Could Elvis Andrus be a fit at SS for the Atlanta Braves?
As Atlanta Braves fans await a Dansby Swanson decision, Mark Bowman floated an interesting option to fill the hole at shortstop on Wednesday morning: former Braves prospect, Elvis Andrus.
Andrus, who was traded by the Braves to Texas back in 2007 as part of the Mark Teixeira trade, is currently a free agent, after spending time with the Oakland Athletics and Chicago White Sox in 2022.
Why Elvis Andrus would be a fit with the Braves in 2022
While this initially sounds like an outlandish idea, especially considering the shortstop free agent market this offseason includes Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and the now-signed Trea Turner, in addition to Dansby Swanson, using the 14-year vet to fill the hole at short has some merit.
Despite being released last season by one of the worst teams in baseball, Andrus actually had an impressive season in 2022. If anything, his release from Oakland was simply to allow the longtime Ranger playing time on a contender while allowing the A’s to give playing time to prospects.
Overall, Andrus finished the season with 3.5 fWAR. He had a 105 wRC+ and 3 OAA at short between the two American League clubs. However, the bulk of his production came with Chicago, thanks to a late-season power surge.
He was a 2.0 fWAR player in Chicago in just 43 games. He hit nine homers in 191 PAs, which was one more than he hit in Oakland, despite having half the amount of PAs.
Andrus had his lowest percentage of grounders and his highest flyball rate in the Statcast era in 2022. He also had his highest percentage of barrels in a full season at 4.5 (though he had a 5.7% barrel rate in the shortened 2020 season).
The increase in homers with the White Sox wasn’t by chance, either. Andrus’s line drive rate jumped from 12.7% in July (his final full month with the A’s) to 20.5% in September/October. He also began to pull the ball much more in the second half of the season.
Andrus would be a cheaper option at short, both in terms of dollars and years. While the 34-year-old made $14 million in 2022, it was the final year of an extension he signed with the Rangers in 2013. Neither Fangraphs nor MLBTraderumors made predictions on Andrus’s 2023 contract, but it stands to reason that it will be less than what he made this past season.
If the Braves can sign their former prospect to a one to two-year deal with an AAV of around $10 million, it would give them additional flexibility to spend on the outfield or on the bullpen. It would also give Vaughn Grissom some extra time to develop at short in the minors, which Bowman also pointed out.
Why Elvis Andrus would be a bad idea for the Braves
Andrus’s 2022 represented a bit of an outlier in the SS’s career trajectory. Prior to this past season, the last time he had an fWAR above 2.0 was in 2017, when he hit a career-high 20 homers and accumulated 4.4 fWAR. Braves fans shouldn’t expect another 3.0 fWAR season from Andrus in 2023.
Even this season, by nearly every Baseball Savant hitting metric, the 34-year-old was below average. There were only three offensive categories in which he was above average: Max Exit Velocity, K%, and Whiff%.
Andrus has also had a steep decline in speed, falling from the 72nd percentile in 2015 down to the 22nd percentile in 2022. Despite this, he still has managed above-average defense, even with a below-average arm.
This will also likely be the strongest shortstop market for a while, so if the Braves do pivot to Andrus, it will mean that they are likely committing to Vaughn Grissom, which is an additional risk because of questions about the 21-year-old’s defense.
Additionally, if the Braves are looking to replace Dansby Swanson’s production in the outfield, options are limited. Michael Conforto could be an option, as Fred suggested, but with Mitch Haniger and Cody Bellinger off the board, the remaining options are players like Michael Brantley, Wil Myers, and Joey Gallo. None of these guys are sure bets for 3.0 fWAR.
Adding Andrus in the short-term actually could be just as risky a long-term decision at SS as signing a free agent to a long-term contract. The Braves might be better off spending the money on Dansby or even one of Carlos Correa or Xander Bogaerts, even if that means breaking the bank.