Elvis Has Left The Building: A’s, Rangers Combine on AL West Swap by Eric Longenhagen February 8, 2021 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.