The first move of any significance this offseason by the Texas Rangers was a conversation with Elvis Andrus, who was informed that he is no longer the starting shortstop.
That duty goes to Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the American League Gold Glove winner at third base for 2020 who is being pushed to what he considers his natural position. Top prospect Josh Jung, a third baseman, is expected to make his MLB debut in 2021.
General manager Jon Daniels said that Andrus has been asked to play all infield positions, and could end up starting at third base until Jung is deemed ready. Jung, the 2019 first-round pick (No. 8 overall) from Texas Tech, could start the season at Double A Frisco.
Andrus has been the Rangers' Opening Day shortstop the past 11 seasons. Kiner-Falefa acknowledged that during a Zoom call Tuesday afternoon, but is ready to give shortstop a go.
"It means the world to me," Kiner-Falefa said. "Being a major-league shortstop has been a dream, something I've always dreamt about my whole life."
Kiner-Falefa hasn't spoken to Andrus, but Daniels and manager Chris Woodward have. They didn't beat around the bush, telling him where the organization is and where he is in his career.
The conversations gave Kiner-Falefa and Andrus extra time to prepare for spring training. The talks also left Andrus with something to prove.
"Elvis would prefer to remain at shortstop, but I think he's appreciative of the upfront nature and how we talked about it," Daniels said. "I think he's in a good spot physically and mentally. He expressed his confidence and belief he has a lot more good baseball to play. I was excited to hear that."
Andrus hasn't come close to matching his breakthrough season of 2017, when he was the Rangers Player of the Year. His arm was broken two weeks into the 2018 season after being hit by a pitch, and his performance has lagged since.
He battled back issues in 2020 while batting only .194 with three homers in 29 games.
Kiner-Falefa was the Rangers Player of the Year in 2020 after winning the job at third base and batting .280 in 58 games. He led the team in hits (59), runs (28) and multihit games (16).
He entered spring training and summer camp as a utility player. He was a catcher in 2018 and 2019 after being unable to lock down a spot in an infield that included Andrus and third baseman Adrian Beltre.
Kiner-Falefa, though, has always believed he was a shortstop, but he hopes to learn more from Andrus.
"There's not a better guy to learn from than Elvis, who's held the position down for 11 years," Kiner-Falefa said. "Just having him around and just learning from him and being able to see how he works and how he slows the game down, I think that really helps. But at the end of the day, it's whatever it takes to help the team win."
The Rangers have not made a similar decision at second base, where Rougned Odor has been a below-average player the past four years. He helped save his season with a September power surge, but was told before the season ended to be prepared to play other positions.
Nick Solak will be given a chance to win the job in spring training, but isn't being given the same opening for the job as Kiner-Falefa was at shortstop.
"This wasn't an easy decision based on what Elvis has done for the organization," Woodward said. "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."(c)2020 Fort Worth Star-Telegram Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC