers don't look like much, but his offensive output actually compares rather favorably to two former shortstops who went on to have very good careers. Robin Yount was a .270/.308/.364 hitter through his 23-year-old season, and Edgar Renteria was a .283/.341/.380 hitter through his own 23-year-old season.
Both of them went on to become very good hitters, and there's a chance that Andrus will be as well. By the time he reaches his prime, he could be a .300 hitter capable of posting an OBP in the high .300s. By any reasonable set of standards, that would make him an above-average hitter.
The power could come too. It's by no means unheard of for a young hitter with gap power to suddenly start hitting the ball over the wall, and Andrus could be next in line for a transformation like that. He could one day be capable of hitting around 15 homers per year, especially if he were to learn to aim for the Green Monster upon his arrival in Boston.
I'll stop short of saying that the sky is the limit for Andrus, but I think it's fair to say that he hasn't peaked yet as a player. He may yet be a high-ceiling player rather than a mere high-floor player.
The best part, either way, is that Andrus doesn't have the look of a high-salary player.
These days, the Red Sox are all about discipline. They were given a new lease on life when they sent $250 million in salaries to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August, and they mean to live life much more carefully than they did in the past.
This means that they're going to be very, very careful about spending lots of money on individual players, which is the main reason why Ellsbury possibly being traded is being discussed with straight faces in and around the Boston area. He's likely to be very expensive when he hits free agency after the 2013 season, and the Red Sox may have too many doubts about him to re-sign him.
Compared to Ellsbury, Andrus is a player who fits much better with what the Red Sox are trying to do with their spending.
Andrus' current contract runs through 2014, and it calls for him to be paid just $4.8 million in 2013 and $6.475 million in 2014. The Red Sox would thus have to pay him about $5 million less for two seasons than they'll pay John Lackey for one season in 2013.
Let's say the Red Sox trade for Andrus and he ends up giving them production right along the lines of his career averages to this point. What then?
Would you trade Jacoby Ellsbury for Elvis Andrus?
If that were to happen, then Andrus wouldn't have much leverage if he were to sit down at the negotiating table and ask the Red Sox for a raise once he hits free agency in 2015. He'd likely have to settle for a new contract worth an average of $7 or $8 million per year.
Even if Andrus does continue to improve as a player in 2013 and 2014, he likely still wouldn't be able to look for a place in the high-rent district. Not as long as his ceiling calls for a .300 average, an OBP in the high .300s and around 15 homers, anyway.
He'd basically be an upgraded version of Starlin Castro, meaning he'd only be in line for a deal worth a little bit in excess of the seven-year, $60 million contract Castro recently signed with the Cubs.
That would sit just fine with the Red Sox. They need contracts that won't weigh them down in the future, as they'll surely eventually be looking to pay their best homegrown players reasonable salaries when it's time for them to get paid.
If Sox were to trade for Andrus and ultimately sign him to a contract worth around, but no more than, $10 million per season, they'd be able to afford to lock up Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes and whoever else may be coming up through the system in the near future.
As such, Andrus wouldn't be a mere hired gun. He'd be one of many talented, relatively low-priced building blocks.
That may not make him a star, to be sure. But hey, at least he will have solved the revolving door that the Red Sox have had at shortstop for the last eight years.
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