How Do You Solve A Problem Like Mitch Moreland
For Mitch Moreland, the time may be any day between now and Opening Day of 2015.
After emerging as an offensive threat in his first Post-Season with the team in 2010, an October in which he went 16-for-43, good for a .372 batting average, with 7 RBI, and one very significant home run in the World Series, the anticipation for the first baseman has been there. The potential has been there. Even the flashes of brilliance have been there. Unfortunately, all too often over the past four seasons, Mitch himself hasn’t been there.
Mitch came into that season having slimmed down, gotten more agile, and increased his defensive range. His glove, though, was supposed to be a back burner attribute compared to the power Texas was expecting of him. While his defense didn’t seem to be affected by the hamstring, his paltry approach at the plate prompted Jon Daniels to acquire Prince Fielder, an inferior fielder, to be the team’s everyday first baseman for 2014. Moreland was rendered to ‘full-time’ designated hitter. When Fielder went down with the season-ending injury, Moreland was given another chance to shine in his old role. Then June came around, and Mitch faced another injury. This time, he couldn’t even bounce back to try and prove he could step up his game. The ankle surgery was something he tried to avoid, but instead, it shelved him for the rest of the year.
Now, the Rangers face a decision regarding their homegrown lefty. He’s a 2nd year arbitration eligible player who experienced a $2 million dollar increase in pay for his first go-around. That kind of increase shouldn’t be expected again this year, but it’s not unreasonable to think that, if the two sides work something out, Mitch could earn around $3 million, coming off of a season in which he played only 52 games. So…what should Texas do? There are three likely scenarios.
Trade Mitch Moreland
With Jon Daniels already saying he intends to be far more active on the trade market than the free agent market, Moreland’s two more years of club control makes him an attractive option to those who could use either a full-time or platoon first baseman. At this point, however, Mitch would have to be a complementary piece in any trade and not the feature player. Also, given Moreland’s tendency for injuries and inconsistency, ask yourself what he’s worth. If the Rangers just want to offload his potential $3 million in arbitration salary, likely, since they want to attribute as much as they can to the pursuit of a starting pitcher, Mitch won’t net much more than minor league depth. Package him with one of your starting pitching prospects and one of those middle infielders though, and you might be able to get some offense out of Mitch yet, as you could grab a key outfield offensive weapon. You might get a decent middle-to-back-end of the rotation starter, too. All in all, trading Mitch might amount to one of those tough “he could turn into Chris Davis” type moves, but maybe a change in scenery is just what Moreland needs.
Among the teams needing a legitimate first baseman, in no particular order: New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals, St. Louis Cardinals, Seattle Mariners, and New York Yankees.
Non-Tender Mitch Moreland
It’s entirely possible that Texas could just cut ties with Mitch and let him hit up see what free agency looks like a couple of years early. With nearly $3 million headed his way, perhaps one of the teams listed above doesn’t want to pay that for an oft-injured, inconsistent, likely part-time first baseman/DH. Not offering Mitch a contract would free up that $3 million, but it would also mean that Moreland could still stay with the team with a re-negotiated contract.
Given the recent 40-man roster deadline, however, if Daniels and company wanted to non-tender Mitch, they would have just dropped him from the roster Thursday. This would have opened up a spot for one of the other prized prospects that are now exposed to the Rule 5 draft. With that said, the Rangers could just be waiting on the rest of the free agent market to sort itself out before ultimately deciding whether they want to offer Mitch a contract or not.
Prince Fielder is not going to play all 162 games in 2015, let alone play first base for all of them. It could come out that Fielder is completely healed and is drilling holes into a mountain because he’s getting back into shape for the upcoming season, and it’s still not a good idea to put him out on the field every single day. While he may have been the most durable player up until last year, he will still be coming off of season ending neck fusion surgery. Count on the Rangers to ease up on Prince’s workload for at least this upcoming season. That’s going to allow for Mitch to get playing time at first.
Mitch only got to play for three full weeks after Fielder went down before his own injury. Could the Rangers count on part time service in the field as being the last hurrah for Mitch? Could that sort of limited playing time, while being used as a DH on the other days, keep Moreland on the active roster for the whole year? As stated in the opening paragraph, at what point does that hope become just a pipe dream? One advantage that Moreland has in making his case to stay with the Rangers for next year is that the free agent and trade possibilities for part time first basemen isn’t exactly piping hot. Would Ike Davis, Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay, Corey Hart, Michael Morse, Nick Swisher, or Yonder Alonso be a better fit for the Rangers than Mitch at this point?
Part of Mitch’s role in 2015 is going to be dependent on how new manager Jeff Banister decides to use his DH slot as a first time American League manager. Ron Washington liked to use that slot as a partial rest day for his guys in the field. If Banister goes for a more “traditional” designate hitter role, Moreland will see the most time at DH, with only Beltre, Fielder, and maybe a right-handed DH option getting the other at-bats at that position.
The Rangers have also been known to be in the market for a corner outfield bat at an affordable price. Mitch certainly isn’t a full-fledged outfielder, but he has shown that he can be competent enough in left field to put him out there. If the Rangers choose to let Ryan Rua and Jake Smolinski do a little more maturing in the minor leagues to start the year, and if someone like Melky Cabrera, Jason Kubel, or Colby Rasmus doesn’t fall to them at an affordable price, Mitch could very well see a decent amount of time in the outfield.
If one were to follow conventional logic, trading Mitch Moreland looks like the most attractive option, especially if you can kill two birds with one stone and acquire a strong outfield bat or a Major League ready starting pitcher who can slot in easily in the rotation. If you go by what Jon Daniels has said in the past, the team stands by Mitch Moreland. The 2014 injury to Prince Fielder seems to support the idea of having a capable backup for the new cornerstone of the Rangers. Also, Mitch has shown he can rake when he’s zeroed in. Texas really doesn’t want to see Mitch develop into another Chris Davis type player somewhere else, but now isn’t the time to be gun-shy about splitting with players who you think might be an impact player. The least likely scenario is that they just non-tender him, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it happen.
What would YOU do with Mitch Moreland? If you trade him, who are you trading with and for what (remembering that BOTH sides have to agree to the trade)? What do you THINK Jon Daniels is going to do with Mitch?