BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers’ lackluster performance last night in the season opener in Houston was extremely disappointing, but the day may go down as one of the better ones in Ranger history. Texas lost 8-2 to the woeful Astros, as Matt Harrison fell apart after three strong innings allowing a pair of runs in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Rick Ankiel sealed the Astros’ win with a pinch hit home run with two runners aboard, hit off Derek Lowe after Harrison departed. Ankiel and Lowe were making their debuts with Houston and Texas.

One of the big worries about this Ranger team is its ability to score runs with the departures of Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young. Last night’s performance did nothing to dispel the fear, as the Rangers managed just six hits off Bud Norris and Erik Bedard, neither of which will be mistaken for Cy Young candidates. None of the six hits went for extra bases.

The day turned positive shortly after the game ended as reports emerged that the Rangers were close to reaching agreement with Elvis Andrus to an eight year, $120 million extension, an average annual value of $15 million. It has subsequently been clarified that the agreement includes an opt out clause for Andrus halfway through the extension, such that the Rangers will have contractural control of him through the 2018 season, and perhaps even longer if the opt out is not exercised.

Andrus is 24 years old and in his fifth season as the Rangers’ starting shortstop. He has twice made the All-Star team already, and this contract extension will place him fourth among shortstops in terms of average annual salary. Derek Jeter, Jose Reyes and Troy Tulowitzski are the three with higher salaries.

The contract is surprising from a lot of standpoints. Andrus switched his agency to Scott Boras a couple of years ago. Boras is an agent that always tries and usually gets top dollar for his clients. In order to achieve the maximum price tag, his clients virtually never sign extensions prior to becoming free agents, and rarely re-sign with their former team when they do become free agents. Andrus switching the agency was assumed by many to mean that he would be looking for top dollar and probably would not re-sign with Texas.

The dollar amount of this contract is somewhat surprising too. Reyes is the comparable contract that gets tossed around in consideration of Andrus. Reyes signed prior to the 2012 season for more than $17 million per year, $2 million more than the average annual value of Andrus’s contract. Reyes is certainly a better offensive player than Andrus, but with three years of salary inflation prior to Andrus becoming eligible for free agency, the difference should be covered.

The contract is also surprising from the Rangers’ standpoint. The team’s top minor league prospect is Jurickson Profar, who is considered by many to be the top minor league prospect in baseball. Profar is a middle infielder that offensively projects to ultimately have more power than Andrus, and projects to be as good defensively if not better. The question for the team then became did they want to pay Andrus $15 million in 2015, when they would still have Profar two years away from arbitration and five years away from free agency. They could pay Profar materially less money, freeing up payroll to shore up other areas of the team.

One ramification of the signing is Profar’s fate. With Andrus in the fold, Profar becomes the Rangers’ second baseman of the future. That leaves Ian Kinsler most likely moving to a different position next season to make room for Profar.

Andrus becomes the third high profile player to sign a contract extension for more than $100 million in the past week. He joins Detroit’s Justin Verlander and San Francisco’s Buster Posey. There seems to be a trend afoot here of players signing extensions rather than going to free agency. Perhaps players are leaving money on the table; but then again, how much does a player really need. Once the offer reaches nine digits, is it really worth the risk to wait on free agency? These are guaranteed contracts, and by signing now, Andrus has taken the injury risk for this season and next out of the equation. Also for all anyone really knows, this contract offer may be the best Andrus would ever get.

The series with Houston was originally scheduled for today, tomorrow and Wednesday. ESPN later chose the game for their Sunday night season opener, so the Rangers are off today. The move allows them to utilize just four starting pitchers over the first eight games. With rookie Nick Tepesch winning out the competion for the fifth starter slot, the move of today’s scheduled game to last night allows the Rangers to carry an extra position player on the roster, which is outfielder Julio Borbon. A roster move will have to be made prior to the April 9 game against Tampa Bay to create a roster spot for Tepesch. For sure the Rangers will continue the series with the Astros content that the shortstop position has been settled for years to come.

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