At Lance Berkman’s introductory press conference last week, Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels informed the media his club was now ready to go to spring training. The Berkman signing was for one year and $10 million dollars, with a club option for a second year. Berkman will serve as the club’s primary designated hitter, and will attempt to play first base in National League parks during interleague play when he is capable.
Adding Berkman to bolster the lineup also meant potential future superstar Jurickson Profar will begin the year in the minor leagues if the club is fully healthy after the conclusion of spring training. If Profar spends the first couple of months in the minors, he will not become a free agent until after the 2019 season.
The Rangers had discussed moving established second baseman Ian Kinsler over to first base to make room for Profar in the everyday lineup, but Kinsler told the club he feels the Rangers are a better team with him playing second base. No matter what the club decides to do with Kinsler, as discussed by radio personality Norm Hitzges on Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket this past Monday morning, the Rangers bench is once again lacking depth to begin 2013.
After the Rangers lost the American League Wild Card Game to the Baltimore Orioles last year, Rangers manager Ron Washington blamed the late-season collapse on player fatigue and stated he was culpable of not resting his starters often enough. The reason the players were seemingly run into the ground was because of minimal bench depth, and unless Jon Daniels is able to make a bold move in the next few weeks, the bench will suffer a similar fate in 2013.
The club desperately needs to add a right-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder. Currently, the bench includes Geovany Soto, Craig Gentry or Leonys Martin, and utility man Brandon Snyder. Third base prospect Mike Olt could be an option, but Olt would be better suited gaining experience playing every day in the minors, which also increases his potential trade value. After Daniels glanced at his roster and noticed he did not have a back-up middle infielder, he has since stated the club will soon sign one.
Dealing with injuries, Berkman played in only 32 games last season, and he is going to turn 37 on February 10. So, the Rangers cannot realistically expect Berkman to play 140 or more games. When Berkman has to sit, the team would have to use Soto or Snyder at DH, and if Soto is going to DH, Washington would be limited with late-innings options because his two catchers are already in the lineup. Snyder is an emergency catcher, but one does not want him behind the plate in important late-game situations.
Left fielder David Murphy played in a career-high 147 games in 2012, and had career highs in all major offensive categories, including a mind boggling .433 BABIP against left-handed pitching. One cannot expect Murphy to come close to yielding a number even within 100 points of the 2012 BABIP against left-handed pitchers when he has struggled against lefties historically. When Murphy has to sit, either Martin or Gentry will have to play left field, but Martin is also a left-handed hitter.
With the Rangers deciding to not move Kinsler to first, the team is entrusting first baseman Mitch Moreland to have a break-out season in 2013. However, Moreland also has difficulty hitting left-handed pitching. Moreland’s career line against lefties is .232/.294/.328/.621 with a wRC+ of 64. Another disturbing trend is Moreland’s propensity to strike out with regularity against southpaws, 22.4 percent of the time. If Moreland rides the pine against left-handed pitching, Berkman is supposed to be the backup first baseman, but Daniels has said Berkman will not be ready to play in the field early in the season. With Berkman unable to play first base, Snyder could see increased opportunities at first, which could have a harmful effect on the lineup and defense.
When the Washington Nationals re-signed first baseman Adam LaRoche, slugger Michael Morse lost his starting gig with the team. Morse is a potent right-handed hitter with a career line of .291/.321/.470/.839 and can play both corner outfield positions and first base. Morse also punishes left-handed pitching as his line against lefties is .303/.357/.503/.860 with a wRC+ of 132.
Trading for Morse would give manager Washington the ability to sit Murphy or Moreland against lefties on occasion.
Also, right fielder Nelson Cruz has had difficulty staying healthy an entire season throughout his career, and if he were to go down with an injury as he has been prone to do, Morse could step right in and play right field.
The Rangers have been rumored to be interested in trading for Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton for most of the offseason, but Daniels has been unwilling to deal either Profar or shortstop Elvis Andrus to acquire the young basher Upton.
Trading for Morse is a more prudent decision as he would cost significantly less than Upton, and his numbers are very similar. Morse gives the Rangers a capable replacement at three different positions, and he can also DH. Even if the club is somehow able to stay completely healthy, Morse would give the team a weapon off the bench in later innings that Washington hasn’t had in previous seasons. With more interleague games on the schedule in 2013, Morse would be even more valuable in National League parks.
Trading for Michael Morse would drastically improve the Rangers’ depth, and his bat could have the type of impact Mike Napoli had on the franchise during its pennant run in 2011.
Follow Dustin Dietz on Twitter @DustinDietz18