Note: Spring training will arrive before you know it. To get you ready, we'll take a look at every position between now and February, when pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz.
Today's position: Shortstop
Like third base, this one has no mystery either. But when the offseason began, it was unclear how the dust might settle. The Rangers had three players and only two spots. And while there were rumors that the club could deal Elvis Andrus to help free up the logjam, it was Ian Kinsler who departed in the trade for Prince Fielder.
So that puts Jurickson Profar at second base and Andrus continuing his Ranger career at shortstop. The club has plenty invested in Andrus, who is maturing as a player both on and off the field (and altering his look with a new beard, as you can see here). The meat of the deal starts in 2015, when he makes $15 million a year. He can opt out of the deal after the 2018 or 2019 seasons. But the bottom line is the organization sees Andrus as critical to the core of a winning team for years to come.
It's almost hard to believe that Andrus is 25, isn't it? He jumped into the majors in 2009 as a rookie shortstop amid an interesting offseason. Michael Young won the Gold Glove in 2008 and was asked a month or two later to shift to third base to make room for a player who had not spent a day at Triple-A.
But the club's thinking was that they were at least a year or two away from true contention and wanted Andrus to get his rookie jitters out while the team was still building. Obviously, it was the right move. Andrus has benefited from having manager Ron Washington spend quality time with him on his mental and physical game in the infield. And Andrus has worked hard to improve. He's become one of the better defensive shortstops in the league. Andrus was a Gold Glove finalist in 2012 and, despite a solid year defensively in 2013, he just missed out of the top-3. It has helped him to have Adrian Beltre to his right every night, pushing him and making him better.
At the plate, Andrus hit .271 with four homers and 67 RBIs. His .328 on-base percentage was the lowest of his career, but he drove in more runs than he ever has and stole a career-high 42 bases. He was tied for third with teammate Alex Rios in stolen bases in the AL.
For Andrus, it was really two different seasons in 2013. He hit just .242 in the first half and struggled with his consistency. But in the second half, Andrus figured things out at the plate. He batted .313 and had 36 RBIs in 64 games after the All-Star break (as opposed to 31 RBIs in the first 92 games). His on-base percentage was .369, much higher than the .300 he put up in the first half.
OUTLOOK: So that's what Andrus took with him to the offseason, in addition to his hunger to return to the postseason. His goal is to try to keep that momentum going into 2014 and to get used to having Profar, instead of Kinsler, beside him. Andrus talked about that over the weekend. He's also got a new leadoff hitter in front of him in Shin-Soo Choo, someone Andrus believes will make the entire lineup better.
But there are no questions when it comes to the starting shortstop. It's been Andrus' job since 2009 and it will be his again in 2014.