Have we seen the last of Mitch Moreland in a Rangers uniform?
Ironically, I started brainstorming on this piece last week with an eye to 2015, but with Sunday’s news that Mitch is out for the next three months, his Rangers window is now much smaller.
Despite being a career .252/.316/.430 hitter with only 2.0 rWAR, Moreland is a scouting success story. Drafted in the 2007 amateur draft out of the 17th round, Moreland was seen as a pitching prospect by many, but he desired to be a position player. In three years at Mississippi State, he hit .332/.420/.535 with 17 homeruns while also going 5-0 with a 3.27 ERA and two saves in 25 games out of the bullpen for the Bulldogs.
In the minors, Moreland pitched two innings for the Clinton Lumberjacks in 2008, giving up one run while striking out three. As a hitter, Moreland’s career numbers in the minors were great: .314/.382/.512 with 49 home runs in 369 games.
His best season as a Texas Ranger was 2010, when he replaced a struggling Justin Smoak in the lineup and proceeded to hit .255/.364/.469 with nine home runs in 47 games. He accumulated 0.9 rWAR in limited time, which is the best of his career. In the 2010 playoffs, he really shined in the ALCS (.389/.450/.389) and the World Series (.462/.533/.769).
The combination of success in the 2010 regular season and playoffs led to many fans over-valuating his abilities. Mitch never truly displayed an ability to hit left-handed pitching in the big leagues (2012 was his best season against LHP: .239/.280/.457 with three home runs in 44 games) and when he seemed to be getting on track, he would be plagued by injuries.
Playing a position (first base) that demands offensive numbers, Moreland came up short more often than not. His career OPS+ of 98 (100 is league average) suffers primarily because of his .227/.289/.347 slash line against lefties. Like so many players, he also appeared to sacrifice his hit tool for the sake of power.
In 2010, he had his highest walk rate of 14.5 percent which dipped to 6.5 percent by 2014. Mitch never seemed to mature as a hitter in the big leagues as he began to strike out more (23.4 percent in 2014 compared to 20.8 percent in 2010) and pull the ball more often which led to defensive shifts. He gained the ability to hit upper deck home runs, but sacrificed so much of his game in the process.
Where does Moreland go from here?
It’s possible that Moreland can revitalize his career as a reliever, but at this point, that might be more of an upward climb to success than trying to solve his hitting issues. Mitch has been allowed to be in a Rangers uniform up to this point because he is relatively inexpensive. Moreland made $2.65 million this season and next year’s number would be about the same, but might they look to trade or DFA him? He is not a free agent until 2017, but Prince Fielder will be ready to go in 2015 and the front office might not want to commit the money again to a platoon DH.
What do the Rangers do in 2014?
In the short-term, DMN’s Gerry Fraley looks at potential replacements at first base which include the Phillies’ (and former Ranger) John Mayberry Jr. Mayberry would be an upgrade over Moreland and, like Mitch, he is not a free agent until 2017. He is hitting .242/.338/.500 this season with an OPS+ of 130. The cost for him would be minimal, but so would the value in return (0.3 rWAR this season and 1.4 in his career).
There are no easy solutions for Manager Ron Washington and the front office with all these injuries, but the team is only 39% of the way through the season and Donnie Murphy is not the answer.
Long-term: Neither is Mitch Moreland as a Ranger.
Eddie Middlebrook also writes for Paranoid Fan as a MLB and College Football contributor. He can be on Twitter @emiddlebrook.