After a much greater delay than I intended, this five-part series is coming to an end. If you need a refresher, or just missed the first four questions facing the Texas Rangers, you can find them here:
The fifth question we will cover is perhaps the most challenging: Who is going to play shortstop, and who is going to play second base?
Two positions, with three players to fill them. Elvis Andrus plays shortstop, Ian Kinsler plays second base, and Jurickson Profar can do both. There are no less than six viable combinations that could answer this question. An argument could be made for each of the following:
Andrus traded, Profar at shortstop, Kinsler at second base.
Kinsler traded, Andrus at shortstop, Profar at second base.
Profar traded, Andrus at shortstop, Kinsler at second base.
Kinsler moved to outfield, Andrus at shortstop, Profar at second base.
Profar in Triple-A, Andrus at shortstop, Kinsler at second base.
Profar is utility infielder, Andrus at shortstop, Kinsler at second base.
I’m not going to make arguments for all six of these combinations, because there are two of them I instantly don’t like and can rule out – trading Profar, and using Profar as the utility infielder. Profar is the top position prospect in baseball, and he plays a premium position. He’s going to be really special, if everything goes right. He is the kind of talent that you can’t trade away, because in many ways his floor is higher than anything you’d get in return value from a deal. He is also only going to turn 20 years old in February of next year, which means he needs regular playing time at this developmental stage of his career, not to serve as a utility infielder off the bench.
Perhaps the most important cog to determining what direction the Rangers will go with this decision is not Profar, but Andrus. Profar will be under Rangers control through 2018, possibly 2019. Kinsler is under contract for five more years. Andrus is only signed through 2014, and after that he will hit free agency for the first time. If the Rangers feel as though they have no opportunity of re-signing Andrus once he becomes a free agent, then it may make sense to trade him this offseason, and maximize his value while he still has two years left on his contract. Center stage would belong to Profar, and by all accounts, center stage is where that young man desires to be and will thrive. There have been rumors of the possibility of a trade between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Rangers, exchanging Andrus and David Price. If such a deal could be worked out, putting Profar at shortstop and upgrading the Rangers’ rotation with Price would improve the team overall.
However, if there is any inkling in the Rangers front office that they can work out a deal with Andrus and his agent Scott Boras in two years, it is worth it to hold on to him tight until then. Andrus is still just 24 years old now. Like Profar, he could be the kind of franchise player a team can and should build around. Keeping Andrus as the shortstop also puts the best player at that position for the next two years. Profar may end up more talented and with a superior career, but in the short term Andrus should be better.
I’m going to assume that Andrus is the shortstop for the Rangers in 2013. The Rangers aren’t in a position where they have to trade him; where they’d take a slightly diminished return just to unload him. If they trade him, they’ll make sure they get everything they want and need to make it worth it. Those parameters make a deal difficult to find, and should keep Andrus a Ranger for at least one more year.
Now the question becomes who is going to play second base? The reason that there is even a question about who is going to fill the middle infield positions is because the Rangers have three players that are good enough to do it. It’s a good problem to have. It also means that if Andrus is the shortstop, the only way to get Profar on the field is for him to play second base. Maybe there is a determination within the Rangers organization that they’d prefer he get some more reps in the minors, but it certainly seems like the kid from Curacao is ready. In limited action in 2012, he showed that he was more than comfortable making the position switch across the bag to second base. The past season of baseball was a great year for 20-year olds and rookies making significant differences on contending clubs, and Profar is among the finest of 20-year old rookies the game has to offer. He should be on the field on Opening Day for the Rangers, and therefore the second baseman in 2013.
By deductive reasoning, this leaves Kinsler as the odd man out of the infield. When he signed his five-year, $75 million extension with the Rangers in April, he said he would be open to discussing changing positions when the time came. I doubt he expected the time to come in the very first year of that extension, but it looks like that is where things are. Kinsler had an average year defensively in 2012, poor by his standards, committing an MLB second baseman-high 18 errors, and a -0.2 UZR rating, below his career average UZR of 5.0.
Changing positions isn’t an easy transition for everyone. Certainly, Kinsler could see the writing on the wall that at some point he would likely slide to a corner outfield position. If everything went perfectly, Kinsler could potentially play a Ben Zobrist type of role for the Rangers. In 2012, Zobrist played 67 games in right field, 52 games at second base, and 47 games at shortstop. Kinsler is not quite as versatile as Zobrist, but the possibility is there that he could see action across the diamond (by the way, Zobrist is extremely underrated. He has 25.1 fWAR since 2009, the third-highest among position players).
The Rangers signed Kinsler to a contract extension because they wanted him to be a part of this team. The emergence of Profar isn’t a sudden surprise that wasn’t a possibility at the time that Kinsler inked the new deal. While the Rangers never consider anyone untouchable, it doesn’t appear they would be highly motivated to trade Kinsler. After a down year, it’s unlikely they would get a desirable return for the 30-year old. Instead, Kinsler can get a full season’s worth of games rotating between left field with David Murphy, second base with Profar, right field with Nelson Cruz, and at DH as well.
In the past couple of years, the Rangers have utilized employing players that could play multiple positions. Keeping Andrus, Profar, and Kinsler in the mix will give manager Ron Washington multiple options to use each night. Keeping all three improves the versatility of the club as a whole. It also would mean little to zero playing time for Michael Young at shortstop and second base, and that should be considered a positive outcome.
If the 2013 Rangers were the 2007 Rangers, the solution to the equation would be very different. The 2007 Rangers recognized they were three or four years away from contending, and would have traded Andrus, as they did Mark Teixeira, for a bundle of future Andruses. Instead, the 2013 Rangers are contenders who are looking to win in 2013. Trading Andrus for the right deal could make them the best team they could be in 2013, but that right deal may never be found. If it isn’t found, keeping Andrus, Profar, and Kinsler on the club makes them the best they can be in 2013, and 2014 as well.
Thank you for reading this piece and any other piece of mine that you have read on Rant Sports. This will be my last article for Rant. I have chosen to step down from this position, to re-prioritize my time to my family and my daytime job. I am very grateful to Rant Sports for the opportunity to write for them for the past baseball season; it’s been an excellent growing experience for me.
Join in the conversation with Peter on Twitter by following him @FutureGM