Editor's Note: We finish our infield position outlooks today before we shift to the outfield as part of preparing you for spring training.
Today's position: Shortstop
For a guy who wasn't a free agent, Elvis Andrus' name was talked about plenty this offseason. That's what happens when your agent is Scott Boras and you're just two years away from free agency.
Of course, Andrus has plenty of value. He hit .286 with three homers and 62 RBIs in the 2-hole in 2012. He had 21 stolen bases (tied for the team lead with Ian Kinsler) and a .349 on-base percentage. It was no coincidence that Andrus' top months paralleled the offense's top ones (.343 in May, 339 in August) and his lows coincided with the struggles (.225 in July, .243 in September). Andrus was in the second spot because manager Ron Washington trusted him to lay down a bunt when necessary or hit a ground ball to get a runner over. And if Kinsler and Andrus got on together, they were a dangerous tandem on the bases.
Defensively, Andrus was solid at short. He was one of three finalists for a Gold Glove at shortstop after the 2012 season and made plenty of highlight-reel plays. He and Adrian Beltre made it difficult on hitters to get balls through the left side of the infield.
But Andrus knows there are some things he'd like to do better. For starters, he wasn't able to steal as many bases as he'd like. Andrus had at least 32 stolen bases in each of his first three seasons, yet could only manage 21 in 2012. That was a 16-steal drop-off from the previous season. But his batting average and OBP were the highest of his career.
Andrus' contract situation and his season made him the subject of trade speculation. But the bottom line is Andrus is a trade piece who should be dealt only for a top-flight player in return. Earlier in the offseason, the Arizona Diamondbacks wanted a shortstop as part of any Justin Upton deal. The Rangers weren't reportedly willing to include Andrus or Jurickson Profar in that kind of deal. But should something really big come up (a big-time pitcher like a David Price, for instance) than maybe the club listens. Perhaps that's the kind of thing that happens in July.
Or perhaps Andrus signs a long-term deal with the Rangers and is the club's shortstop for years to come with Profar moving positions or being a part of a major trade.
As we get closer to spring training, Andrus is slotted at shortstop. Will he bat second again? That's a question that has yet to be determined. I think Andrus could be an interesting leadoff candidate, should the club move Kinsler out of that spot. But Washington will see what his team looks like and then decide how players should be slotted in the lineup. He has time to play around with that at spring training.
Andrus is a critical member of this club, both offensively and defensively. And with the departure of Michael Young, he's another player who has to be ready to take on more of a leadership role. He's now had four years in the big leagues and should be ready for that kind of job. It will be interesting to watch him mature even more -- on and off the field.