Contract extensions have been a key part of Jon Daniels’ team-building strategy over his 14+ years as the Rangers’ general manager, and the richest of those extensions was completed seven years ago today. Elvis Andrus agreed to an eight-year, $120MM contract that also contains a $15MM vesting option for the 2023 season.
The new deal began with the 2015 season, which would have been Andrus’ first free agent year. Andrus was already signed to a previous extension — a three-year/$14.4MM pact for the 2012-14 seasons, which were Andrus’ three arbitration years — and thus Texas needed to make a sizeable investment to keep Andrus off the open market. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted at the time of the deal, “Scott Boras has managed to secure the largest extension ever for a shortstop in terms of new money,” which was perhaps a necessary step given that Boras usually advises his clients to test free agency. (In fact, the Andrus deal has been cited for years as one of the relatively few examples of a Boras Corporation client signing a long-term extension that covers free agent seasons.)
At the time of the deal, it’s quite possible the Rangers felt they would ultimately be on the hook for only the first four years (and $62MM) of the extension. Andrus had opt-out clauses after both the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and as deep as a week into the 2018 campaign, he looked like a strong candidate to exercise that first clause given his improved offensive production in 2016-17. However, a fractured elbow cost Andrus two months of the 2018 season and he never really got on track after the injury, thus informing his decision to stick with Texas in 2019.
Last season, Andrus just flat-out struggled, hitting .275/.313/393 (76 wRC+, 78 OPS+) over 648 PA, with a career-low 5.2% walk rate and a major lack of quality contact, as per his Statcast numbers. In the wake of that poor season, Andrus again chose to pass on his opt-out clause, leaving Texas owing the shortstop $43MM through the 2022 campaign and now not really knowing what to expect from Andrus performance-wise over those three seasons.
Such risks are baked into any extension, of course, and it’s worth noting that Andrus’ hitting potential was a question mark even back at the time of his 2013 deal. Though he had been a highly-touted prospect (Baseball America ranked Andrus as the 19th-best prospect in the sport prior to the 2008 season) during his time in the Rangers’ farm system, Andrus’ minor league numbers weren’t overly impressive. Even at the big league level, he hit only .275/.342/.353 over his first 2591 MLB plate appearances.
That said, 2012 marked Andrus’ best offensive showing to date, as he hit .286/.349/.378 over 711 PA and reached the AL All-Star roster for the second time in his career. And, it’s unfair to say that Andrus wasn’t a valuable offensive player early in his career, considering that his solid average and OBP were augmented by superb speed and baserunning. Combine these skills with a solidly above-average glovework at shortstop, and it’s easy to see why Texas felt comfortable making a long-term bet on Andrus’ future.
Had that extension not been signed, Andrus would have been a 26-year-old free agent hitting the free agent market in the 2014-15 offseason. There wasn’t much in the way of premium middle infield talent available that winter, so even though Andrus didn’t do a ton to elevate his stock over the 2013-14 seasons, his young age and hints at further productivity could have still potentially led to a nine-figure contract. An Andrus free agent deal could have been something of a forerunner to Jason Heyward’s deal with the Cubs a year later, with a team choosing to pay a premium for a 26-year-old, non-elite offensive player based on their overall skillset and future breakout potential. Heyward had a much better hitting track record than Andrus, so the shortstop wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the $184MM and eight years Heyward got from the Cubs, though it isn’t a reach to guess that a team could have given Andrus a six-year commitment.
Though it isn’t known whether Andrus will be able to get back on track in 2020 (if there is a season) or beyond, the uncertainty of the back end of his deal doesn’t mean the extension was a mistake for the Rangers. As per Fangraphs, Andrus has already delivered $85.8MM worth of value over the first five years of the contract, surpassing the $77MM he has earned in real-life money. Andrus was a major contributor to the Rangers’ AL West titles in 2015 and 2016, and while he has never matched his offensive peaks of 2016 and 2017, his sheer durability has also been a big point of value — the fractured elbow is the only significant injured list stint of Andrus’ entire career.
Indeed, that wayward pitch from Keynan Middleton (on the second-last at-bat of a 7-2 Angels win over the Rangers on April 11, 2018) might end up being the real what-if moment of Andrus’ tenure with the Rangers. Had Andrus gone on to match his 2016-17 numbers in an uninterrupted 2018 season, he would surely have opted out of his contract and, even in the slow-moving 2018-19 free agent market easily topped the four years and $48MM left on this Texas deal. In such a scenario, the critics currently bemoaning the Andrus extension would probably have then been criticizing Daniels for negotiating an opt-out clause into the deal in the first place.
Andrus is a notable question mark for a Texas team that is looking to turn things around after three losing seasons. While the 2020 season could end up being a wash, getting one more solid year out of Andrus in 2021 or 2022 could be enough to mark down the extension as a win for the Rangers in the eyes of the general fanbase. Even if 2019 is the beginning of end for Andrus as a productive regular, he has still done enough over the course of his contract to make it a decent return for the Rangers, even if that hoped-for leap into superstardom for Andrus never happened.