Isiah Kiner-Falefa is replacing Elvis Andrus as the Texas Rangers’ starting shortstop for the 2021 season, per Evan Grant.
While not completely out of the blue, this is still a pretty major development for the Rangers. The team said late in the 2020 season that neither Elvis Andrus nor Rougned Odor were going to be guaranteed playing time going forward, and Elvis ended the year on the injured list with back issues. Kiner-Falefa was one of the major stories in both spring training and summer camp, forcing his way into the lineup at third base, displacing free agent signee Todd Frazier (who moved to first base) and ultimately winning a Gold Glove at third.
Kiner-Falefa is, I believe, expected to be a better-than-average defender at shortstop, so this move makes sense from that standpoint. It also seems to signal that 2019 first round pick Josh Jung is likely to be in the major league mix sooner rather than later. The Texas Tech product has earned raves over the past year-plus, and it isn’t out of the question that, with IKF moving to shortstop, Jung starts the year in the majors at third base. Even if Jung is in the minors on Opening Day, 2021, it appears the team expects him to be major league ready pretty quickly.
In regards to Elvis, the 32 year old is owed $28 million over the next two years, and has full no-trade rights as a 10/5 player. Texas could look at moving him to second base — potentially making for an extremely expensive platoon with Odor — or could look at making him a utility infielder, with Odor battling it out with Nick Solak for the second base job. A trade is a possibility, as well — and it could be that the Rangers are making it clear now that he won’t be a starter to encourage him to consider waiving his no trade clause, as well as the 2023 option that becomes guaranteed if he is dealt. Texas would have to absorb the majority of the amount he is due on his deal in order to get any team to trade for him.