Editor's Note: This is the third in a 10-part series over the next two weeks that will focus on questions the Texas Rangers must answer this offseason. These questions are in no particular order.
Today’s question: What should Rangers do at first base?
What might have Mitch Moreland’s season looked like if he hadn’t gotten hurt just as he was starting to smoke the ball?
It sure seems that first base has created more questions than answers for the Rangers in recent years. If we’re honest, the Rangers haven’t had a consistent, power-producing first baseman since Mark Teixeira departed. That trade, of course, altered the franchise. But in the process, the Rangers have run through a list of young (and at times older) first baseman in an effort to find a solution.
I can hear some of you now lamenting that Chris Davis isn’t still here. But the reality is that he had numerous chances to seize the first-base job in Texas and couldn’t do it. Justin Smoak had the job for a little while, but was needed as the key trade piece to acquire Cliff Lee.
So it’s been Moreland’s job the last few seasons. He finished 2013 with a .232 batting average with 23 homers and 60 RBIs. Moreland came into the season vying that he would be better against left-handed pitching. He was actually about the same, with his average ticking up a bit to .241. Where he struggled was against righties. Moreland batted just .227 against right-handed hitters in 2013. He hit just .185 with runners in scoring position.
"We need to improve our offense. We have to look at it across the board and evaluate it as a whole for the team but also as a spot by spot," said general manager Jon Daniels, shortly after the season ended. "Mitch was relative to the rest of the club one of the more productive guys. But that's not a great qualifier because we weren't as productive as we needed to be. I do think we need more run production out of first base than we had. Our question is and a conversation we'll have with Mitch is can he provide that production? We don't want to give up on him but it's an area we'd like to see improvement."
Moreland was batting .288 in early June, when he strained his hamstring. After that, he just wasn’t the same, including a .177 average in September, when the Rangers started the month 5-15 and lost the AL West. Of course, Moreland was just one of many offensive players that couldn’t get things going in that final month.
The Rangers' scored 69 runs from the first-base position. That was 10th in the AL and only Tampa Bay was worse and made the postseason. Texas' first-base batting average of .223 was the worst in the AL.
First base is supposed to be a power position that produces runs. It hasn’t done that consistently enough for the Rangers. The problem: There may not be some terrific options that are better than Moreland, who still managed a decent OPS.
"We need to be more balanced in general and power was something we were lacking," Daniels said. "That's going to be challenging because there's not a lot of power available. We're not the only team looking for it. We have a lot of potential for power in our system but it's young. Guys that have that ability are not going to play for us next year more than likely. So we're going to have to be more creative and find them."
So what are the Rangers' options at first?
One is going after Jose Dariel Abreu, the right-handed hitting slugger out of Cuba. The question will be price, and with the success of Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes, Abreu should benefit with his value increasing. Is that in the $8 to $10 million per year range (or a bit higher)? Maybe. Some of you have asked me about James Loney, especially after he played well in Game 163 in Texas. But Loney wouldn't give you much power, so the Rangers would have to be sure they had more of that elsewhere. Don't rule out a trade, either. We know this front office will attempt to do something from all angles.
Are there some internal options? Well, if the club wants to get Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler and Jurickson Profar on the field at the same time, perhaps the Rangers could move Kinsler to first base. But I'm not sure that's a better option than Moreland, whose defense is solid as well.
One thing is clear: First base is a priority for the Rangers in 2014. They’ve got to get more out of that position offensively.