The Oakland A’s finally have a shortstop for the 2021 season, but it didn’t turn out as simple as signing a free agent.
The A’s acquired Elvis Andrus from the Texas Rangers in a five-player trade that sends designated hitter Khris Davis to Arlington, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Oakland also parts with two prospects in the deal, catcher Jonah Heim and pitcher Dane Acker, and in exchange they’ll receive catcher Aramis Garcia from Texas, per Rosenthal and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The Rangers will fork over $13.5 million in cash to complete the swap, adds Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
To put that more clearly:
- SS Elvis Andrus
- C Aramis Garcia
- $13.5 million cash
- DH Khris Davis
- C Jonah Heim
- RHP Dane Acker
At the center of the trade are two players each earning high salaries, but who have declined in performance and weren’t great fits on their teams’ rosters anymore. Davis will get $16.75 million this season, and Andrus is set for $14.25 million. However, Andrus is also signed for the same amount in 2022, while Davis’ contract ends after this summer and comes off the books. Andrus also has a player option for 2023 but it only vests if he’s able to stay in the lineup for roughly full-time at-bats, notes Rosenthal.
In terms of guaranteed money, the A’s don’t take on any extra here. Davis’ contract more than offsets Andrus’ for 2021, and the extra margin plus the cash sent by the Rangers covers Andrus for 2022. The A’s only continue paying Andrus in 2023 if the situation merits it.
As for roster fit, this is an obvious match for each team. Oakland desperately needed a shortstop for their contending team and now they have an established veteran. They also had a logjam of both right-handed bats and outfielders/DHs, leaving little room for Davis to get playing time and break his long-term slump. The Rangers were flush with too many infielders, but could use a big righty bat to help with a DH spot that posted the lowest bWAR in the majors last year.
In Andrus, the A’s get a glove-first shortstop in the decline phase of his career. The 32-year-old was a two-time All-Star a decade ago, and a big part of a pair of AL champion squads, but he’s been a significantly below-average hitter for the past three years.
Andrus, 2018-20: .260/.306/.378, 74 wRC+, 5.9% BB, 14.9% Ks, .305 xwOBA
He also added 39 steals at a solid 76% success rate. He hit only 21 homers during that span of 273 games, but he did pop a career-high 20 in 2017. His high-contact, low-strikeout style is something the A’s lineup lacked last summer, especially when they were trying to drive in a baserunner from third and all they needed to do was not swing and miss.
Despite the low ratings for his bat, Andrus still posted at least 2 bWAR (and at least 1.2 fWAR) in each of 2018 and ‘19, thanks to generally positive defensive marks at a tough position. He took a downturn on both sides of the ball in 2020, but it was only a 29-game sample in an unprecedentedly weird season and he was battling a back injury.
Davis had lost his place in Oakland’s everyday lineup after posting an 82 wRC+ each of the last two seasons. He was once the most consistent hitter in baseball, good for a .247 average and 40+ homers annually, but his numbers fell off a cliff in 2019 and are yet to recover — though he did blast a few dingers in the playoffs last October. The club still has Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, and Stephen Piscotty in their outfield, with several MLB-ready prospects also battling for at-bats in the outfield or at DH.
The A’s accomplished two goals in this trade, by unloading Davis’ salary and netting a shortstop, but it came at a steep price. Jonah Heim had already reached the majors as Oakland’s second catcher, behind primary starter Sean Murphy.
Heim was highly regarded by Athletics Nation as a switch-hitter with plus defense, and the community saw him as a potential fixture behind the plate for years to come. He was likely to make the Top 10 of our Community Prospect List, currently in progress. With him out of the picture, the A’s still have Murphy and Austin Allen as catchers on their 40-man roster.
The other prospect, Dane Acker, was the club’s 4th-round draft pick in 2020. With no minor league season last summer, he hasn’t yet had the chance to take the field as a pro.
The A’s get back Aramis Garcia, who played sparingly for the Giants in 2018 and ‘19. The Rangers claimed him off waivers from San Francisco in November. The right-hander produced a league-average batting line in Triple-A in 2019, including 16 homers in 89 games but also a high strikeout rate, and in 111 plate appearances in the majors he has an 81 wRC+, six homers, and 52 strikeouts (46.8%). He turned 28 last month.
(This section was updated after details evolved regarding Andrus’ 2023 option.)
It will take a few posts and lots of discussion to analyze this trade, but there are clear pros and cons. The A’s got an MLB shortstop without adding 2021 salary, and if they use some of their acquired money toward this season then they could further upgrade their contending roster.
Losing Heim is a bummer, but an acceptable price to pay for the above goal. If he’d gone in a deal straight-up for a one-year rental, I think AN would have accepted that. Getting back Garcia doesn’t change anything, as he seems more like org depth than a serious prospect.
The optimistic way to look at this is that the A’s swapped Davis’ salary from the bench to the wide-open starting shortstop spot in 2021, and the extra year on Andrus’ deal doesn’t matter because the Rangers are paying for it. Better yet, they’re paying for it now, at the exact moment the A’s most need cash after a summer of no ticket sales, so Oakland finally has something immediately available to upgrade their contending roster — and they already did just that, bringing back pitcher Mike Fiers.
The addition of Andrus gives the A’s a bridge to top prospect Nick Allen, who is yet to play in the upper minors but could be ready for the bigs by 2022. If Allen arrives before Andrus’ contract is up, then one of them (presumably Andrus) could shift to second base and form a ridiculous defensive infield in between the Matts.
The pessimistic way to look at this is that Andrus might not be more than a replacement-level player at this point, and one who spent time on the injured list each of the last three seasons (elbow, hamstring, back). Perhaps they could have found a comparable bet with 1-2 WAR upside on the scrap-heap without giving up Heim.
But even then, since no more money is being spent overall, the worst-cast scenario is a different expensive player sitting on the bench. And he’d be sitting there for an extra season, with a far more useful bench skill in his middle infielder’s glove.
I was initially dubious of this decision when I thought Andrus’ 2023 option was guaranteed, but now it makes sense. There are certainly ways it can go poorly, but also plenty of ways it can go well at a time-sensitive moment.
As an extra bonus, Andrus is a wonderfully fun player to watch, full of energy and capable of highlight plays and wearing a constant smile, the kind you can’t help but root for even when he’s on the other team much less when he’s on your side. Anyone who remembers his goofball exploits with Adrian Beltre will be excited to see him don the green and gold. “Elvis Andrus was a leader in Texas and by all accounts a really good dude, so he should fit right in that A’s clubhouse,” notes insider Martin Gallegos.
Elvis Andrus is an all-time favorite.— TR Sullivan (@Sullivan_Ranger) February 6, 2021
That's not just me... that is the opinion of anybody who ever walked into the Rangers clubhouse.
His legacy and place in the pantheon of Rangers history is secure. He will be missed.
Finally, while it’s too bad to see Davis’ memorable and beloved A’s career end as a salary dump after a two-year slump, he at least gets to go to the city where he’s done his most damage. Granted, the Rangers moved to a new park last year so it’s not the same house he used to own (1.150 career OPS, 19 homers in 36 games), but perhaps he can christen their new yard with a bounce-back to his former glory. He’ll always have a special place in Athletics Nation’s heart.
Will the pros outweigh the cons? We’ll see, but in the most immediate term, it does appear the 2021 roster is better than it was yesterday, and with a slightly lower payroll.