Elvis Has Left The Building: A’s, Rangers Combine on AL West Swap

Over the weekend, the Rangers sent long-time shortstop Elvis Andrus, catcher Aramis Garcia, and $13.5 million dollars to the Athletics for DH Khris Davis, catcher Jonah Heim, and pitching prospect Dane Acker. The deal was surprising for a few superficial reasons (two fan favorites being traded within the AL West), but when you strip away the uniforms, it makes sense for both clubs.

The biggest names in the trade are Andrus and Davis, but the biggest pieces in the deal are Andrus and Heim. The Athletics needed to find a way to replace departed shortstop Marcus Semien, and Andrus joins a host of potential internal options (Chad Pinder, Sheldon Neuse, Vimael Machín, maybe Nick Allen fairly soon) who are unlikely to equal Semien’s production but might be enough to keep the A’s in the postseason hunt.

After an outlier 2017 during which he homered about as many times as he had in the previous four seasons combined, Andrus returned to Earth in ’18 and ’19, producing like a low-end regular at shortstop before he had a lousy 2020 season based on surface-level stats. But in addition to whatever COVID-related personal weirdness may have contributed to his lackluster year, there’s underlying evidence that he was his typical self and was instead subject to small sample variation caused by limited playing time. Andrus played in just 29 games last year and ran a .200 BABIP, but his average exit velocity and HardHit% stayed the same, and his .390 expected Slugging%, per Baseball Savant, was higher than his actual career mark of .370.

Andrus did struggle in other areas that might indicate real physical decline. Again per Savant, he was nearly a full tenth of a second slower from home to first, his top-end speed (Sprint Speed) fell, and he regressed (on paper) defensively. But I don’t believe Elvis is actually dead. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, because he’s 32, the weird start-stop-sprint sequencing of the 2020 season had an outsized impact, and that playing for a non-competitive team didn’t aid his level of motivation. A normal lead up to the season and playing for a contending club could lead to a revival, to say nothing of the new financial motivators that are now at play. Remember, Andrus had to waive a no-trade clause to go to Oakland; he wants to be there. And per the terms of the contract he signed with Texas, what was supposed to be a 2023 mutual vesting option is now a vesting player option that Andrus can trigger by either accruing 550 plate appearances in 2022 or 1,100 appearances in ’21 and ’22 combined. He’s owed just over $14 million each of the next two years, while the player option year in 2023 is set for $15 million. I believe the A’s will be getting the best of whatever is left of Elvis Andrus as he chases control of that vesting option.

Oakland also picked up Garcia, a 28-year-old who was once San Francisco’s 2014 second rounder, in the deal. He was once ranked as high as ninth on the Giants’ list (by Kiley McDaniel) but has what I consider to be fatal bat-to-ball issues that prevent him from being anything more than a third catcher on a club’s 40-man. The A’s are taking a little bit of a risk that young star catcher Sean Murphy, who has a history of injuries, stays healthy throughout 2021. The group behind him — Garcia, bat-first C/1B Austin Allen (who lost the backup job to Heim last year), and a bunch of veteran NRIs — is deep but not very good.

The best piece coming back to Texas is Heim. Catching inventory is limited around baseball, and Heim has several underlying characteristics that might indicate he’s going to break late and become a viable everyday backstop. He has hopped around a bit: a 2013 fourth-round high school draftee from the Buffalo area, he was eventually traded from Baltimore to Tampa Bay for Steve Pearce, then to Oakland as the PTBNL for Joey Wendle.

From 2017 to ’19, Heim posted batting lines above the minor league average of the level at which he was playing. This is a 6-foot-4, switch-hitting catcher from a cold-weather climate, and those traits are generally considered markers for late-career development, though that is anecdotal. He is a better offensive player than Jose Trevino and a much better defender than Sam Huff. David Garcia, the other catcher on Texas’ 40-man, is only 21 and still too green to factor into the big league picture at all right now. Heim’s lack of impact power puts him in the 45 FV bucket for me rather than on the top 100 list, but I think he could be the Rangers’ starting catcher for the bulk of the next several years.

Davis, now 33, has had a nice career but has shown real signs of decline for the last several years. You can beat him with velocity (he has a 17% swinging strike rate versus heaters the last two seasons), and he’s faced more fastballs during each of the last two years as teams have figured that out. He’s owed $16 million in 2021, the final year of his contract. Perhaps if he bounces back the Rangers can trade him for something small close to the deadline, and their chances of that increase if the universal DH is implemented. But his inclusion in this deal is largely a way to balance money and for Texas to acquire Heim and an extra pitching prospect in exchange for paying two years of Andrus’ salary.

That extra pitching prospect is Acker, Oakland’s 2020 fourth rounder out of Oklahoma (by way of San Jacinto JC), who signed for slot (about $450,000); the A’s took several signable college players after picking over-slot high school catcher (for now) Tyler Soderstrom toward the back of round one. Acker pitched the game of his life in front of a packed house of scouts, pre-COVID shutdown, at the Shriner’s College Classic in Houston. It was a tournament full of several huge SEC and Big 12 programs, and Acker no-no’d No. 11 LSU there, laboring through 117 pitches.

Acker commands a slightly-below-average four-pitch mix, but he is loose, athletic, still somewhat projectable, and had an odd developmental track, going from Rice to San Jacinto to Oklahoma, then barely pitching for the Sooners before the shutdown. Texas has taken a go-wide approach to farm building over the last calendar year, and I like that they were able to squeeze an extra piece out of Oakland, which adds depth in their minor league ranks and also thins an emaciated A’s system.





Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

So, let me get this straight.

The A’s just dumped $16.75M in salary and got $13.5M back, while they added $28.5M over two years (or, if the player option is triggered because he got 550 PAs in 2022, it would be 3 years and 43.5M).

If they don’t DFA Andrus after 2021 or early 2022 they’ll wind up giving out $14M in total over 3 years than what they would pay just keeping Davis (I think). If they do DFA him after 2021 or early 2022, then it’s a 1 year deal and saves them a little under a million dollars. And for one of those two things, they give up a useful backup catcher and a low-level pitching prospect.

If Andrus was back to his normal 1+ win self I would say this was a pretty savvy move for the A’s. Steamer thinks he’ll be 1.3 wins, and ZiPs thinks he’ll be 0.4 wins, but since Steamer predicts a wRC+ of 85 and he hasn’t had that since 2017 I’m going to have to go with ZiPs here. Eric seems to think he’ll be back to where he was in 2019, which is fair, but the defense was bad enough that it’s hard to see Andrus as anything close to an everyday guy. Andrus would have to bounce back in every single phase of the game to get back to the 1+ win player he was before.

Giving up a useful backup catcher and a low-level pitching prospect and saving a little under a million dollars for the right to play Elvis Andrus instead of, I don’t know, outbidding the Brewers for Daniel Robertson or the Orioles for Freddy Galvis seems like a bit of an own-goal. These guys aren’t any better than Andrus but they also aren’t any worse, so giving up on having an actual backup catcher to save a small sum of money seems like not a good move. I think ownership is really taking this a bit too far.

Meanwhile, the Rangers basically just bought a backup catcher who might have a small chance to be an everyday guy and a low-level pitching prospect for about $2.5M. Pretty good move.

drewsylvania
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drewsylvania

$14M over 3 years shouldn’t be a big deal, even for the A’s. I think they presume Davis is dead weight (to me a safe assumption). I do wonder if someone dropped the ball WRT the other shortstop options you mentioned.

tz
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I’m thinking the A’s (1) wanted to upgrade from Davis at the DH slot, (2) didn’t want to bench a fan favorite to play a cheap upgrade like Chris Cron and (3) didn’t want to eat the last year of his contract by waiving him (given their low budget).

If you look at it that way, and you also are taking the “over” on the forecasts for Andrus, then you might justify this deal from the A’s perspective. Problem is, if Andrus performs like he has the past few seasons, things could get ugly in 2022 if he’s getting close to kicking in his vesting option and the A’s start to take away his playing time (deservedly or not). Something similar happened towards the end of Magglio Ordonez’s time in Detroit.

(P.S. Nice move from the Rangers’ side of things. Pumping in some cash to get viable talent back is exactly the right play for them right now, just as it was for the Padres after Preller tried unsuccessfully to rush into contention with the deals for Kemp, Shields, etc.)

Max Power
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Max Power

If he performs like he has the last few years, he’s not getting anywhere close to the option vesting.

Sleepy
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Sleepy

Ask Coco Crisp how the A’s handle PA-based vesting options.

There’s a 0.0% chance the A’s let Andrus play enough to hit those 1,100 PA.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

You wonder “how good does Elvis Andrus have to be for the A’s to give him any playing time in 2022 at all” and the answer is probably more than 2 wins. That’s at least the 99th percentile ZiPs projection. I think he’s DFA’d as soon as they think Nick Allen is ready, whenever that is.

But, if Elvis Andrus is even close to as bad as Coco Crip was at that stage in his career, it won’t be a hard decision.

Jasper Francisco
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Jasper Francisco

They might keep him around as the super UT the Rangers were envisioning, but that would definitely keep him under the PA target.

pfgr
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pfgr

Personally I think part of this is that the owner told Forst he could not spend any more money this year, but could do so if he generated some cash in a trade. So the money thrown in with this deal can be used on Fiers and some bullpen help in 2021, and Forst will have to balance his budget next year with Andrus’ salary included, unless Andrus is moved.

paulcl
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paulcl

There’s something odd about ZiPS compared to Steamer and others though. ZiPS’ predicted wOBA is just 0.002 below Steamer’s, but it’s wRC+ is 70 versus Steamer’s 84. That can’t be right – there should be about 1 point between them. It feeds through into the WAR calculation too.

paulcl
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paulcl

The ZiPS wOBA projection is still the one he had with the Rangers, and the wRC+ looks like it’s using the Texas park factor. The other systems’ wRC+ numbers are using the A’s park factor, but I can’t tell if their wOBAs have been updated to reflect the change of park.

3cardmonty
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Isn’t the point of wRC+ that it’s supposed to remove park factors?