Veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus has not started consecutive games since early August, and he's not pleased about it. Andrus voiced his frustrations this weekend concerning the Oakland Athletics' recent decision to cut into his playing time, a move that seems motivated in part by the terms of his contract.
"Everybody knows I'm an everyday player. So doing this, it's not fun for me," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Of course I'm upset. I'm pissed about it. But like I said, the best I can do is stay positive and wait for my turn and be ready whatever happens."
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Andrus, 33 years old, has been one of Oakland's top performing hitters this season. In 103 games, he's batted .237/.298/.367 (94 OPS+) with seven home runs and seven stolen bases. His 1.2 Wins Above Replacement ranks third among A's position players, behind catcher Sean Murphy and outfielder Ramón Laureano. Nevertheless, the A's have siphoned starts from Andrus to give to rookie infielders Nick Allen and Jonah Bride. Allen has been the fulcrum, alternating starts at shortstop with Andrus and at second with Bride to ensure that he's in the lineup daily. Neither Allen nor Bride has performed as well as Andrus with the bat, however, with both posting OPS+ in the 60s.
There would be nothing notable about a rebuilding team prioritizing younger players … except the A's have clear financial incentive to manipulate Andrus' playing time.
Under the terms of Andrus' contract, his $15 million club option for next season would convert to a player option if he were to accumulate 550 plate appearances this season, according to Cot's Contracts. He entered Sunday with 376, putting him 174 trips to the plate short of the mark. He would clear that threshold if he started each of the A's remaining 48 games and averaged at least four plate appearances per contest. From there, it's just a math problem, and one the A's have found a solution to, based on their recent lineups.
By having Andrus start every other day, he projects to fall about 78 plate appearances short of the required 550. That gives manager Mark Kotsay just enough wiggle room to deploy him as a pinch-hitter, or start him here or there (or in case of an injury to Allen or Bride). Those kinds of moves would also muddy the water if the MLB Players Association filed a grievance on Andrus' behalf, since it would become more difficult for them to prove without a shadow of a doubt that the A's acted in bad faith.
It's fair to wonder why the A's don't cut Andrus; after all, the trade deadline has passed and they have no real motivation for starting him anymore. Perhaps that's the next step in their plan, and perhaps that will be easier to execute without Andrus' side raising a (justifiable) fuss now that he's expressed his frustrations with the situation