Replacement level at shortstop in baseball is currently obscenely low. The lack of elite talent at the position is as palatable as ever. Manny Machado could be an elite shortstop, though he’s playing third base. Jurickson Profar was the top prospect in baseball at shortstop, but he’s playing second for the injured Ian Kinsler. Many teams are opting for defense or speed options, as players with strong bats are all too rare at the position.
When the Texas Rangers gave Elvis Andrus an eight year extension worth $120 million in the offseason, they believed they were paying a fair price for the league’s best defense-and-speed shortstop. As Andrus boasts 14 career home runs and a .272 batting average, the Rangers were clearly not paying for elite offense. Andrus had, however, accumulated over 13 WAR from 2009-2012.
With a .339 career on base percentage and an average of 30 steals over his four full seasons, the Rangers expected the majority of his offensive production to come from “table setting” for the big bats in their lineup. However, Andrus is batting .250 – down from his career .272 – leading to a sub par .305 on-base percentage. While Andrus’ glove has been as good, if not better, than in previous seasons, his lack of offensive production must worry the Rangers. If he is not getting on base between 33-36%, he will simply produce no value in terms of run creation.
There was substantial speculation about how the Rangers would resolve their logjam in the middle infield – with Andrus, Kinsler, and Profar – but the Andrus extension indicated that he was not going anywhere. Andrus’ lack of early season offensive production could easily be the result of variance in small samples and BABIP misfortune, in which case there is little room for concern. If Andrus produces at previous levels – in both run creation and prevention – then his extension is reasonable. However, if this offensive downturn continues, there is room for concern. As speed is one quality that does not age well, the Rangers could be paying Andrus into his early 30s just for declining speed and defense at a pivotal position.
Gabe Isaacson is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @gabeisaacson.