This offseason, the Rays will look to acquire offense, likely by giving up starting pitching in a trade. A obvious potential trade partner is the Texas Rangers. The Rangers need starting pitching and have a surplus at shortstop, where they have both an established player in Elvis Andrus and a prospect with big-time potential in Jurickson Profar. But before we can start speculating about trade scenarios, there’s an important question we need to ask: who has more value in a trade, Andrus or Profar? This question would usually be a no-brainer. An established player and a two-time All-Star who is still improving has more value than even one of the top five or ten prospects in baseball. But Andrus’ deficiencies and Profar’s talents make this into a very interesting discussion.
Elvis Andrus is one of the top defensive shortstops in baseball and is a solid .275 career hitter with good plate discipline, leading to a .342 OBP, and great speed. The problem is that his power is negligible- his career SLG is just .353 with only 14 home runs in 2591 plate appearances. The lack of power had led to Andrus being a below-average overall offensive player each of the past four years, managing just an 84 OPS+ for his career with his career-high being his 91 OPS+ this season. The OPS+ for AL shortstops was 85 in 2012, so even for a shortstop Andrus is just an average offensive player. Andrus is also not great at stealing bases. He’s 123 for 166 in stolen base attempts for his career, a solid 74% success rate, but he was just 21 of 31 this season, a 68% clip. The good news is that Andrus plays outstanding defense, has great speed, and turned just 24 in August so his offense could still be improving. However, he’s not special offensively with his completely lack of power really weighing him down, he can’t consistently translate his speed to stolen bases, and he has just two more years of team control. Elvis Andrus is still a very good overall player because his defense is so superlative, his offense is solid, and even if he doesn’t steal as many bases as he should, he’s an outstanding baseunner. But he certainly has his limitations and heading to a place like Tropicana Field, he would only be worse.
Jurickson Profar has done nothing in the big leagues. He homered in his first big league at-bat and went 2 for 4 in his first game, but he went just 2 for 17 overall before going 1 for 1 in the AL Wild Card game and that’s his entire body of work in the big leagues. At Triple-A… oh wait, Profar hasn’t played a single game at Triple-A. He was outstanding at Double-A this season while playing the entire season at just 19 years old, posting a .281/.368/.452 line with 26 doubles, 7 triples, 14 homers, 62 RBI, 16 out of 20 stolen bases, and 79 strikeouts versus 66 walks in 126 games and 562 plate appearances. By the way, he also hasn’t played a single game at High-A after skipping from Low-A in 2011 to Double-A in 2012. The major disadvantage with Profar is that he is so inexperienced. 18 plate appearances above Double-A doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that he’s big league ready right now. In addition, as I discussed way back in January, there is also some concern about the amount of balls that Profar hits weakly in the air. But Profar undeniably has the talent to be a much better overall player than Andrus has been the past four years.
Profar has just been about identical to Andrus in terms of batting average in his minor league career, hitting .276 compared to Andrus .275 career average in both the majors and minors. But he has been solidly better in on-base percentage, posting a .367 mark compared to Andrus’ .342 in the minors and .343 in the majors (wow, Andrus is so consistent), and in terms of power there’s no comparison as Profar has managed a .450 mark to Andrus’ .361 in the minors and .353 in the majors. Andrus is a solid offensive shortstop. Profar has the ability to be a well above-average offensive shortstop, hitting for average, getting on base, and chipping in 20-homer power with a nice amount of doubles and triples. But in every other facet of the game, Profar will never be up to the level that Andrus has proven himself to be. Profar is fast but not as fast as Andrus, not a threat to steal 35 bases like Andrus has done twice and not nearly as good of a baserunner, and defensively he’s an above-average at shortstop as opposed to one of the best of the game. Nevertheless, Profar has the ability to be a much better all-around player than Andrus and a superstar as opposed to just a very good player. Really, though, we’re trying to compare apples and oranges here- Profar’s upside to Andrus’ firmly-established abilities. Profar is certainly no guarantee to reach his potential.
It is very difficult to compare Andrus and Profar as players because Andrus is a four-year veteran while Profar just got his first big league cup of coffee this season. But the tiebreaker is the number of years that they’ll be under team control. Andrus has just two years left under contract before heading to free agency while Profar will have at least five years under team control. For the Rangers, that could certainly extend Andrus if they would like, but other teams like the Rays may not have that option. Both Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar are excellent players, but at the end of the day Profar has more value in a trade despite all the risk involved with him thanks to his upside and the time he has left before free agency. A team needing a shortstop would be thrilled landing either of these players. But while plenty of teams will call if the Rangers make Andrus available, every team in baseball will inquire if Profar is put on the market.