Scouting The Trade Market: Elvis Andrus

(Sarah Glenn/Getty)
(Sarah Glenn/Getty)

For the first time in two decades, the Yankees are looking for a shortstop this offseason. Derek Jeter has retired and the club doesn’t have an in-house replacement, not unless you count Brendan Ryan. I sure don’t. The free agent market has some imperfect shortstop options and, when he arrived at the GM Meetings in Phoenix yesterday, Brian Cashman also acknowledged the trade market is thin.

“I think it’s a limited market, and I say limited in terms of availability or acquisition cost. To me, I would describe the shortstop market as limited,” said Cashman to Adam Rubin and Mark Feinsand yesterday. “It’s a limited market. We’re going to talk with the available free agents, and we’ll talk as well, trade with other teams.”

Both Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman reported yesterday that the Yankees have some level of interest in Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, and that makes sense. He’s a true shortstop and he’s a big-ish name. That’s the kind of player usually connected to the Yankees. Texas has a bevy of young middle infielders — their MLB-readiness is up for debate, of course — in Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, and Luis Sardinas, so Andrus could be the odd man out. But does he actually make sense for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Declining Offense

Six years ago, Andrus skipped right over Triple-A and broke into MLB as a 20-year-old. His .267/.329/.373 (81 wRC+) batting line that year was comfortably below-average but also understandable because, well, he was a 20-year-old shortstop who skipped Triple-A. Andrus hit .265/.342/.301 (75 wRC+) with zero homers (in Texas!) in 674 plate appearances as a sophomore in 2010. A .342 OBP is pretty awesome but he had no power at all. On the bright side, he stole 33 and 32 bases in those first two seasons.

Andrus took what looked to be a big step forward in 2011 and then again in 2012. He hit .279/.347/.361 (93 wRC+) with 37 steals in 2011 and followed that up with .286/.349/.378 (97 wRC+) line with a career-low 21 steals in 2012. Remember, Andrus was still only 23 years old in 2012, and he was nearly a league-average hitter at the MLB level. It sure looked like his offense was starting to coming around those two years, but then this happened:


Source: FanGraphsElvis Andrus

Instead of building on those strong 2011-12 seasons, Andrus has gone backwards these last two years. By a lot too. He hit .271/.328/.331 (79 wRC+) last season and more or less matched it with a .263/.314/.333 (79 wRC+) line this past season. That he stole 42 and then 27 bases is almost an afterthought. Andrus hit .267/.321/.332 (79 wRC+) in the very not small sample of 1,383 plate appearances during his age 24-25 seasons. That’s bad. Baaad.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Andrus showed similar plate discipline and had a similar batted ball profile in his uber-disappointing 2013-14 seasons as in his apparent breakout 2011-12 seasons. If the plate discipline and batted ball numbers change significantly, it would suggest a decline (or improvement if you’re going the other way) in his underlying skills. But that isn’t the case:

PA GB% FB% LD% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
2011-12 1,376 56.5% 21.0% 22.5% 22.6% 53.9% 39.4% 88.1%
2013-14 1,383 57.5% 21.7% 20.9% 21.6% 54.5% 38.4% 86.4%

So Andrus was more or less the same type of hitter from 2011-12 as he was in 2013-14. He had the same level of plate discipline and was still a ground ball machine, yet the results were significantly worse. Is he simply not as strong and thus the quality of his contract deteriorated? It is worth noting his walk rate has declined in each of the last four years, going from 9.5% in 2010 to 8.4% in 2011 to 8.0% in 2012 to 7.4% in 2013 to 6.7% in 2014. That’s happened despite a relatively tiny increase in his out-of-zone swing rate (O-Swing%) and no change in his strikeout rate (career 13.5%).

Something weird is going on here. Andrus went from the verge of being a league-average contributor to one of the worst hitters in baseball. He’s a career .272/.335/.345 (84 wRC+) hitter in just short of 4,000 plate appearances now. Literally the only reason to think he’ll improve going forward is his age. That’s it. There are red flags aplenty.

Declining Defense Too

Even though he’s never been much of a hitter — the stolen bases are nice, but that’s about it — Andrus has been worthy of a regular lineup spot because he played some real slick defense at shortstop. That isn’t the case anymore, at least if the various stats are to be believed. To a table of great import:

Innings at SS DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2009 1,238.0 15 11.9 4 1.0
2010 1,291.1 -7 1.5 2 2.8
2011 1,261.1 7 7.5 9 2.6
2012 1,333.0 8 8.3 4 3.0
2013 1,288.2 11 4.6 3 -5.2
2014 1,309.1 -13 -4.2 -7 -7.8

Obligatory: One year sample sizes of defensive stats really suck!

I simply can’t take defensive stats at face value. I look at all of them and use them directionally. Forget about the exact values. The four main systems say Andrus was above-average as rookie in 2009, so chances are he was pretty good in the field. How much above-average? Who cares. Above-average is enough for me.

The four systems agree Andrus was generally above-average from 2009-2012 — there’s a little hiccup in 2010 — before slipping these last two years. That’s a big problem! He doesn’t hit anymore and now his defense stinks? That sounds like either the league has flat-out caught up to Andrus or there’s a work ethic problem. Andrus did show up to camp overweight this spring after all, and last month he told Gerry Fraley it won’t happen again:

Keeping to his late-season vow to get in better condition, Andrus has dropped about 10 pounds since the end of the season and wants to cut another 10. That would put him at about 195 pounds. He was up to 216 pounds in September and was uncomfortable with the extra weight.

“I’m going to look like 2009 again,” said Andrus, referring to his rookie season.

That’s great. Andrus knows his conditioning was a problem and he’s going to correct it. It’s very possible that will improve his defense next year and get it back to 2009-12 levels simply because he’ll be lighter on his feet and a bit more athletic. From what I can find, he didn’t show up to camp overweight last year, so these seems like an isolated incident. Either way, the declining the defense and recent conditioning issues are another set of red flags.

Durability

The offense is declining and his defense isn’t what it once was, but Andrus deserves major props for staying on the field, especially while playing such a demanding position. He has never once been on the disabled list and he’s played at least 145 games in each of his six MLB seasons. It’s at least 150 games in each of the last four seasons and at least 156 games in each of the last three seasons as well. Only Alexei Ramirez has played more games at shortstop since 2009 (929 vs. 882). Andrus’ ability to stay healthy and on the field is a major plus.

That Contract

Alright, here’s where it gets messy. The Rangers signed Andrus to an eight-year extension worth $120M two years ago … and it finally kicks in next season. He’ll make $15M annually from 2015-20 before a slight drop to $14M in both 2021 and 2022. His contract also includes a $15M vesting option for 2023 that is based on plate appearance totals in seasons that are very far away. Too far away to worry about.

Point is, Andrus has $120M in guaranteed money coming to him over the next eight seasons, all while his offensive numbers have nose-dived and his defense has slipped. I know he’s only 26, but yikes. The Rangers gave him that contract in April 2013, right after his best offensive season. It’s very safe to say Texas was expecting him to continue developing at least as a hitter, if not defensively as well. Instead, the exact opposite has happened.

Let’s Think About This For A Second

So, after all of that, here is a quick recap of the facts:

  • The Yankees have some level of interest in Andrus but we don’t know if the Rangers are open to moving him.
  • Andrus has taken an enormous step back offensively these last two seasons and his defense isn’t what it once was.
  • Andrus is insanely durable. The guy rarely misses a game.
  • Andrus is owed $120M through the 2022 season.

There’s a lot of negative there and I don’t think the second half of the first bullet point should be overlooked. We don’t know if the Rangers are interested in trading Andrus. And you know what? If they were willing to trade him, it would be something of a red flag. Obviously they were pretty confident he would continue to improve as a player just two years ago, otherwise they wouldn’t have given Andrus that contract. But if they were open to moving him now, before the extension begins, isn’t that a bad sign? It could mean they want to cut bait before his value crashes further.

It isn’t quite that simple — Texas could get blown away with an offer and trade Andrus even if they love him and think he’ll be great going forward — but there is some truth there. Twenty-six-year-old shortstops (real shortstops I mean, not Eduardo Nunez-esque “shortstops”) are a super-hot commodity and teams usually don’t give those guys away. If the Rangers trade Andrus and are willing to eat some of his contract to make it happen, that would be an enormous red flag for me. It’s the whole “what do they know that we don’t?” thing.

There have been 54 $100M+ contracts in baseball history and, off the top my head, only four of them were traded with $100M still left to be paid: Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. A-Rod was a special case because he was the best player in baseball at the time of the trade and his former team (the Rangers, coincidentally) simply couldn’t afford him anymore. Fielder, Crawford, and Gonzalez were all dumped because their former teams wanted out of bad investments. Andrus would clearly fall in the latter category at this point.

The Yankees need a shortstop, both short and long-term, and it makes sense they would have interest in Andrus. There’s nothing wrong with making your analysts run some numbers, getting on the horn with your pro scouts, and having a little sit down with the staff to discuss a player who potentially fills a need. It’s simply due diligence. That said, there’s a lot reasons to dislike Andrus, specifically his declining production and massive contract. This isn’t some kinda of cheap flier, remember. It’s the kind of contract the Yankees (and every other team) should avoid, really.

Yankees to play exhibition game at Nationals Park to end Spring Training

The Yankees will close out Spring Training next year with an exhibition game at Nationals Park on Saturday, April 4th, the team announced. Neat. They’ll make the quick stop in D.C. on their way up from Tampa before opening the 2015 regular season at home against the Blue Jays on April 6th. The full Spring Training schedule is right here.

Monday Night Open Thread

Here’s a great little piece of open thread fodder: long-time RAB reader Jeff Fleishman interviewed Aaron Small. In addition to his time with the Yankees, Small also discussed what he’s been doing since he retired, the start of his career, and all sorts of other stuff. Make sure you check it out.

This is your open thread for the night. Panthers and Eagles are the Monday Night Football game, plus the Devils and Knicks are playing as well. Talk about those games, the Small interview, or anything else right here.

Site Note: In case you haven’t noticed, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is gone. If you want to send us anything — mailbag questions, links, etc. — there’s an email button below the YES Network video widget in the sidebar. The email address is riveraveblues (at) gmail (dot) com.

Dellin Betances finishes third in AL Rookie of the Year voting

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

To the surprise of no one, White Sox slugger Jose Abreu was named the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year on Monday night, the BBWAA announced. He won unanimously and deservedly so. Dellin Betances finished third in the voting behind Abreu and Angels right-hander Matt Shoemaker. Masahiro Tanaka finished fifth behind those three and Astros righty Collin McHugh.

Betances received seven second place votes and six third place votes (27 points) while Shoemaker received 12 second place votes and four third place votes (40 points). Tanaka received three second place votes and seven third place votes (16 points). The full voting results are available at the BBWAA’s site. This is the first time in history the Yankees had two players receive Rookie of the Year votes in the same season. No, really.

The Yankees do not have any finalists for the other major awards. Joe Girardi will surely receive a few Manager of the Year votes and Betances and/or Tanaka may pull down a Cy Young vote or two. The bottom of the MVP voting is always kinda fun and I’m sure a Yankees or three will pop up there. Rookie of the Year or not, Betances had a marvelous season and there’s no shame in finishing third in the voting.

Curry: David Robertson declines qualifying offer

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, David Robertson declined the one-year, $15.3M qualifying offer prior to today’s 5pm ET deadline, according to Jack Curry. The Yankees will get a supplemental first round draft pick should their closer sign elsewhere as a free agent this winter. They won’t get the pick if they re-sign him. Last we heard, the two sides were not particularly close to a deal.

Robertson, 29, has been as good as any non-Craig Kimbrel relief pitcher in baseball these last four years, so of course he declined the qualifying offer. This is by far his best (and possibly only) chance to get a huge free agent contract. Sure, accepting the $15.3M qualifying offer would have made him the highest paid reliever in baseball history, but that’s on a one-year deal. Robertson is likely to get a multi-year contract worth twice the guaranteed money on the open market.

The Yankees did not make Hiroki Kuroda the qualifying offer, which surprised me a bit. Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley were not eligible to receive the qualifying offer because they were traded at midseason. A total of 12 players received a qualifying offer this winter and all are expected to declined now that Michael Cuddyer signed with the Mets.

2014 Season Review: 12 charts that explain Carlos Beltran’s season

Carlos Beltran Season Review
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

This season review could be a simple two-paragraph summary of Beltran’s debut in pinstripes. Or it could be a monster tome like Mike’s review of Brian McCann.

Instead we’ll do this Vox Media style: 12 charts that explain Carlos Beltran‘s season. Because what’s more fun than looking at a bunch of depressing charts?

But first, an encouraging one.

(Charts from FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.)

Platoon split

Carlos Beltran 2014 Platoon Split

While Beltran’s elbow injury did seem to affect his overall numbers, perhaps it only really bothered him while batting right handed. His left-handed numbers aren’t all that bad.

Perhaps he could be useful in a platoon role next year? The Yankees did just bring Chris Young back to serve as their right-hand hitting fourth outfielder.

This trend seemingly started in 2013:

Carlos Beltran 2013 Platoon Split

Because his splits in 2011 and 2012 were much more even:

Carlos Beltran 2012 Platoon Split

Carlos Beltran 2011 Platoon Split

The loss of power against LHP is a huge dent in Beltran’s game. It appears that a platoon role might be the best case scenario for the future, although it’s difficult to see the Yankees sitting him against left-handed pitchers.

Another chart that illustrates his complete lack of power against left-handed pitching:

Carlos Beltran ISO Split

At the same time…

Beltran’s plate coverage as a left-handed batter declined quite a bit in 2014. Here’s his batting average heat map for 2012 and then 2013:

Beltran Left Handed Heat Map 12

Beltran Left-Handed Heat Map 13

And now 2014:

Beltran Left-Handed Heat Map 2014

That can’t bode well for his future productivity. Hopefully the elbow injury was mostly to blame and he can regain some of his plate coverage in 2015. Because if he’s going to decline further as a left-handed hitter, it’s hard to see his remaining value.

He’s not walking

Beltran 2014 Walk Rate

He might have improved on his 2013 rate, but in 2014 he still walked about league average. The Yanks clearly need him to get on base more often.

And there’s not much pop left

Beltran 2014 Batted Balls

Rising ground balls isn’t a problem, but if they’re coming at the cost of line drives, well, I don’t need to tell you that’s not good.

Remember when we were like, yeah Beltran?

Beltran April 2014

Derp

BeltranLater

There were brief periods of awesomeness for Beltran in 2014. He started off hot, and hit a hot streak coming out of the All-Star Break and into early July. But those streaks were short-lived. Most of the season Beltran played ineffectively. If it was due to injury, there is some hope for 2015. But for a 38-year-old, most of these charts portend trouble.

Teixeira’s injuries, eventually expiring contract create clear path for Greg Bird

No. 20? That's messed up dude. (Presswire)
No. 20? That’s messed up dude. (Presswire)

Three years ago, the Yankee caught some grief for selecting Florida high school third baseman Dante Bichette Jr. with their top pick in the draft, the 51st overall selection. There were concerns about his swing and ability to hit pro pitching (not to mention his defense), and those concerns still exist today. Bichette is a career .255/.337/.373 (106 wRC+) hitter in nearly 1,800 minor league plate appearances, which is fine but not anything that will turn people in believers.

Bichette did not receive the largest bonus among New York’s draftees in 2011, however. They gave Colorado high school catcher Greg Bird a $1.1M bonus in the fifth round to buy him out of a commitment to Arkansas, and he has since zoomed by Bichette in the prospect rankings. That happened even though he moved out from behind the plate and over to the less glamorous first base, partially due to back problems and partially as a way to get him up the ladder quicker.

“We just agreed (first base) was going to be the best thing going forward. I think it was more about my tools than anything. It was basically, ‘Why spend time catching when we could progress forward faster playing first base?’” said Bird to David Laurila last week. “People ask that a lot – does (not catching) help me as a hitter? – and I think maybe it does, but I’m more of a cerebral hitter anyway. As far as, ‘Is he going to throw this or is he going to throw that,’ I was that way growing up, so I’ve kind of always had that mindset. I don’t really sit on pitches, but if you’re not thinking along with what’s going on, you’re not playing the game.”

Bird, who turned 22 yesterday, is a career .283/.407/.488 (141 wRC+) hitter in a bit more than 1,100 minor league plate appearances, and he’s currently hitting .318/.392/.568 (159 wRC+) in 23 games with the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. (Bichette has a 65 wRC+ as his teammate.) That performance, as well as his massive dead center homer in the AzFL Fall Stars Game, has put Bird in the spotlight, especially with the big league Yankees in need of offense.

“I think he is a legit middle-of-the-order bat. He has lift and really drives the ball with big-time power,” said one scout to Joel Sherman. “If you go middle out on him, he will go the other way with power. He still had some problems with off-speed pitches, but you cannot throw a fastball by this guy. I see him in the majors hitting .260-to-.280 with 20-homer-plus power.”

The Yankees could obviously use a hitter like that, even at first base, where Mark Teixeira is signed for another two years. It’s not hard to connect the dots and see Bird’s timetable lines up pretty well with the expiration of Teixeira’s contract. Bird figures to open the 2015 season back at Double-A, and since he’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible next winter, the Yankees could get a head start on things by adding him to the 40-man roster and calling him up in September.

With Teixeira getting more and more injury prone each year, Bird could be his up-and-down replacement in 2016 while getting regular at-bats in Triple-A. That doesn’t sound all that exciting, but the Yankees got 678 plate appearances from their first baseman this past season, and only 487 of them went to Teixeira (72%). There were 200 or so plate appearances for someone like Bird in 2014. It might be 300-400 in two years, when Teixeira is 36.

Most young players get their first extended big league opportunity thanks to an injury. That’s what happened with Melky Cabrera back in 2006, remember. He helped fill in for Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. Brett Gardner got his first chance when Johnny Damon got hurt in 2008. Heck, Derek Jeter was the shortstop in 1996 because Tony Fernandez got hurt. That’s just how it works in baseball and especially with the Yankees, who are hesitant to hand starting jobs over to young players. Teixeira’s injuries work in Bird’s favor.

The 2015 season is going to be very important for Bird. He’s created some hype with his performance these last two years and especially in Arizona these last few weeks, but next year will be his first extended stint at Double-A, a level that is usually a separator between prospects and suspects. If he continues to hit there, being the long-term replacement for Teixeira will go from nice idea to real possibility. Huge free agent first base contracts are among the worst investments in the game (Teixeira, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, etc.) and it’s something New York may be able to avoid thanks to Bird in two years.

The Yankees have only had four regular first baseman dating back to 1984 and it’s both unrealistic and incredibly unfair to expect Bird to continue that run. For now, let’s just hope his success continues in 2015 and he puts himself in position to be a big league option in 2016. That alone would be a big help to the Yankees, who seem to an employ a “we’ll play anyone at first” approach to backing up Teixeira. Bird is not the team’s best prospect but he is one of their most important prospects because he has a clear path to MLB playing time, both in the short and long-term.