Elvis Andrus has been Oakland’s regular shortstop this season but has seen his playing time limited lately, with he and youngster Nick Allen starting alternate games over the past week. Andrus discussed the situation with Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle and didn’t seem to make an effort to hide his frustration.
“Everybody knows I’m an everyday player. So doing this, it’s not fun for me,” Andrus said. “Of course I’m upset, I’m pissed about it. But like I said, the best I can do is stay positive and wait for my turn and be ready whatever happens.”
Though his frustration is certainly understandable, this situation has sadly seemed inevitable for quite some time due to his contract. MLBTR’s Steve Adams took a look at the situation in December, back when Oakland’s payroll-slashing moves were still just the stuff of rumor. 2022 is the final guaranteed year of the contract Andrus originally signed with the Rangers, though there is a $15MM club option for 2023. However, the club option would become a player option if two conditions are met. The first condition is if Andrus is traded during the life of the contract, which he already was, as the Rangers flipped him to the A’s in 2021. The second condition is Andrus accruing 550 plate appearances here in 2022.
Just a few days ago, MLBTR’s Anthony Franco took a look at some vesting options around the league, including the Andrus situation, noting that the shortstop was on pace to get to 556 PAs and meet the threshold. Given that the A’s made great efforts to shamelessly shed as much payroll as possible recently, they obviously don’t want to pay $15MM to Andrus next year if they don’t have to.
Andrus is having arguably his best season since 2017, but he’s still hitting at a below-average rate. His .237/.298/.365 batting line amounts to a wRC+ of 94, or 6% below league average. That’s a nice improvement, given that he hasn’t had a wRC+ above 76 in the previous four seasons. But it’s still not the production of someone who would get $15MM in free agency, especially considering he’s about to turn 34 years old.
For the cost-cutting Oakland organization, deliberately sabotaging Andrus’ playing time in order to avoid vesting the option would give him grounds for a grievance. However, they will likely stick to their story that it’s not about him and more about giving playing time for youngsters down the stretch, so that they can be evaluated for their future role as part of the rebuild. “Elvis and I spoke about how we proceed forward with getting Nick as many opportunities as possible, getting these younger players a chance to show what they can do for our future, for their future,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay told Kawahara. “I don’t expect Elvis to be happy about it. But he’s a pro.”
As noted by Kawahara, the spotty playing time of late means that Andrus has already fallen off the pace of vesting his option. Coming into tonight’s game, he has 372 PAs, putting him on pace for 533, just 17 short of meeting the threshold. With his average-ish batting line and solid defense, he’s been worth 1.4 wins above replacement on the year, per FanGraphs. That puts him second among position players on the team, trailing only Sean Murphy, giving him a nice platform season to take into free agency.