As if scrutiny over letting Josh Hamilton walk as a free agent and the uncertain future of Nolan Ryan with the club weren't enough, the Texas Rangers can add trade speculation to the list of distractions that the team is facing heading into the 2013 regular season.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that unless the Rangers can reach a contract extension with Elvis Andrus before the end of the 2013 season, the team will look to trade its 24-year-old All-Star shortstop this winter.
This isn't the first time that Andrus' name has been linked to trade rumors; the Arizona Diamondbacks repeatedly asked the Rangers for either Andrus or prospect Jurickson Profar as part of a package for Justin Upton this past winter.
That goes to show just how valuable Texas believes Andrus to be—and they aren't wrong in their valuation, even if some believe the organization has overvalued him.
But with nowhere to play Profar on a regular basis and Andrus' looming free agency after the 2014 season—and that he's represented by Scott Boras—the Rangers realize that moving Andrus with a full year left on his contract will garner the team a better return than moving him at the trade deadline in 2014 would.
Players like Andrus simply don't become available often, and that being the case, we can expect nearly every team in baseball to at least have a conversation with Texas GM Jon Daniels about what it would take to make a deal.
Some of those conversations will last longer and become more serious than others.
Let's take a look at the MLB teams who will most aggressively try and acquire the speedy middle infielder.
Some believe that the Arizona Diamondbacks got their shortstop of the future after acquiring Didi Gregorius from the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team trade that saw pitching prospect Trevor Bauer traded to the Cleveland Indians.
I'm not convinced.
Gregorius, while an outstanding defensive shortstop, doesn't have much more than gap power and lacks the big-time speed that would make him a threat to run when he's on base. Andrus has a superior bat, is equally adept at fielding the position and is a legitimate base-stealing threat
Despite trading away Bauer, Arizona still has a plethora of young starting pitchers that could pique Texas' interest, specifically prospects Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley.
As previously mentioned, Andrus was the Diamondbacks' main target in trade discussions with the Rangers for Justin Upton, who was later dealt to the Atlanta Braves.
Manny Machado was supposed to be Baltimore's shortstop of the future, but after the 2013 season, he'll have a full year of manning third base for the Orioles under his belt.
While moving him back to shortstop after the 2014 season, when veteran J.J. Hardy becomes a free agent, can be done, it would still leave Baltimore with a glaring hole on the left side of its infield.
Acquiring Andrus would allow the Orioles to keep Machado at the hot corner and give Baltimore a pair of building blocks, along with center fielder Adam Jones, to mold the roster around.
Top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy is assuredly not available, but Baltimore has a handful of other intriguing prospects, including pitcher Kevin Gausman and infielder Jonathan Schoop, that could be used to facilitate a deal with the Rangers.
The Yankees don't have an obvious replacement for Derek Jeter, who isn't going to play forever.
While the Bronx Bombers will certainly talk to the Rangers about Andrus, I just don't think they have the pieces needed to pull off a deal.
If all goes well, some of the team's best prospects—Mason Williams Jr., Slade Heathcott and Angelo Gumbs might only be a year away from making an impact in the big leagues after the 2013 season.
Even if the Yankees included the team's best prospects in a package for Andrus, the offer may pale in comparison to what other teams have to offer.
Jimmy Rollins has been entrenched at shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies for over a decade and is under contract through the 2014 season, but like the New York Yankees, the Phillies need to get younger and more athletic at multiple positions, including shortstop.
Like the Yankees, whether Philadelphia could put together a package on the level of other teams who will be chasing after Andrus is a legitimate question to ask, as the Phillies best prospects are still years away from making an impact in the major leagues.
That said, it won't stop Philadelphia from making a run at the 24-year-old All-Star.
Brendan Ryan is as good of a defensive shortstop as there is in the game, but the more he plays, the more obvious his offensive shortcomings become.
A career .244 hitter, Ryan failed to finish 2012 above the Mendoza Line, hitting .194 with a .555 OPS over 141 games for the Mariners.
We saw this winter that the team is willing to move its plethora of minor league talent to improve the club at the major league level, as Justin Upton vetoed a trade that would have sent four Mariners, including a pair of their best prospects, to Arizona in exchange for the slugger.
Seattle could very well make a similar offer to land Andrus, who would give the team the same excellent defense that Ryan does, but with far more offensive upside.
Rafael Furcal's future is uncertain after undergoing Tommy John surgery that will keep him out for the entire season, and Pete Kozma, while a solid player, simply isn't on the level of Elvis Andrus.
Adding Andrus would give the Cardinals a terrific, young middle-of-the-infield once second base prospect Kolten Wong arrives on the scene, which he is expected to do at some point during the 2013 season.
ESPN's Keith Law* ranked the St. Louis farm system as the best in baseball and the team has a number of prospects that could intrigue GM Jon Daniels and the Rangers, none bigger than outfielder Oscar Tavares, one of the five best prospects in all of baseball.
Even without including Tavares in the deal, the Cardinals have more than enough quality pieces to put a deal together.
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