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Contract Extension With Elvis Andrus Provides Texas Rangers With Enviable Flexibility

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Contract Extension With Elvis Andrus Provides Texas Rangers With Enviable Flexibility
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Elvis Andrus might not have the muscle to blast homers, but that didn't stop him from landing a $120 …

COMMENTARY | There were several compelling reasons for Texas Rangers fans to assume that Elvis Andrus would bolt when his contract expired at the end of the 2014 season.

The All-Star shortstop was scheduled to become a free agent as a 27-year-old, giving him incentive to hold out for a massive payday. He would be free and in his prime when the New York Yankees have money to spend and a need to replace an aging Derek Jeter at shortstop.

The Rangers have an ideal replacement for Andrus with Jurickson Profar, universally regarded as baseball's best prospect, ready to take over. And Andrus' agent is Scott Boras, whose philosophy through the years has been to recommend that his clients test free agency.

Andrus, along with Profar and second basemen Ian Kinsler, provide the Rangers with an abundance of premium middle infielders. With Kinsler signed through at least 2017 and Texas holding six years of club control on Profar, I convinced myself that Andrus' time in Arlington was sadly coming to an end, maybe even at the trade deadline this season.

But then general manager Jon Daniels added to his already impressive résumé, convincing Andrus to stay until at least the end of 2018, when he reportedly can opt out of his eight-year, $120 million contract extension.

At a time when most contracts make me cringe at both the years and dollars, Daniels locked up one of the best young players in the game who plays a premium position at what I believe is below-market value and certainly less money than he could have demanded as a free agent. Retaining Andrus long term not only solidifies perhaps the most important position on the diamond for at least six seasons, but it also provides the Rangers with enviable flexibility as Daniels and the front office evaluate their options.

Texas could attempt to trade Profar in a package for David Price.

It's not a secret that the Tampa Bay Rays won't be able to sign Price to an extension before he becomes a free agent in 2015. He'll earn $10.1 million this year and will receive significant raises in arbitration in the next two years, which is, excuse the pun, pricey for a team with a payroll hovering around $60 million.

Price will be dealt. The questions are when and to which team.

If any team can absorb the loss of a Cy Young winner like Price, it's the Rays, who dealt starters James Shields and Wade Davis this past offseason and still have one of the best rotations in baseball. It won't be long before Tampa Bay needs to make room in the rotation for top pitching prospects Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi.

Yunel Escobar is currently the Rays' shortstop, but his career has been a disappointment, and he earns $5 million this year with $5 million club options for '14 and '15. Acquiring Profar would be a significant upgrade at a fraction of the cost, considering Profar would earn approximately $500,000 in each of his first three big-league seasons.

Since Tampa Bay is expected to be in contention all year (I picked them to win one of the wild cards.), it seems unlikely that the Rays would entertain a midseason deal for Price. However, this coming offseason will be a completely different story. And, yes, it will take more than Profar to get the deal done, but I'd be willing to pretty much give up the farm for an established ace like Price, who's just 27 years old and left handed.

A rotation of Price, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland would be among the best in the game.

Texas could put Kinsler on the trade block.

Kinsler is guaranteed $75 million over the next five seasons, which isn't a necessarily a bad contract (at least not yet), but it's likely to suppress his value. It also hurts that he is coming off a down year and his defensive skills have diminished.

The Rangers signed him with the belief that he could replace Michael Young as a clubhouse leader and face of the franchise, so this option appears highly unlikely.

Texas could force Kinsler to switch positions.

The Rangers apparently learned their lesson when they traded Alfonso Soriano to the Washington Nationals instead of moving him to the outfield, which is exactly what the Nats did, and Soriano had his best season (46 homers, 41 doubles and 41 stolen bases).

The team's well-publicized moves of Young to shortstop from second base, third base from shortstop, and then to first base, designated hitter and backup infielder prove that anyone will be moved to another position if it's best for the club.

If Mitch Moreland struggles at first base (although I don't think he will), Kinsler could be moved there. If Nelson Cruz is injured, suspended for PEDs, dealt at the trade deadline or gone as a free agent at the end of the year, Kinsler could be moved to right field. And if David Murphy suffers an injury or leaves as a free agent at the end of the year, Kinsler could be moved to left field.

The best part of it all? There's no rush, and all the options are good ones.

Sam Merten is a Dallas resident, lifelong Texas Rangers follower and former award-winning staff writer at the Dallas Observer, where he wrote about local politics and baseball.

Follow him on Twitter @SamMerten.

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