The first 10 days of the lockout are in the books, and our Oakland A’s trade target series rolls on. We’ve profiled the likes of Matt Olson, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, and Chris Bassitt in recent weeks, trying to get a feel for their respective fits on the Yankees. However, despite their current financial situation, the A’s do not exist to hand their best players to the Yankees, and will require a hefty return for any of their arbitration-eligible stars. Yankees GM Brian Cashman has generally balked at including the team’s top prospects in trade packages, and this could prove a stumbling block in talks with Oakland. But there might just be one X-factor in all these negotiations, and his name is Elvis Andrus.
2021 Statistics: 146 games, 541 PA, .243/.294/.320, 3 HR, 37 RBI, 5.7% BB%, 15% K%, 73 OPS+, 72 wRC+, +6 OAA, 1.1 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Entering final year of eight-year, $120 million contract; one year, $14.25 million remaining on deal as well as $15 million player option for 2023 that vests with 550 PAs in 2022 or 1,100 PAs in 2021-2022 combined. Texas paying $7.25 million in 2022.
At face value, it’s hard to see how Andrus upgrades the roster. He would be a stopgap shortstop in the mold of an Andrelton Simmons, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, or Paul DeJong, so at least he satisfies that aspect of the front office’s agenda this winter. You would be well within your rights to question why the Yankees would spend the prospect capital in addition to inheriting his salary when they can just pay money for a stopgap of similar value. But before we answer that question, we ought to review what Andrus still has to offer on the field.
At a bare minimum, Andrus is still excellent defensively at short. Among all qualified shortstops, he is tied with Trevor Story for the 10th-most Outs Above Average (+18) since Statcast formulated the metric in 2016. And even at age 33, he placed seventh in 2021 with six OAA. As you will soon see, it is this defensive acumen that has propped up his value above replacement level or worse over the last four seasons.
It’s the other side of Andrus’ game that’s cause for concern. His bat has been a black hole for quite some time now. In 2021 he owned the second-worst wRC+ of any qualified shortstop and tied for the second-lowest ISO (.076) of any hitter in baseball. Zooming out, since 2018 he is tied for the second-lowest wRC+ (74) while producing the fifth lowest ISO (.105) of qualified shortstops. His power has been virtually nonexistent over the last four seasons, managing only 24 total home runs in over 1,700 games.
Similar to Kiner-Falefa, Andrus is a free-swinger who makes a lot of contact, but just the worst kind of contact. His 82 percent contact rate in 2021 was 28th-highest among qualified hitters, while his 48.7 percent swing rate tied a career-high, placing him in the upper-third of the league. He routinely sits in the top quartile in strikeout rate and whiff rate (good!), but the result is bottom quartile performance in almost every batted ball metric including exit velocity, hard hit rate, and barrel rate. I suppose the one silver lining is that he has been the recipient of some poor luck over the last two seasons, running a wOBA and BABIP about 40 points below his xwOBA and career BABIP respectively, but color me skeptical that the veteran shortstop is due for some miraculous rebound as he enters his age-33 season.
This brings us to the burning question: why in the world should the Yankees be interested in this dude? Andrus’ greatest utility to the Yankees does not come with what little value he provides on the field, but the leverage he provides New York in discussions for the bigger prizes on Oakland’s roster.
A’s ownership has made no secret of their desire to shed payroll this winter, and the $7 million he is due in 2022 and $15 million in 2023 (as he is almost certain to accept his player option) are significant sums for Oakland. The Yankees are one of the few teams with the resources to take on that kind of payroll without the expectation of on-field production.
Thus, it appears that Andrus switching coasts represents a win-win situation for both sides. The A’s free themselves of the burden of his contract while the Yankees could perhaps package Andrus with a more appealing player (Matt Olson anyone?) to lower the prospect cost heading back. Time will tell if old friends Brian Cashman and Billy Beane feel the same way.