The Texas Rangers will give Gold Glove-winning third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa the opportunity to be their starting shortstop next season and have told Elvis Andrus to prepare to play all infield positions.
Andrus, at 32 the longest-tenured Ranger after 12 seasons, is the only player remaining from their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.
Manager Chris Woodward said Tuesday that the Rangers wanted to give both Kiner-Falefa and Andrus clarity on the plans so they would know how to approach their offseason workouts.
“This wasn’t an easy decision based on what Elvis has done for the organization. We’ve had many discussions about this. But I think it comes down to, do we believe in Kiner as a shortstop? I want to see it. I want to answer that question,” Woodward said. “Can he handle the position? I believe he can.”
Woodward said Kiner-Falefa still had to earn the starting spot at shortstop, and has told Andrus he would have the opportunity to “prove us wrong.”
Andrus played only 29 games last season because of lingering back issues and hit only .194 with three homers and seven RBIs. He is owed $28.5 million over the next two seasons.
The 25-year-old Kiner-Falefa started 15 games at short, and made 42 starts at third base after earning that spot with his performance in camp before the pandemic-delayed and reduced schedule. The Rangers had signed veteran third baseman Todd Frazier last offseason, but he ended up splitting time between third and first base before getting traded at the deadline.
Kiner-Falefa hit .280 in his third big league season. The Rangers had even used him as a catcher his first two seasons as a way to get him in the lineup.
“He’s a natural shortstop. He’s always been a plus defender,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “He’s taken a step forward with the bat, and I think as we look at not just this year but the next few years, you’ve obviously got a pretty unique free agent class a year from now, and I think as we look forward we want to make sure we’ve answered some of the big questions we might have not just now but in future offseasons and future times of potential acquisitions.”
Second baseman Rougned Odor, at 26 and also signed for two more seasons, will also have to compete to keep his starting job. He led Texas with 30 RBIs in 38 games and matched Joey Gallo with a team-best 10 homers, but hit only .167. Seven of his 11 hits in September were homers, and he struck out 47 times in 138 at-bats.
Nick Solak led all MLB rookies with 56 hits while primarily playing in the outfield. But his best position is second base, where he had 16 starts.
“He has to prove that he can handle the second base position defensively. That is probably the most important piece of this,” Woodward said. “Let’s focus on second base to see how good of a second baseman he can possibly be. I think we’ll see a better version of him.”