Forgotten man: The state of first base for the Texas Rangers
The last few years, many Ranger related discussions focus on the infield. Questions like “Can Rougned Odor keep this up?” or “Should the Rangers have a quick hook on Elvis Andrus if Jurickson Profar returns?” reached “Should Jerry the owner fire Jerry the GM” level of tired. Even more recently so was “Should the Rangers let Adrian Beltre go and give Joey Gallo third base in 2017?” It’s been a well traveled discussion topic.
So why has first base been all but ignored?
One reason is the talent disparity between positions. The Rangers’ farm is rich with talent at every spot but first. At one point two years ago, Brad Snyder started at first in the majors. That’s a sign of a problem.
So let’s look at fixing it.
Mitch Moreland is the incumbent at first. He turns 31 in September, and gets to test free agency this winter. He’s been a Ranger his entire career from minors to majors.
Texas could re-sign Moreland and our discussions are short lived.
They could; that doesn’t mean they should.
Looking at Mitch’s career in Ranger red is an exercise in disappointment. Coming into 2016, he’s played 4 full seasons. 2010 was his mid-season call up, while 2014 is negligible due to an ankle injury. Here’s a snapshot within those four years along with his 2016 to date:
|Season||Games Played||Home Runs||K Rate||OPS||wRC+(Average=100)||WAR|
Only a single season over 800 OPS, and his two highest home run years came with him striking out over 20% of the time. Despite the recent power surge, 2016 is shaping up to be dismal for Moreland. It doesn’t bode well for his future in Arlington going forward.
Someone out there will sign Moreland this offseason. If Texas is smart they’ll let them do it. There’s no Chris Davis risk here.
So with Mitch gone after 2016, what’s first base look like next season? Texas has some options on the farm:
Joey Gallo: This seems the most likely scenario. Beltre’s extension means Gallo has no clear position path at the moment. Post extension, the chatter was Gallo shifts across the diamond to fill the need. The positional value loss on switching Gallo from third to first is somewhat step. That said, Gallo wasn’t a prototypical Gold Glove candidate. He’s here to hit dongs, and hit dongs he will whether it’s at first or third.
Ronald “Condor” Guzman: One of the best stories in the minors this season, Guzman is forcing his way into the first base coversation. The 21 year old is on fire at Frisco, reaching base at a .385 clip while slugging a phenomenal .538. The strikeout numbers are concerning, so Texas will have to wait on whether this is real or fool’s gold from Condor. If he keeps it up, it provides Texas another strong option at first.
Jurickson Profar: Profar’s outstanding play at first prompted his inclusion as an option. It’s a fun fantasy, bu not a plausible reality. Profar’s value comes from being able to play many positions. Tying him to one long term would be a poor choice.
So let’s say Texas doesn’t want to use Gallo at first, Guzman isn’t ready come next April, and Profar continues to play all over the diamond. What’s the free agent market look like?
Edwin Encarnacion: Encarnacion will command a large salary for his powerful bat this winter. The Blue Jays intend to keep him in Toronto, but with Jose Bautista needing a new contract it could force the Jays to make a choice this offseason. If E5 makes it to open bidding, Texas would be foolish to not show interest. Whether they can afford his price is another discussion altogether.
Carlos Santana: The Indians first baseman is thriving after spending most of his career behind the plate. Cleveland could keep him for $12 million next year, or buy him out for $1.2 million. He strikes out less and gets on base more than Moreland. He’s also going to be entering his age 31 season. Santana will command a high price once Encarnacion signs, which might keep Texas away.
Justin Smoak & Mark Teixiera: Both former Rangers will be available for someone to pick up this winter. Smoak will be 30 and Tex 37 in 2017, so it’s doubtful Texas will have any interest. It’s not an impossibility though. Teixiera has done his best to continue hitting dingers into his late thirties. Smoak seems to have a blood vengeance against Texas for exiling him to Seattle(who could blame him?). There could be some appeal there, just not a lot. They’ll be cheaper than the two players above, but you’re getting what you pay for in both instances.
The rest of the presumptive free agent pool are baseball vagabonds; players getting up there in age looking for one more contract to stay in the Show. If Texas doesn’t want to pay the free agent costs, some trade options do exist.
Boston has a first baseman at AAA Pawtucket named Sam Travis. He played college baseball at Indiana University before coming Boston’s 2nd round pick in 2014. He turns 23 in August and hasn’t made his major league debut yet. MLB ranks him as Boston’s 9th best prospect, while Baseball Prospectus ranked him 7th. For a little bit more on Travis, here’s the fine folks at Over The Green Monster talking about him this March:
As for Sam Travis, he finished his 2015 at Double-A on a .314/.399/.465 run over his last 49 games. There were some rough adjustments at first, but to this point, Travis seems to be balancing his patience with aggression, limiting his strikeouts — just 14 percent of his plate appearances ended in one during that stretch — while getting on base plenty through free passes. He followed that up by mashing .338/.395/.515 in the Arizona Fall League: while the AFL is offense-friendly, the league-average player batted .263/.341/.413 this time around.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Travis tore his ACL a couple weeks ago, and won’t be able to play until next season. So he’s off the list right?
Boston has a positional logjam at first. Hanley Ramirez, Brock Holt, Travis Shaw, and Pablo Sandoval all play corner infield. Travis doesn’t have a place when healthy, and the knee injury lowered his price. Texas scoop him up for less than expected, letting him rehab while they use an existing option to fill in for him.
If you prefer your first base trade prospects with an intact knee, there’s an option for that. From the hitting rich Cubs system comes Dan Vogelbach. Anthony Rizzo blocks the 23 year old in the majors, and with no DH in the senior circuit Vogelbach continues mashing at Iowa posting a .308/.421/.503 slash.
Texas hasn’t won their last two deals with the Cubs, but third time’s a charm. Texas needs a power hitter, and Chicago has hitters to spare. Vogelbach wouldn’t be cheap, but he fills a need and Texas’ deep farm makes the cost less crippling.
Regardless of what they do, Texas needs to do something. They’ve got no excuses not to, as options are plentiful. The margins for error are thin. A poor decision could lead to years of despair at first.
That’d be disastrous for a team looking to take steps forward, not backward.