2011 World Series: How The Texas Rangers Wound Up With Baseball's Best Middle Infield

ST LOUIS, MO: Elvis Andrus #1 of the Texas Rangers flips the ball to Ian Kinsler #5 for a fielders choice out to get Jaime Garcia #54 of the St. Louis Cardinals at second base to end the fifth inning during Game Two of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

With Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus, it doesn't get any better up the middle than they've got it in Texas. How did the Rangers get to this point?

The other day, I was reading an article published at ACTA Sports. The article focuses on Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler and Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, and it provides some statistical data suggesting that, in Kinsler and Andrus, the Rangers have baseball's best defensive middle infield, and also baseball's two best baserunners.

That's impressive enough on its own, but when you consider that Kinsler can hit a lot and that Andrus can hit a little, it isn't a big leap to say that the Rangers have baseball's best middle infield. It isn't inarguable - they're doing pretty well in Boston and Anaheim - but it's probably true. I don't know how you could argue convincingly that anyone has it better than Texas.

Of course, things in baseball don't follow easily predictable paths. The Rangers couldn't have known years ago that they'd have baseball's best middle infield come 2011. How did this all fall in place just so? Let's explore, together. (Together, we can achieve anything!)

Great scouting
This is a given. The Rangers drafted Ian Kinsler in the 17th round in 2003. While the Brewers futzed around with Tommy Hawk and the Royals opted for Keoni Ruth, the Rangers selected Kinsler out of the University of Missouri. We can't give the Rangers too much credit - they did wait until the 17th round, after all, so it's not like they knew Kinsler was destined for greatness - but at the end of the day, it was the Rangers who valued Kinsler the highest. As for Andrus, he was an 18-year-old in single-A at the time that he was traded to Texas. He had a .244 batting average and a .665 OPS. The Rangers loved his tools, and they brought him over in one of the best trades of the generation.

Good fortune
The other day, our own beloved Grant Brisbee noted the following bit of historical trivia:

[Larry] Walker rejected a trade to the Rangers for a pair of Double-A prospects (shortstop Ian Kinsler, righthander Erik Thompson) on Friday and also turned down a deal to the Diamondbacks before the 2003 season.

Kinsler was a no-trade clause away from leaving the Rangers before reaching triple-A. As for Andrus, he came over in the Mark Teixeira trade in 2007. Oh, and about that trade:

Rangers owner Tom Hicks said the deal was made only after the star first baseman and his agent, Scott Boras, turned down an offer for an eight-year, $140 million contract extension.

Teixeira would eventually sign with the Yankees for eight years and $180 million in December 2008. Also, just because the Rangers put Teixeira on the market didn't guarantee they'd send him to the Braves - they got very close to sending him to the Angels, and the Dodgers and Red Sox were involved as well. There were a lot of proposals on the table, and, looking back, the Rangers were fortunate to choose the one they did.

Cheerful acquiescence
The Rangers wanted to make room for Andrus at shortstop in 2009, but they already had an established veteran shortstop in Michael Young. Fortunately, Young was open-minded about the whole thing, and happy to move to third base to accommodate a fresh new talent.

Just kidding! Young threw a hissy fit and demanded a trade.

The Texas Rangers are exploring trade options for five-time All-Star shortstop Michael Young at the player's request after he became upset about the team's plan to move him to third base.
...
"Reluctant, reluctant," Daniels said, describing Young's reaction. "He explained to us that he's worked extremely hard to make himself a shortstop."

Young eventually agreed to a switch, though, and Andrus was the Rangers' starting shortstop on Opening Day.

Successful development
It's one thing to have talents like Kinsler and Andrus. It's quite another to mold them into the players that Kinsler and Andrus have become. Andrus was an empty hitter at the time of the trade, but he made immediate improvements, and he survived a leap from double-A straight to the Majors, successfully holding his own. He's still not a powerful offensive weapon and never will be, but he can get on base. He's smarter now, too; Andrus makes fewer baserunning gaffes than he did years ago.

As for Kinsler, obviously, his bat is leaps and bounds better than people thought it could be on draft day. The Rangers deserve credit for turning him into a force. What I find most impressive, though, are Kinsler's improvements in the field. Earlier in his career, Kinsler wasn't a disaster at second base, but he wasn't good. He was barely passable. If you put any trust in UZR, Kinsler came in at 22 runs below average through his first three years. Over his last three years? He's been 27 runs above average. Ron Washington made a commitment to turning Kinsler's weakness into a strength, and as a result, Kinsler has become one of the most well-rounded assets in the league.

Overall
There's an element of luck, here. It is only through a precise set of circumstances that the Rangers wound up with a great Ian Kinsler at second base, and a great Elvis Andrus at short. Some of those circumstances were out of the Rangers' control. But there's an element of luck to everything good, and the Rangers deserve a ton of credit for finding these players and turning them into what they are today. Kinsler and Andrus are two phenomenal talents and phenomenal values, and among the biggest reasons why the Rangers aren't just some flash in the pan.

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