If you are like me, you have spent plenty of time this offseason clicking round on RosterResource’s glorious Free Agent Tracker. Or maybe not. Perhaps you will have family and friends to take care of, or hobbies, or a wealthy internal life. Good for you. Don’t rub it in.
If you kind the unsigned gamers both by 2022 WAR or ’23 projected WAR, the identical title comes up: Elvis Andrus. You keep in mind him — that man from the Rangers within the early 2010s. You’re most likely conscious he is nonetheless kicking round, and likewise that he was fairly good in 2022. And but he stays with no job for 2023. Curious.
Andrus was a part of the final technology of star shortstops who benefited from the Ozzie Smith scouting crown: If a shortstop was quick, hit for a excessive common, and performed protection with ability and joie de vivre, he should be Ozzie Smith. Then the likes of Carlos Correa got here alongside and now shortstops appear to be 3-4 exterior linebackers.
Andrus made his fame on glorious protection, and right here and there he’d throw up an offensive season the place his pace and on-base means obtained him near a league-average wRC+. And for a quick second, on the peak of the juiced ball period, he was a legitimately good hitter: He hit .302/.362/.439 in 2016 and adopted that up with a 20-homer season in ’17. Elvis Andrus! Hitting 20 homers in a season!
From there, it was a well-recognized story: Guy who will get by on pace begins to say no as he will get to his age-30 season. His glove at all times stored him properly above replacement-level, however Andrus appeared finished as a contributor to a contending group.
But 2022 was his greatest season in half a decade. Andrus posted a 105 wRC+ in 149 video games, and was even higher after his uncommon midseason transfer from the A’s to the White Sox. (Remember this for later.) In 43 video games for Chicago, Andrus hit 9 house runs and stole 11 bases in 11 makes an attempt. In September, this renaissance impressed Ben Clemens to analyze Andrus’ strategy in a column titled “Elvis Lives.” (The professor of my faculty copy modifying class would speak about headlines you wait your total profession to drop into your lap. Surely this was such a second.)
Ben discovered that Andrus hadn’t actually altered his swing or strategy since becoming a member of the White Sox, and his offensive uptick was the results of buying and selling fly balls for line drives. If that is sustainable, and Andrus has in some way discovered a option to grow to be a real expertise 119 wRC+ man in his age-33 season, about 29 groups are going to really feel fairly silly for letting him sit unsigned this lengthy.
What I’m occupied with, as an admitted career-long Andrus skeptic, shouldn’t be whether or not the White Sox model of Andrus is repeatable, as a result of that is someplace round Willy Adames, even Corey Seager territory. Rather, I’m within the gradual evolution to Andrus’ hitting strategy that resulted in him changing into a league-average hitter at three completely different temporary factors in his profession, and in three alternative ways.
Here’s what I’m speaking about. Andrus has had three distinct peaks in his profession, and on an everyday cycle. He’s like a cicada.
Elvis Andrus, When He’s Good
Andrus has at all times been a great contact hitter, and he is at all times had a greater really feel for the strike zone than he obtained credit score for. This is a man who had a 9.5% stroll charge in a season through which he slugged .301 and hit zero homers in 674 plate appearances. Why would any pitcher in his proper thoughts throw him one thing exterior the zone, not to mention sufficient such pitches to place him on first 64 occasions?
During Andrus’ youth, he did what most quick guys with good contact expertise have been taught to do for many of baseball historical past: Hit the ball on the bottom and run like hell. And that labored to some extent, leading to three straight seasons of OBPs within the .340s because the Rangers have been perennial playoff contenders.
In the mid-2010s, Andrus not solely began hitting the ball within the air extra, he obtained way more aggressive. Not that he was hitting the ball exhausting at any level. The 20-dinger season was the results of an 11.6% HR/FB charge, which is roughly double his profession common. He wouldn’t hit double digits once more till 2022, when he went deep 17 occasions.
The 2022 season was essentially the most excessive fly ball season but for Andrus. As far as common launch angle issues, he posted the very best mark of his profession. And whereas his xBA of .245 was not his lowest of the Statcast period, it was the bottom of any season through which he was value a rattling offensively. (Fly balls are much less probably than groundballs to end in a success, though they’re way more more likely to go for additional bases, for apparent causes.)
The verdict: Andrus is now not a Twenties throwback, a shortstop who will get by on his glove and his legs and his guile. He’s only a regular infielder now, albeit one who nonetheless neither strikes out loads nor hits the ball exhausting. His protection has even fallen again to about common; he was 14th out of twenty-two certified shortstops in defensive WAR final yr. (UZR and OAA favored him; DRS doesn’t.)
Can that participant do a job for many groups within the league? Yes. But let’s return to how he obtained to Chicago final yr within the first place. In 2022, Andrus was taking part in out the final yr of an eight-year, $120 million contract. The A’s had a $15 million possibility on him for 2023, which might have was a participant possibility if Andrus obtained to 550 plate appearances, which he was on tempo to do as of early August.
Around that point, the A’s advised Andrus that he would now not be the on a regular basis starter at quick. This regardless of Andrus being one thing just like the third-best hitter in Oakland’s on a regular basis lineup. (His named successor, Nick Allen, ended up hitting .207/.256/.291 in 326 plate appearances.) Not figuring out the innermost ideas and emotions of the Athletics mind belief, I can not say for certain what occurred. But I can say what it seems like: the A’s took Andrus out of the lineup so they would not must pay him $15 million.
Andrus was livid, and a few weeks later, obtained his launch. The White Sox, racked by infield accidents, picked him up shortly thereafter, and you understand the remainder.
Our crowdsourced predictions had Andrus signing a two-year contract for $10 million a yr. That is not the $15 million he ought to’ve made, however it’s not a nasty comfort prize for a participant within the Vegas residency section of his profession.
There are just a few groups (the Padres stand out as one instance) that actually have extra infielders than they’ll use. But Andrus can play a reliable shortstop and, even baking in some regression from 2022, is dealing with the bat higher than he has in years. He began Veteran Presence and Knows How to Win. How many groups, even good ones, may discover 400 at-bats throughout second, third, and quick for a participant like that? Probably half the league, even at this stage of the offseason.
But Andrus is not a utility infielder. He’s a shortstop. Since his debut in 2009, he has performed 16,606 defensive innings within the main leagues, and each single considered one of them has come at shortstop. There’s been fairly a little bit of motion within the shortstop market this winter; each playoff group from final season both has a longtime starter on the place or a teen (Atlanta’s Vaughn Grissom, for instance) who’s going to be given each alternative to say the place.
One potential touchdown spot is the Red Sox, who misplaced Xander Bogaerts to free company and Trevor Story to harm. Their present plan is to have Enrique Hernández be the on a regular basis shortstop for the primary time in his huge league profession. The Diamondbacks may additionally make use of Andrus as a stopgap — I’m fairly certain he is higher than Nick Ahmed. Or perhaps the Reds, though I doubt they care a lot whether or not Andrus can enhance their infield, and would not be prepared to pay $10 million or extra to search out out. Even no-hopers just like the Pirates, Rockies, Royals, and Nationals all have younger shortstops they should combine into the foremost league lineup.
If Andrus is dead-set on a full-time beginning shortstop job, I do not know the place he’ll discover one within the majors in 2023. If he desires his payday, or to chase a hoop, he’ll most likely must do defensively what he is already finished on the plate: evolve.