The Texas Rangers have an ongoing dilemma in regards to shortstop Jurickson Profar.
A former #1 overall prospect in baseball, a guy who the Rangers reportedly refused to give up in deals for the likes of Zack Greinke and Justin Upton, a guy who the Rangers dealt Ian Kinsler away to clear a spot for, Profar is now at a career crossroads. He missed the 2014 and 2015 seasons due to shoulder injuries. In 2016, he got called up when Rougned Odor was suspended, played well at first, and then struggled as the season went on. Profar began the 2017 season in the majors as part of a three-headed rotation in left field, didn’t hit, got sent down, and except for a brief call up mid-year, stayed in the minors. Profar reportedly reacted badly enough to not being dealt at the July 31 trade deadline that he ended up being put on the 7 day d.l. in what appears, from afar, to have perhaps been a disciplinary move, and he didn’t get called up in September when rosters expanded, resulting in his filing a grievance.
The expectation, given that the Rangers have Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor in the middle infield spots, and given Profar is out of options and hasn’t handled a utility role well, is that the Rangers will look to trade him this offseason. The decision not to call him up in September means that a team acquiring Profar would have three years of team control, not two, which enhances his value somewhat. It appears to be the obvious solution.
And yet, there have been dissenting voices on the issue. A position that I’ve seen espoused more and more from Rangers fans is that Profar is too valuable to trade, under the circumstances. Rougned Odor had a terrible 2017 season. Elvis Andrus can opt out of his contract after 2018 and become a free agent. Keep Profar in 2018, let him compete with Odor for the second base job, make him the utility infielder if he doesn’t win the job, and let him replace Elvis as the starting shortstop when Elvis opts out.
Theoretically, that makes some sense, and if you are playing fantasy baseball or a sim league, that might be a viable direction to go. As a practical matter, with real life people and personalities, though, it seems like a recipe for a disaster.
First of all, in Profar, you have a player who is actively unhappy with the organization and wants out. Profar said in 2016, while on the major league roster, he expected to be a starting shortstop in 2017 -- a curious thing to say when you are on a team whose starting shortstop is in his 20s, playing well and on a long-term deal. Profar’s agent, Scott Boras, isn’t afraid to go scorched earth, and if spring training rolls around and Profar is still with the Rangers and slated for a utility role, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a hold out, or other actions by Boras to try to pressure the team to move him.
And of course, Profar’s history suggests he doesn’t take real well to a utility role or irregular playing time. He has a career .229/.309/.329 slash line in 718 plate appearances in the majors while playing in a part time role. He has said feels most comfortable playing shortstop, and has said he feels best playing every day, suggesting that he may feel that his struggles at the major league level stem from not getting enough playing time.
So does it serve the Rangers well to have a potential malcontent in the clubhouse, filling a utility role he doesn’t feel comfortable with, while playing Profar once a week? Or do you tell other players they are going to sit more often because you want to try to force Profar into the lineup to keep him happy, in the hopes it gets him hitting again.
The response here is, well, Profar can compete with Odor for playing time at second base — he can’t be worse than Odor was last year, and maybe Odor goes to the minors and Profar becomes the regular second baseman. And even if you leave Odor at second base, you keep Profar around in a utility role so that he can replace Elvis at shortstop in 2019.
But let’s think how this plays out. You committed to Odor as being part of your core prior to the 2017 season. He’s considered a key part of your group going forward, and he’s under contract through 2022, with a 2023 team option. Odor was the player in your organization with the most trade value a year ago.
And now you want to send Odor to the minors, so Profar can be the second baseman instead? What is your end game? Your best case scenario? Even if Odor plays well in AAA, is he really going to revive any of his trade value? Are you willing to just eat money owed to Odor over the next five years to send him elsewhere because you think Profar is the future, and just hope Odor doesn’t rebound and make that move look foolish?
And what do you do if Profar isn’t good? Odor had a 649 OPS with a 65 OPS+ in 2017, which is awful. Profar has a career 638 OPS in the majors with a 71 OPS+. Since his return from shoulder surgery, he has a 632 OPS and a 67 OPS+, including a 501 OPS in 70 plate appearances in 2017. Do you want to give up on Odor so you can hitch your wagon to a guy who hasn’t been any better in the majors than Odor was in his disastrous 2017?
And then you have Elvis, a guy who has said he wants to spend his entire career in Texas, one of the most popular players in the clubhouse, your best player in 2017, the guy who is the tie to your two World Series teams and who you’ve been grooming to be one of the leaders of your team going forward. Do you really want to head to spring training telling Elvis he’s a lame duck, that you don’t want to keep him around, that he’s going to play the season knowing that Profar is hanging around on the roster because you’ve already decided you don’t want him back and have decided on his replacement? Especially when the replacement hasn’t performed in the majors and, once Elvis leaves, will still only have two years of team control left before HE is a free agent.
Save me your, “That’s why Jeff Banister is here, to manage the clubhouse” takes. The end result is that you are insisting on holding onto and keeping in the clubhouse a guy who is unhappy and doesn’t want to be here, and likely alienating Odor and Elvis, two important clubhouse guys, in the process. Its a setup for a toxic environment, and not conducive to either trying to win now or trying to win in the future.
You have to make a decision on these guys, this offseason — and in particular, on Elvis Andrus. If you have decided you aren’t going to try to extend Elvis this offseason to buy out his option, and aren’t going to be willing to pay what you anticipate he will get as a free agent when he opts out after 2018, trade him now and make Profar your starting shortstop. If you want to keep Elvis, trade Profar. But don’t keep all three middle infielders around as a hedge because you can’t make a decision, or are afraid to commit to a plan going forward.