This offseason’s crop of free agents featured a clear top four in the shortstop category. Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson were all highly sought after and all ended up securing deals well into nine-figure territory. There was a steep drop to the fifth best option, Elvis Andrus. Though there were many teams who expressed interested in the “Big Four” that ended up missing out, none have made a pivot to Andrus as a backup plan thus far. With just three weeks remaining until Spring Training begins, Andrus is still unsigned.
The 34-year-old Andrus has 14 years of MLB experience, having debuted with the Rangers as a 20-year-old back in 2009. He spent many years with Texas, hitting at a below-average level but still proving to be a valuable player via his speed and defense. In the 11 seasons from 2009 to 2019, he hit just 73 home runs and walked in just 7.3% of his plate appearances, but he also struck out at just a 13.6% rate. His batting line in that time was .275/.331/.373 for a wRC+ of 86, indicating he was 14% below league average. However, he also stole 302 bases and also graded very well on the dirt. Defensive Runs Saved had him just a hair above average, but Ultimate Zone Rating gave him a score of 28.2, the fifth-highest among shortstops in that time. Outs Above Average, which was only introduced in 2016, graded him at plus-14, which was also fifth-best at the position. Despite the subpar batting, his 30.3 wins above replacement from FanGraphs was the second-most of all shortstops in that timeframe, trailing only Troy Tulowitzki.
Andrus had a down year in the shortened 2020 campaign and was traded to the A’s prior to 2021. He ended up having another typical season for him, hitting at a 74 wRC+ level but stealing 12 bases and getting some good grades for his work on the dirt. That led to him accumulating 1.6 fWAR on the year. In 2022, Andrus actually had a better season, despite being released by the A’s in the summer. That release seems to have been financially motivated, as Andrus had a slightly complicated finish to his contract. The 2022 season was the final guaranteed year of the extension he signed with the Rangers back in 2013. There was also a $15MM club option for 2023 but it would become a player option if Andrus was traded at some point and also logged 550 plate appearances in 2022.
Andrus was getting regular playing time with the rebuilding A’s and was well on his way to meeting that plate appearance threshold, but they instead released him in August. Andrus signed a new contract with the White Sox who needed a shortstop replacement for the injured Tim Anderson, eventually getting to 577 plate appearances on the year. Because he signed a new contract with the White Sox, the option was a moot point. He finished the year with a .249/.303/404 batting line and a wRC+ of 105. Thanks to his 18 steals and shortstop defense, he was worth 3.5 fWAR on the season between the two clubs.
Despite that solid platform year, Andrus lingers on the market. It’s probable that clubs are a bit skeptical of the 2022 output since Andrus hit .255/.302/.360 over the four prior seasons — but even that diminished version of Andrus was worth 4.3 fWAR in 419 games. Many teams still have shortstop deficiencies, and Andrus could also potentially help out teams that are weak at second base. He’s never played on the other side of the bag but expressed a willingness to do so last year with the White Sox when there was a possibility Anderson could return from the IL and retake the shortstop position. Despite the lack of experience at the position, many shortstops have found it easy to make the transition to second, which is considered a less-demanding spot.
Even with various qualities he could bring to a club, the market for Andrus has seemingly been quiet. The primary public link has been to the Red Sox, in the wake of Trevor Story requiring internal brace surgery on his elbow. Given that the club also lost Bogaerts to the Padres, they are now doubly lacking in the middle infield. Since then, they’ve signed Adam Duvall to hopefully be their everyday center fielder, thus moving Enrique Hernández to shortstop. Hernandez has only ever had part-time work at the position but recently expressed his excitement about a lengthier stint there, appearing on NESN during the club’s Winter Weekend festivities. With Christian Arroyo playing second base, it’s possible the Sox consider themselves set, but Duvall has never been a full-time center fielder and the same goes for Hernandez at short. That’s risky enough as it is, but one injury suddenly makes the situation look even worse. Adding Andrus and moving Hernandez to second or center field would improve the depth significantly. Jon Morosi of MLB Network recently suggested the Sox would like to bring Andrus aboard as a non-roster invitee, but it would register as a surprise if he couldn’t get a modest major league deal elsewhere, given his decent floor and solid year in 2022. The Sox are still more than $15MM shy of the luxury tax, per Roster Resource, and could still fit a modest deal on the books without pushing against it.
There are plenty of other logical suitors. The Diamondbacks currently have Nick Ahmed lined up to be their primary shortstop. Like Andrus, he’s a strong defender who doesn’t hit much, but he’s also been dealing with shoulder problems for years. Those shoulder troubles put him under the knife last year and he was only able to get into 17 games. Geraldo Perdomo was pushed into regular duty to cover for Ahmed but had a poor season on both sides of the ball. The club has an excellent second baseman in Ketel Marte but he’s been battling lingering hamstring issues for the past couple of seasons. A reliable veteran middle infielder would make plenty of sense for the Snakes.
A return to the White Sox would also make sense, even though Anderson should be back in the shortstop position. The second base spot is less clear, with Josh Harrison a free agent and Danny Mendick having signed with the Mets. Romy González, Leury García, Lenyn Sosa and non-roster invitee Hanser Alberto are some of the options that will be in camp next month, though none of those options are particularly inspiring. Andrus already said he’d be willing to play second next to Anderson and perhaps that would be a better option for the Sox than anything else currently on hand.
The Angels seem set to go into the year without a clear-cut shortstop. Luis Rengifo, David Fletcher and Gio Urshela are all possibilities, though none of them are really perfect. All three of them are multi-positional players that have spent much more time at other spots on the diamond. Fletcher probably has the strongest defensive argument to get the job, since he’s been graded a bit above average by all three of DRS, UZR and OAA for his career. However, he’s provided very little at the plate outside of the shortened 2020 season. Also, with Anthony Rendon and Jared Walsh coming off injury-marred campaigns, the Halos have question marks at both corner infield spots. Brandon Drury and Urshela can help out, but there’s still sense in further bolstering the depth.
The Marlins have been busy on the trade market lately, sending shortstop Miguel Rojas to the Dodgers and acquiring Luis Arraez in a trade sending Pablo Lopez to the Twins. Their current plans seems to be to move Jazz Chisholm Jr. to center field, leaving them with an infield of Jean Segura at third, Joey Wendle at shortstop, Arraez at second base and Garrett Cooper at first. They’ve been recently connected to first baseman Yuli Gurriel, with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reporting that Gurriel could play some second or third base. That’s a risky plan since he’ll turn 39 in June and hasn’t seen meaningful time at either of those positions since 2019. He’s also coming off a pretty poor year at the plate. The club is already taking a big risk on defense by having a center fielder with no experience there and two left-side infield positions manned by players who have spent much more time elsewhere. Arraez has plenty of second base experience but was graded poorly there, and the Twins bumped him to first base before trading him to Miami. Perhaps adding Andrus and moving Wendle back to a utility role would be a more elegant solution than the Gurriel option.
The Astros have Jeremy Peña and Jose Altuve up the middle and certainly don’t need help there. However, they lost their backup/utility option Aledmys Díaz to the A’s in free agency. They could replace him in-house with Mauricio Dubón and David Hensley, but Dubón had a poor year at the plate in 2022 and Hensley has been more of a utility player than a regular at shortstop. The Astros are probably fine if everyone is healthy, but an injury to Peña could make the depth start to feel a little shaky.
The Braves have lost Swanson to the Cubs but haven’t done anything to replace him. It seems the plan is to install 22-year-old Vaughn Grissom in the position and hope he can handle it. There’s risk in that plan as he has just 41 games of MLB experience, including just 10 innings at short. He has much more experience at the position in the minors, but many prospect evaluators have suggested he’s stretched at that spot and should move to second, third or the outfield. Should the Grissom experiment fail, the club’s best backup plan right now is Orlando Arcia. He has lots of shortstop experience with the Brewers but doesn’t hit much and eventually got moved into a utility role.
The Rockies had José Iglesias as their shortstop last year, but he is now a free agent. They seem ready to hand the reins over to prospect Ezequiel Tovar, who made his MLB debut last year. However, he’s still just 21 years old, has played just 80 games above the High-A level and only 14 of those above Double-A. Should he struggle in his first real taste of the majors, their backup plan would be to turn to Alan Trejo or Cole Tucker, neither of whom having much major league success of their own.
There’s also the wild card that is the World Baseball Classic, which takes place in March. Dozens of major league players will be ramping up quicker than they would in a normal spring and diving into competitive action. That creates the possibility that someone will sustain an injury that creates a new opening for Andrus. Some of the middle infielders that are set to participate in the WBC include Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil, Andrés Giménez and many more.
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