The Texas Rangers find themselves in a tough spot. They're running out of ways to make short-term upgrades, but they don't want to make any moves that would compromise their bright future.
If general manager Jon Daniels is overcome by an urge to shore up the club's short-term future, he's likely to do so with an impact trade rather than an impact free-agent signing. That's partially because the free-agent market now features fewer stars than a found footage movie.
If Daniels does make a deal, it's possible it could involve one of three infielders: shortstops Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar, or second baseman Ian Kinsler.
Ben Rogers of ESPNDallas.com kicked around where the Rangers stand in regard to Andrus, Profar and Kinsler, noting that the club appears to be leaning toward keeping all three and moving forward with a very strong infield.
That's not such a bad idea, to be sure, but these three players are also keys to the Rangers taking care of their most pressing needs, such as a power bat to replace Josh Hamilton or an impact starting pitcher to deepen their rotation.
As for which of them has the most trade value, well, let's take a look.
Ian Kinsler's Trade Value
Ian Kinsler is a three-time All-Star with two 30-30 seasons under his belt and a long-term contract that has him locked up potentially through 2018.
These things make Kinsler sound like a hot trade chip, but appearances are deceiving in this case. His trade value is lower than his name and track record suggest it should be.
For one, Kinsler is already 30 years old and the 2013 season will technically be his 31-year-old season. He's in his prime, but he's getting close to that age when hitters start to break down and become tired old veterans, only occasionally showing flashes of their old selves.
Complicating matters is the down year that Kinsler had in 2012. His .749 OPS was the lowest of his career, and that was thanks in part to a career low .326 OBP and an uncharacteristically low walk rate. Seeing as how he was the Rangers' primary leadoff man, that's not good.
Kinsler also took a step back defensively in 2012. Per FanGraphs, he was among the top defensive second basemen in the game in 2011, posting a 15.0 UZR and a defensive runs saved of plus-18. In 2012, his UZR tumbled to minus-0.2 and his DRS checked in at a mere plus-one.
The bright side for the Rangers is that nobody can deny Kinsler's upside, and he also has a contract that is by no means an immovable albatross. His deal maxes out at $16 million in 2014 and 2015, and eventually decreases to $11 million in 2017 with a club option for $10 million in 2018.
The rich teams can afford to pay these prices without batting an eye, and some of the poor teams out there could be willing to take it on if they figured they would be getting the Kinsler of 2009 and 2011.
For the poor teams, however, that's a potentially crippling gamble if the twilight of Kinsler's career comes sooner than expected. His poor season in 2012 creates a lack of incentive for the poor clubs to roll the dice.
Even if the Rangers were to come across a team willing to give up a star player for Kinsler, odds are it wouldn't be a superstar player who would be an upgrade over Kinsler himself. The Rangers surely wouldn't trade him for a hitter with the same upside or skill set, as that would be pointless. They could trade him for a stud pitcher, but then they'd have a hole in their offense to go along with their revamped pitching staff.
Kinsler most certainly could be traded. But given his iffy trade value, it's hard to think of a deal that would make sense for the Rangers.
Elvis Andrus' Trade Value
Rogers noted in his piece that Elvis Andrus is likely to be the odd man out if the Rangers pursue a trade, and I can't disagree.
This, however, has more to do with Andrus being a very movable trade chip rather than him being a very valuable trade chip.
Andrus has some good things going for him. He's only 24 and he's made two All-Star teams and gotten his feet wet in two World Series. In terms of experience, he's miles ahead of other young shortstops around the league.
The bigger question is over exactly how good Andrus is.
There's no doubt that Andrus is one of the better defensive shortstops in the league. Per FanGraphs, he owns a career UZR of 28.0 and a career DRS of plus-23. Since he came into the league in 2009, he ranks in the top 10 among shortstop in both categories.
Where things get dicey is in regard to Andrus' bat. He's made progress since his rookie season, but we're talking about mere inches of progress. His OPS climbed only as high as .727 this past season, and he has yet to post an OPS+ over 100.
That technically makes him a below-average hitter, and at this point you have to wonder if there really is any untapped potential left in his bat. He may only ever be a solid on-base guy with good speed.
Andrus will have a home in baseball as long as he boasts these abilities and a good glove, but he'll never become a superstar player. Thus, it's going to be very difficult for the Rangers to move only Andrus for a star player in a trade.
Andrus' contract will make it easier for the Rangers to find buyers, but only to an extent. He's owed less than $12 million over the next two seasons, but then will come free agency and it will be time for his agent to go to work.
His agent, by the way, is Scott Boras. Come hell or high water, he gets his guys paid. And don't bother talking to him about extensions. With Boras in the equation, any team that deals for Andrus would anticipate having him for only two years.
Still, two years of a shortstop with a good glove who would fit at the top of any lineup is worth a look for a team looking to make a championship run in the immediate future. Andrus could net a solid player for the Rangers all by himself, and he may work as a centerpiece in a package to acquire a star.
Jurickson Profar's Trade Value
Nobody really knows what kind of major leaguer Jurickson Profar is going to be. He's only played in nine major league games, and he barely got a chance to make an impact in those nine games.
The expectations for Profar, however, are sky high. According to Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, Profar is the best prospect in baseball. He's an excellent defensive shortstop with good speed and developing power, meaning he could one day be a perennial Gold Glover and 20-20 guy (or better).
Such players don't come along every day. A team that trades for Profar could be trading for a guy who will be baseball's best shortstop a couple years down the line. That's a possibility that makes every general manager in the league start salivating uncontrollably.
And for a time, his services would be dirt-cheap. Profar's arbitration clock has started, but he won't actually be arbitration-eligible until after 2015 and he's not due to hit free agency until after the 2018 season.
Profar's talent and his controllability make him a trade target for pretty much every team in baseball, and he could certainly be used to fetch a top-tier talent. Including Profar in a trade is the Rangers' key to acquiring an ace pitcher or a stud hitter who could impact their roster right now.
Profar's immense upside and controllability obviously make him attractive for the Rangers too, as they could just keep him, put him in the starting lineup and then (hopefully) be very happy with the results.
At the same time, the Rangers won't be extracting a crucial part of their roster if they were to trade Profar, as there's nowhere for him to play every day given the way the pieces on Texas' infield are currently arranged. The Rangers would be losing a future star if they were to trade him, but in doing so they'd be adding a controllable star player to an intact roster.
My best guess is that Daniels would prefer not to move Profar at all costs, but you can rest assured that the temptation is there.
Final Thoughts and the Grand Conclusion
All of this boils down to a simple question: How can the Rangers get a lot without giving up too much?
If they're looking to aim really high—say, Giancarlo Stanton high—trading Profar would be the way to go. Parting with the league's top prospect would be tough, but Daniels would be able to justify it if he were to get a true superstar player in return with at least a few years of controllability.
He could justify a trade for Andrus much more easily, as dealing him would clear the way for Profar to play shortstop every day and the Rangers would surely be getting a solid player in return. It's likely to take more than Andrus to get a star player, however, and that would mean gutting the roster more than Daniels would probably prefer to do (this could be the reason why nothing's happened yet).
Which Rangers infielder is the best trade chip?
Dealing Kinsler would be the hardest move for the Rangers to justify. They could probably get a star player for him in return, but his power and speed would likely be missed. A sensible deal involving him may not exist.
These aren't the only three players the Rangers could trade, mind you. They have lefty starter Derek Holland to dangle, as well as prized third base prospect Mike Olt and young lefty Martin Perez. If it feels like everyone and their uncle is expecting the Rangers to make some sort of trade, that's because they have as many dealable assets as any other team in baseball.
But if they really want to hit a home run, Profar is their guy. Parting with him would hurt, but the right deal would be totally worth it.
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