Rangers lock up Andrus for three years

Maybe the three-year contract the Texas Rangers and shortstop Elvis Andrus made official Wednesday is the beginning of the team’s rush to lock up core players.

It’s certainly a step in the right direction.

While the Andrus deal doesn’t include any of his free-agent years, it does start the Rangers on what they hope is that process.

“We’ve made no bones about the fact we’d like to sign core players to extensions and into free agency,” assistant general manager Thad Levine said. “Elvis is one of those types of guys. I don’t believe signing Elvis to a three-year deal precludes us from that dialogue. Our commitment remains the same. We’d like to lock up core guys into free agency.”

Levine said that spring training is a time when some of those deals could still get done, and he didn’t rule out giving Andrus a new deal even though he just signed one that runs through his three arbitration years. Andrus, who received a $750,000 signing bonus, will make $2.375 million in 2012, $4.8 million in 2013 and $6.475 million in 2014. He’s eligible to be a free agent following the 2014 season.

Andrus, who is coming off his best offensive season, is happy he won’t have to think about his contract for the next three years.

“It’s something I was looking for, especially with my family,” said Andrus, who was slated to have an arbitration hearing Thursday. “To get secure at this point in my career and my life, I’m pretty happy and excited to get this deal done. Now during these three years I can focus on playing and helping the team to success the way we are going right now.”

Andrus has been a key part of that success.

He set career highs in batting average, hits, doubles stolen bases and RBI in 2011. He also gave the Rangers one of the best defensive left sides in baseball along with Gold Glove third baseman Adrian Beltre.

Andrus, 23, doesn’t plan on resting on his success either. He’s leaving for Surprise, Ariz., on Feb. 17, more than a week before position players are required to report.

“I will improve,” Andrus said. “I’m trying to get better every year, and if I can stay healthy, for sure I will.”

His expectations for the two-time American League champs are also high.

“At this point we know what we’re capable of doing as a team, no matter who we play or the circumstance,” Andrus said. “It’s always a good thing knowing you’ll play several years with the same group of guys.”

By signing Andrus, the Rangers have just two arbitration-eligible players who remain unsigned — catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Nelson Cruz.

Levine said the team continues to have dialogue with the agents for Napoli and Cruz. Napoli has a hearing scheduled for Feb. 15 and Cruz on Feb. 17. The Rangers have offered Napoli $8.3 million and he wants $11.5 million. The club has offered Cruz, who is seeking $7.5 million, $5.5 million.