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March 15, 2013

Rumor Roundup

On the Block, or On the Clock?

by Daniel Rathman

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Four months ago, and two-and-a-half months before the Braves acquired Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks, the Rangers were considered the favorites to land the right fielder. Unfortunately for Texas, Kevin Towers’ insistence on obtaining a young shortstop became an impasse in his negotiations with Jon Daniels, who had two at his disposal, but did not view either of them as expendable. The Rangers would not part with Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar, and the Diamondbacks would not send Upton to Arlington without one of them coming back.

But in the backdrop of those talks, it appears the Rangers were quietly shaping their plans to resolve the enviable shortstop logjam, looking one winter ahead instead of focusing on the present. As CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman wrote on Thursday, the most likely scenario has Andrus on the trade block next offseason and Profar being groomed in the meantime to fill his shoes.

Clock might be ticking on Andrus’ time in Texas
Heyman cited “people familiar with [the Rangers’] thinking as saying that if Daniels and agent Scott Boras are unable to come to terms on an extension for Andrus over the next 10-12 months, he will spend his sixth major-league season with another team. The 24-year-old Andrus signed a three-year, $14 million hitch in February 2012, forgoing the entirety of his arbitration-eligible period, but refusing to give up any free-agent years. He has been remarkably consistent in each of his first four big-league seasons, amassing between 2.6 and 2.9 WARP annually, while showing steady improvements at the plate to go with his plus defense.

Although it is unclear whether the Rangers’ attempts to extend Andrus beyond the 2014 season have been aggressive offers or due diligence, the lack of progress should not come as a surprise in either case. Given Boras’ hard-bargain philosophy, Andrus’ youth, and the fact that he is currently playing on a below-market deal, the temptation to test the waters two winters from now is considerable. Andrus is set to not only enter free agency before his age-27 campaign, a rarity in and of itself, but also to do so as a two-way-impact shortstop—a type of player that is seldom available for bidding. The demand would be high, and the supply would be extremely low, making a nine-figure deal a distinct possibility.

In some ways, the status of Daniels’ negotiations with Boras could also inform the organization’s plan for Profar, who could either serve as the major-league utility infielder or be the everyday shortstop at Triple-A Round Rock. MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reported last week that the Rangers were looking for a “utility infielder who can play shortstop,” a role for which Profar could be a fit, but one in which his playing time would be limited unless an injury strikes one of the team’s regulars.

That Daniels is working the phones for an alternative to the 20-year-old suggests that the prevailing viewpoint in Arlington is that Profar should head to Triple-A, so that he can build on a .281/.368/.452 effort for Double-A Frisco last year and prepare for an everyday job in 2014. By extension (no pun intended), it could also mean that the Rangers are growing pessimistic about their chances to retain Andrus, leading Daniels to set the stage for what is sure to be a hot trade market next winter.

Indians’ fifth-starter race “wide open” as Opening Day approaches
First-year manager Terry Francona named Zach McAllister as his fourth starter last week, but the last spot in the rotation remained up for grabs then, and still is now, if the former Red Sox skipper can be taken at his word. Francona suggested to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian that the five-way competition has no obvious frontrunner, though the veracity of that statement may be dubious.

The five hopefuls are Trevor Bauer (who came over from the Diamondbacks in the Shin-Soo Choo trade), Scott Kazmir and Daisuke Matsuzaka (who signed minor-league pacts this offseason), and Carlos Carrasco (who was with the organization at the end of last year). Bauer offers the highest ceiling of the group, and Carrasco impressed general manager Chris Antonetti last month, but Kazmir has paired better-than-expected stuff with strong Cactus League results.

Or does Kazmir enjoy a significant lead?
Sheldon Ocker, who covers the Tribe for the Akron Beacon Journal, believes that makes the former Rays lefty the runaway favorite to begin the year in the number-five slot. Although, as Ocker wrote, all four of the competitors have enjoyed positive moments in Goodyear, Arizona, Kazmir has consistently drawn praise from his new manager, while holding opponents scoreless in each of his three trips to the mound.

More importantly, Kazmir’s fastball—which averaged just 88 mph during his most recent major-league appearance, a shellacking on April 3, 2011, according to his Brooks Baseball profile—is back up to 91-92 mph, much closer to the range in which he operated during his heyday with the (Devil) Rays. Kazmir had a penchant for tormenting Francona’s Red Sox back then, and his new manager would undoubtedly enjoy benefitting from whatever the lefty has left in his tank.

If Kazmir were to win the job, then Bauer would most likely return to Triple-A, and Matsuzaka—who is due a $100,000 retention bonus on March 26—might be forced to look for a new home. Carrasco could then be used in a swingman or long-relief role, which would enable the Indians to monitor his workload coming off of Tommy John surgery.

If the race is as “wide open” as Francona wants fans, reporters, and the pitchers involved to believe, the Indians will be an intriguing team to follow over the next three weeks. On the other hand, Ocker’s case for Kazmir’s eventual selection seems robust, and if the 29-year-old can stay healthy (admittedly, a huge question mark), his reemergence could be one of the best stories of the spring.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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