Following the heartbreaking loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 World Series, the Texas Rangers had a contingency plan to upgrade their starting pitching staff and to bolster the already potent lineup with a bat capable of producing incredible power numbers.
Instead, they wound up with … Mitch Moreland. Let’s review how they got in this unexpected position.
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The club allowed starting pitcher C.J. Wilson to sign with the rival Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after he had a dreadful 2011 postseason, and instead decided to pursue Japanese ace pitcher Yu Darvish. The Rangers were fortunate to win the bidding for Darvish, and after seemingly hitting a wall at times in 2012, Yu would eventually begin to resemble the number-one pitcher the Rangers envisioned toward the end of the season.
Texas flirted with signing free-agent slugger Prince Fielder to be the long-term solution at first base and potential replacement for Josh Hamilton should Hamilton leave via free agency the following offseason. The front office passed on Fielder because the former Brewer was asking for an exorbitant amount of cash, similar to what the Angels gave Albert Pujols. Plus, there was the belief if the Rangers signed Fielder, there would not be enough money in the budget to re-sign Hamilton.
Fielder would sign a nine-year, $200 million dollar deal with the Detroit Tigers in January 2012 after the club lost Victor Martinez for the entire 2012 season to an offseason injury. Fielder would eventually yield the type of numbers we are accustomed to seeing from him, 30 HRs, 108 RBIs, and a line of .313/.412/.548/.940. The durability concern many Ranger fans had about Fielder due to his corpulent figure was put to rest as Fielder played all 162 games during the regular season and helped lead the Tigers to their first American League pennant since 2006. The burly Fielder has missed only one game in the past four seasons.
Instead, the Rangers chose to stick with Morleand at first base, and try to use what money they did have available on re-signing Hamilton before. Moreland would produce 15 HRs, 50 RBIs, with a line of .275/.321/.468/.789 and play in only 114 games due to an injury he suffered in June. Very pedestrian numbers from a first baseman.
As everyone knows, Hamilton signed with the Angels after he and the Rangers were unable to agree on a contract to keep him in Texas, which makes passing on Fielder look even more perplexing. Remember, the reason many thought Fielder was passed on was to be able to re-sign Hamilton.
The Rangers are rumored to be interested in Washington Nationals slugger Adam LaRoche to become the primary first baseman and to fill the void in the middle of the order. The Rangers did sign A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal today, and he addresses a huge need at catcher, but he cannot be relied on to generate the numbers he did in 2012. The club still needs another bat.
Texas is also linked to Nick Swisher and Cody Ross. If Texas were to sign one of the three players I have just listed, Moreland’s time at first base is probably over. LaRoche would be the first baseman if he signs, and many believe second baseman Ian Kinsler would move to first base if Swisher or Ross were to sign. Moving Kinsler to first base makes logical sense, because the move means star prospect Jurickson Profar would start at second base.
One of the baffling arguments suggests the Rangers should not sign any of the available free agents, allow Moreland to continue playing first base and, instead, move Kinsler to the outfield. My retort to Moreland continuing at first base is he already was given a chance to win the job, and he has not taken advantage.
Moreland has stepped into the batter’s box 869 times over the past two seasons, and is 24th among first basemen with at least 850 at-bats with a 0.9 fWAR. Moreland’s 31 HRs since the beginning of the 2011 season rank 25th among first basemen with at least 850 at-bats, only four more than Gaby Sanchez, and the Marlins could not wait to replace him with the geriatric Carlos Lee during the middle of last season.
Moreland is 20th in slugging, 23rd in on-base percentage, 21st in OPS, and 26th in wRC+ the past two years, while Fielder is third in all of these categories. Moreland’s defense prowess at first base is praised by many, but the fact is his 2.6 UZR in ’12 was a slightly above average, which was well below LaRoche’s 6.1. Fielder did have a rather poor -2.1 UZR in ’12, but he more than makes up for his lack of defense at the plate.
I am not suggesting signing Fielder to the enormous contract the Tigers offered would have been economically wise for the Rangers, but signing Prince would have given the Rangers a potent weapon in the middle of the order for years to come, making the eventual loss of Hamilton much easier to handle.
I am also not suggesting LaRoche is the answer at first base. Over the last two seasons, his numbers are only slightly better than Moreland’s. However, LaRoche did only play in 43 games in 2011 due to injury.
My point: Moreland is an average player, has been given his chance and has failed to produce. He is not going to become the offensive force in the middle of the order that Fielder is for the Tigers, and his defense, which is perceived to be superb, is actually mediocre.
The Rangers find themselves in a rather precarious position because they underestimated how paramount Fielder would have been to the lineup. Had the Rangers signed Fielder, they would not be searching for a cheaper replacement for Hamilton in the winter of ’12. While the $200 million dollar contract the Tigers gave Fielder seems outrageous, Fielder would have been the long-term solution for the Rangers at a position where offensive production is crucial. I understand developing inexpensive home grown players is the preferred method. But if a Fielder is available, you jump at the opportunity. While Fielder is no longer an option, it is time for the Rangers to move on to other options at first base.
Follow Dustin Dietz on Twitter @DustinDietz18