For years now, we have heard rumors about the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers making a major trade. Now the odds may be more likely than ever, but the trade may not be what everyone had in mind.
After their blockbuster deal to acquire Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers for Ian Kinsler, the Rangers are in an interesting position regarding Mitch Moreland. Fielder will play first base, displacing Moreland from the position he played regularly in 2013. That does not mean that the Rangers can’t accommodate Moreland on their roster–he can play designated hitter and left field if Nelson Cruz doesn’t return–but if there was any time to trade him, it would be right now.
Over last four years as a whole, Moreland has been solid but unspectacular as the Rangers’ first baseman, hitting to a .253/.318/.440 line, an even 100 OPS+. He has good power, averaging 20 homers and 22 doubles per 500 plate appearances, but struggles against breaking pitches keep him to a relatively low average and on-base percentage. One plus is that he isn’t so terrible against lefties as a lefty batter, managing a .657 OPS for his career and .701 in 2013. But his bat is average at best for a first baseman, and pairing it with mediocre defense doesn’t help matters. Moreland may be able to left field, but he has been absolutely horrific there for his career, managing a -19.1 UZR/150 in 293.1 innings. That is a relatively small sample size, but it is a little too extreme to disregard. That makes Moreland look better for DH, but the chances are that the Rangers could find as good of a hitter on the market and likely a better one. Complicating matters more is that Moreland isn’t super cheap anymore as he is arbitration-eligible for the first time this year and is projected to make $2.7 million. Between his just decent all-around game and the money factor, it seems clear that the Rangers will at least listen to deals for Moreland this offseason. How much should the Rays be interested?
Mitch Moreland is far from a perfect solution for the Rays at first base. At the same time, he would finally give the Rays some stability at the position and should not cost a ton to acquire. After years of first basemen with more gap-to-gap approaches, Moreland could be the Rays’ first 20-homer first baseman since Carlos Pena in 2010 and potentially be around for three years. Moreland may not quite have Pena’s power, but he does make a little more contact and have the ability to play the outfield when necessary. The thing about Moreland is that while he is more consistent than the Rays’ recent first base options, the Rays seem to find a player that is better than him year after year. Then again, having a more reliable presence at first would give the Rays the opportunity to spend their money elsewhere and that could be a worthwhile exchange.
The offer from the Rays that makes the deal happen is a prospect like lefty Felipe Rivero for Moreland. Rivero touches 95 MPH with his fastball to go along with a solid curveball and changeup, and he pitched well at High-A in 2013, managing a 3.40 ERA in 127 innings pitched. That 3.40 mark is a little misleading because Rivero did not make the type of breakthrough with his command that the Rays were hoping for, managing just a 91-52 strikeout to walk ratio and a 42.3% groundball rate, but Rivero turned just 22 in July and still has considerable upside. Rivero is not a top prospect, but if the Rangers have the opportunity to receive that live an arm for Moreland, it is hard to see them passing it up. You have to wonder, though, whether the Rays consider Moreland good enough to warrant the Rays dangling a prospect like Rivero in a potential return.
Mitch Moreland will be a target for the Rays at first base and now is the perfect time to acquire him. When the Rays acquired Yunel Escobar, it came when the Miami Marlins had the ability to accommodate him on their team at third base but certainly no need with Adeiny Hechavarria set to man shortstop. Now that the Rangers have acquired Fielder, Moreland is in a similar position and the Rays have the opportunity to acquire him at a reasonable cost. However, the question is going to be how much the Rays value having an average first baseman like Moreland after all their success turning cheap signings into one-year sensations. Do the Rays believe wholeheartedly in their current strategy or would giving up some upside in exchange for stability make sense? We will get insight into that in the coming days and weeks as we see how hard the Rays push to acquire Moreland.