It seems like a team's dream scenario.
Organizations -- and fans -- dream of having young depth "up the middle." A situation where a 24 year old has already proven to be one of the best at his position in baseball, while a stud at the same position destroys minor league pitching. A wealth of talent at one of baseball's premium positions.
Thanks to Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, the Texas Rangers find themselves in that exact position. It comes with a problem: who do you build around, or who do you jettison to build around both? It is a wonderful problem to have, but it still comes with the fear of making the wrong choice, and bidding adieu to a beloved piece of the franchise.
Normally, with an Elvis Andrus, with a team as strong as the Rangers, you look forward to his bright future, and hope the bulk of it comes with your team. Players this good this young pretty often end up enshrined in Cooperstown. With strong plate discipline and great baserunning creating a solid offensive package, accompanying tremendous defensive ability at a position of incredible value, he is, again, one of the best at his position. It is incredibly rare in baseball you think about moving something like that.
That's because having an Andrus is incredibly rare, as is having a Jurickson Profar. In his age 19 season, Profar's 127 wRC+ ranked 14th in the Texas League. Not one player ahead of him was still a teenager. A switch hitter with fantastic plate discipline and good enough power to be a terrific prospect as it is, but being a potential plus fielding shortstop takes him to the next level.
This is a prospect at one point mentioned in the same breath as Bryce Harper. This is a teenager who would have likely been given a starting job on most Major League teams this year. This is one of those rare and sexy prospects who you are supposed to daydream about doing wonderful things, becoming one of the all-time greats and leading your team to unbelievable heights. He does neat things from a position that icons come from without having to compete with too many other icons. You want that glorious future to begin as soon as possible.
During this massively important Texas off-season, though, there is no easy way of finding room for Profar. Unfortunately, the most obvious answer is painful: Trade Elvis Andrus.
Moving Andrus for Profar is a natural fit for position, obviously, but it goes beyond that. Andrus is an All-Star-caliber player at a very young age; already an established Major League talent, playing for pennies. He represents two more affordable years of cost control at a spot that is hard to fill. Teams would pay a small ransom for that kind of talent. On top of that, Andrus is represented by Super Capitalist Scott Boras, so the idea of retaining Andrus based on some kind of home town discount seems iffy. Andrus may yet be a Texas Rangers icon, but Boras makes it a little difficult to bet on.
There is also good reason to believe Andrus is fairly close to his ceiling. Players tend to peak in their late 20s, but they also don't typically come in to the league as young as Andrus, who already has more than 2500 plate appearances in his career. Further, his biggest area of weakness is his lack of power. He has good discipline and contact skills, he just can't produce much when he does make contact. You may be excited about what he could do once he develops that power, but FanGraphs has a small check on that excitement for you. A hitters' power tends to peak at around age 24-25; in other words, if he follows the normal aging pattern of MLB players, Andrus's 0.92 slugging in 2012 may well be the best of his career. That doesn't mean he doesn't have room for growth, it just means you shouldn't necessarily believe a ceiling as one of the true elites in baseball is in front of him.
Trading an established star for a prospect is always sketchy, though. There is a certain amount of emotional struggle in the concept. Andrus has made himself a loveable cut-up with a shiny white smile, electric glove work, thrilling base exploits, and constantly cheery disposition. Losing a fan favorite for a relative unknown is rough. More practically, even a prospect of Profar's caliber is far from a guarantee to end up being as good as Andrus has become, let alone superior. What he lacks in guarantee, though, he makes up for in potential. It is extremely hard to part with such swirling talent, a player who has the stuff to be incredibly special.
That is where this fear of Texas making the wrong choice comes from. If they trade Andrus, and Profar is merely a good player, how much do we regret it? So there is always the option of moving someone else. Adrian Beltre could play first base if Texas (hopefully) parts with Michael Young, but you lose his tremendous defensive advantage. You could move Beltre to get out of his contract before he starts aging -- understanding you likely get little in return -- but you almost certainly take a major hit in 2013, and perhaps beyond. You could move Ian Kinsler to the outfield, but he would have to become just about the best corner glove in the game to justify the hit in value. Kinsler's contract keeps him somewhat tradeable, but you would be selling low on someone who just had the worst year of his career. These options also come with the assumption that Profar can just pick up a position he hasn't been groomed to play in the minors.
The lack of a clear choice seems to, actually, make the choice pretty clear: just wait. The Rangers should still have huge ambition in 2013, and moving a star player to start a rookie is not a win now move. There is almost no reason to force a move just to get Profar in the Majors right now. He almost certainly would not be hurt by an extra year of seasoning, and keeping him down would give the Rangers even more control of his career peak. By the end of 2013, who knows what may have happened. Something like a career-ending injury, or a very obvious collapse in talent, may indicate exactly who Profar should replace.
The only reason for making a move now would be Texas's complete confidence that Profar could mostly replace Andrus immediately. If that's the case, it makes emotionless sense to get what you can for Andrus now, while he represents one of the most valuable commodities in baseball. That is really painfully awful to write, and the excitement of Profar's ascension would be hurt some by watching Andrus play elsewhere, but the Rangers tend to be pretty smart about this stuff.
None of us fans can have that confidence, though, so there is no reason to stress and fret over the right choice right now. We can go ahead and be excited about the future with Profar, but we should be content to find out how he makes the roster in 2014, instead of trying to shove him on to the opening day squad of 2013.
Now then, let's find some room for Mike Olt.