With Prince Fielder most likely undergoing season-ending surgery Tuesday, the Texas Rangers have a hole in the middle of their lineup that needs to be filled.
Mitch Moreland has taken over as the Rangers’ everyday first baseman. At the genesis of the 2014 season, he was the Rangers’ full-time designated hitter but does have a lot of experience playing the first base position and has played it reasonably well. In parts of five seasons, he played 388 games at first compiling a solid -2 DRS (defensive runs saved) and 8.5 UZR (ultimate zone rating). The left-handed hitter should serve an upgrade defensively over Fielder. Couple that with solid offense, Moreland is a fine replacement for the ailing Fielder. However, a struggling Michael Choice is now the Rangers’ predominate DH and that’s a problem.
Choice has churned an abysmal .196/.292/.268 slash line in 113 plate appearances with Texas this year. That said, he has a decent minor-league track record but nothing that should evoke awe — sans Single-A ball. Finding an improvement over Choice should be a priority for Rangers general manager Jon Daniels.
A lot has been invested in this season with the lavish signing of Shin-Soo Choo and blockbuster trade for Prince Fielder. Injuries have crippled them from prosperity but they still possess an abundance of talent. Adrian Beltre is one of the best all-around players in baseball, despite early season struggles. Alex Rios is a more than solid veteran. Elvis Andrus does all the little things with a stellar glove and exceptional foot speed. Shin-Soo Choo is an on-base machine. Yu Darvish is one of the game’s best pitchers — though he’s the only bright spot in the Rangers’ rotation. And complementary pieces such as Mitch Moreland, Leonys Martin, and rookie Rougned Odor, should forge this team into a competitor.
Oddly enough the irrefutable talented offense of the Rangers, has not been great. They rank 6th in on-base percentage — slightly distorted by Choo — but rank just 19th in slugging percentage. They’re a team reliant on offense, so those middle-of-the-pack numbers will not suffice if they are to reach the postseason.
Currently, Texas sits in fourth place in the American League West with a mediocre 23-24 record and -29 run differential. Without sacrificing coveted prospects, they will not be able to acquire pitching. Four starting pitchers (Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Joe Saunders, and Tanner Scheppers) reside on the disabled list at this juncture but all are expected back some point in the season. Right now sitting and waiting for those guys, unfortunately, is a more logical option. It’s not likely a team is anxious to make a deal this far away from the trade deadline. So the only viable, significant upgrade they can realistically make, is signing free-agent Kendrys Morales.
Morales slashed a solid .277/.336/.449 clip in 657 plate appearances with the Seattle Mariners last year. He turned down their $14.1 million qualifying offer in the winter, expecting his agent Scott Boras to deliver him a multi-year deal. This hasn’t happened because there wasn’t any urgent need for a designated hitter. It’s not like Morales is a David Ortiz-esque hitter. Although, his 2013 numbers may have been a bit off, given he played half of his games in spacious SAFECO Field. That said, there is a team now in desperate need of a DH.
Morales is a consistent, above-average switch-hitting bat that could be an immense help for the Rangers. He’ll offer protection for Beltre in the lineup and provides them with first base depth. He fares better against right-handed pitching (career 124 wRC+) but still holds his own against southpaws (97 wRC+).
Stephen Drew, who was a free-agent that turn downed a qualifying offer in the offseason, signed a pro-rated portion of the $14.1 million earlier in the week. He is represented by the same agent as Morales. It’s not erroneous to believe, that’s in the ballpark of what Morales’ asking price is. He only provides offense so his value is not nearly compatible to Drew’s.
Morales is the only rational, feasible upgrade the Rangers can make right now. He’s been an imposing bat his whole career and Texas isn’t lighting it up on offense. Their offense is poised to carry them to contention but Fielder’s bat is a huge loss. Signing Morales is the best compensation for his absence.