The big Elvis Andrus news this offseason didn’t have anything to do with what he was going to do on the field in 2019, but how he was going to take over the leadership duties in the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse following the retirement of Adrian Beltre.
Andrus has been anointed the next Rangers leader, following, most recently, Michael Young and Beltre. Still only 30, Andrus is entering his 11th season and is the longest-tenured Rangers player.
He is also coming off the most difficult season of his career. A broken right arm, near the elbow, put one of MLB’s most durable players on the disabled list for the first time in his career and left him sidelined more than two months.
Once healthy, the shortstop didn’t always look healthy.
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Gone were the sharp line drives and home runs that he had hit the previous two seasons, along with the average that hovered around .300. A trusty right-handed bat in the Rangers’ lefty-heavy lineup wasn’t what the Rangers had come to expect.
So, forget about the leadership stuff for a moment. What do the Rangers expect from Andrus this season?
“I don’t think it was a mirage the year he put up,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “He was off to a good start before he got hurt. We’re pretty confident that the levels he reached are the new norm.
“We don’t look at it as a baseline, numbers-wise, but I do believe he is a capable of being that really good quality player for us.”
Andrus collected 68 extra-base hits in 2017, including 20 home runs and 45 doubles. Those numbers dropped significantly because of the injury, which was the result of being struck by a 96-mph Keynan Middleton fastball in the ninth inning of an April 11 game against the Los Angeles Angels.
Andrus tried to return as soon as he could, but it took longer than he expected. He was unable to find his rhythm at the plate after returning June 18, with opposing pitchers peaking and Andrus searching.
The arm had healed, but he learned it wasn’t going to be the same as before the fracture and surgery.
“When he came back, you’re clinically healthy, you’re good, you’re not at risk for injury, but are you as strong as you need to be to do some of the things?” Daniels said. “First of all, it was a major injury, a broken arm, and second of all, it was his first time on the DL. The mental challenge of that was real for him.”
Andrus went through offseason workouts without any reported issues, and the belief is he will be able to log his usual 150 games. When he isn’t there, third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera could slide over or catcher Isiah Kiner-Falefa could get time at his natural position.
The Rangers, though, are counting on Andrus to be there and to be productive again after a difficult season.