The Arizona Diamondbacks spoke to multiple teams about Justin Upton during the season, and rival executives expect they will trade the right fielder this winter. But some club officials also believe Arizona will move center fielder Chris Young, as well. Arizona could go into next season with an outfield of Gerardo Parra, Jason Kubel and Adam Eaton if it deals both Upton and Young, and the team's clear focus will be adding a shortstop, such as the Rangers' Elvis Andrus.
This is something we've talked about here before, and the electrifying performance of Jurickson Profar in his (admittedly limited) chances since being called up certainly makes this more at the forefront.
The Rangers have one of the best middle infields in baseball, with Ian Kinsler, who is under team control through 2018 ($70 million from 2013-17, with a $10 million club option in 2018 that has a $5 million buyout), and Elvis Andrus, who is under team control through 2014. The Rangers also have Jurickson Profar, arguably the top prospect in all of baseball right now, who is a middle infielder and who appears to be pretty close to major league ready.
Its a good problem to have, but it is still a problem...what is the best way to allocate those assets? Sadly, the conclusion that most come to is that Elvis Andrus, maybe my favorite Ranger since Buddy Bell, should be traded.
One of the things that has made it difficult to project what the Rangers will look like in 2013 is that we don't know what the Rangers are going to do about their middle infield situation. There are several choices, with these three seemingly being the most likely:
1) Move Ian Kinsler to the outfield, and put Jurickson Profar at second base to start 2013. This allows you to keep all three players, but also reduces some of Kinsler's value because of the position change
2) Have Jurickson Profar start the season in AAA. This basically maintains the status quo, and it isn't as if Profar, who turns 20 in February, would be too old for AAA.
3) Trade Elvis Andrus.
There are some other possibilities. You could deal Profar or Kinsler, both of whom have significant trade value. However, part of the reason you extended Kinsler was to provide for some continuity and keep one of your core pieces in place at a time where a lot of position players will be eligible to leave for free agency. And Profar...well, the Rangers don't want to trade Profar. I'd think long and hard about trading Profar for Royals outfield prospect Wil Myers, but I don't think the Rangers would. I don't think the Rangers would trade Profar to anyone not named "Trout."
You could try to convert Profar to centerfield. The Rangers, though, haven't given any indication they are interested in doing that, and I'm not sure how well he'd adjust to the position. He could probably play it, but how well is up in the air.
You could also use Profar as a "super-utility" guy in 2013. Personally, though, I'd be reluctant to take a 20 year old and make him a bench player, even a bench player you're hoping would get 300-400 plate appearances. It seems like a waste to burn one of his minimum salary years in such a role.
The "trade Elvis" argument is based around the idea that Elvis has Scott Boras as his agent, and thus isn't likely to sign a contract extension pre-free agency. If he's going to walk anyway, why not move him now? Plus, as one of the best shortstops in baseball with a very team-friendly contract the next two years, he has a ton of value for a contender. You aren't going to get a Mark Teixeira-type haul from Elvis, though arguably, you should...but you could get quite a bit of talent in return for Elvis, with Justin Upton being mentioned, not only by Olney, but by others of late.
The D-Backs have a wealth of outfield options, and could use Upton, who was seemingly a star in the making before regressing this season, as bait to long a star-quality shortstop in Elvis. The Rangers, by moving Elvis, could clear a spot for Profar on in the starting lineup while getting a power hitting outfielder to replace Josh Hamilton in the lineup.
Such a scenario likely means that the Rangers would open the 2013 season with a lineup that looks something like this:
2B -- Kinsler
SS -- Profar
LF -- Upton
3B -- Beltre
RF -- Cruz
DH -- Young
C -- Napoli
1B -- Moreland
CF -- Leonys
With David Murphy in his usual semi-regular 4th outfielder role and Mike Olt in AAA or traded.
That lineup...I struggle with what to think about that lineup. Upton, Profar and Leonys are probably a downgrade from Hamilton, Elvis and Murphy/Gentry, but how much depends on how much bounce back you get from Upton. Hamilton, I think, is almost certainly gone. You could theoretically just roll with a Murphy/Leonys/Cruz outfield next season, but if that happens, I'd have to think that the Rangers would want an upgrade over Young at DH, and we know how politically unpalatable bumping Young from that position would be.
Even considering the above, I don't want the Rangers to trade Elvis Andrus. My preference would be for Profar to intern in AAA for another season, let Andrus and Kinsler play at SS and 2B for another year, and see where things stand after that. I have to think that the Rangers would be interested in giving Andrus a long-term deal, and personally, I'd be fine with an 8 year extension on top of Elvis's current contract at $20 million per year, which would keep Elvis in Texas through 2022. And while that sounds like a long, long time, remember, Elvis just turned 24 a couple of weeks ago...that would lock up one of the premier shortstops in baseball at what is not an unreasonable salary for a premier shortstop through his age 33 season.
What I am guessing will happen is that the Rangers will talk contract with Elvis this offseason, and find out where he stands, letting him and Boras know that if he wants to be a Ranger long-term, they're willing to talk deal (albeit with a contract significantly less than what I posited above), and if not, then they'll look to move him this offseason.
Whatever happens, this will be a fascinating offseason for Texas. There are a lot of moving parts they have to resolve. Are they going to bring David Murphy back, and if so, in what role? Which of the three position players who are knocking on the door -- Mike Olt, Leonys Martin, and Jurickson Profar -- will be penciled into the regular lineup next year? Surely the Rangers aren't going to roll with one-third of the nine starting positions held down by rookies, so who is in and who is out? What is going to happen with Michael Young? How will the catching position be resolved? What is going to be done with the rotation?
A lot of moving parts, and a lot of hard decisions to make. But the keystone decision, the one that I think every other decision is going to hinge upon, is what the Rangers are going to do with Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, and Jurickson Profar.