Mitch Moreland must feel like a man hunted. He is coming off a serviceable at 1st where he was platooned with Michael Young and Mike Napoli. Now while Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels came out and said that Moreland was the 1st base starter he is living under the constant threat of Prince Fielder possibly joining the Rangers. But to compound the issue, even if Fielder does not join the Rangers two former major league 1st basemen have been signed to minor league in the forms of Brad Hawpe, Brandon Snyder and Brad Nelson. The Rangers are hedging their bets at first.
Moreland suffered a wrist injury in June that assuredly depressed his offensive numbers in 2011. This injury was to have been repaired with wrist surgery on November 30, 2011 with a recovery time of 8 to 12 weeks. As of this week he has begun to hit off a tee which should go a long way to having him ready to complete in spring training. Even with his injury his offensive production in 2011 was .259/.320/.414. While not super star numbers they compare better than Justin Smoak (.234/.323/.396) and Brandon Allen (.205/.259/.356) and are on par with Gaby Sanchez (.266/.352/.427).
Prince Fielder would obviously be an upgrade for the Rangers if they are able to sign him. But that will also take a huge financial investment on the heels of the Yu Darvish signing. There are reports that Fielder’s agent would the infamous Scott Boras would allow his client to take a back loaded contract but this also takes a risk knowing that eventually that money will hit the payroll. Moreland on the other hand is still on his rookie contract and could make the extension of players like Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli more fiscally pleasing.
Following the 2011 season the Rangers have released, traded or granted free agency to every person who played 1st base at AAA Round Rock Express. Among those players were Chris Davis, Chad Tracy, Brad Nelson and Jose Ruiz. The addition of Hawpe, Snyder and bringing Nelson back gives the Rangers depth at 1st at AAA as well as keeping Moreland playing at a high level.
Brad Nelson was signed by the Rangers on January 3rd, 2012 to a minor league contract. He comes off a 2011 season with the Round Rock Express. He was granted free agency on November 2, 2011 after a single year with the Express. During that year he put offensive numbers of .281/.360/.501 which are good numbers for AAA. But the fact that he is 29 years old it would likely take a stand out year in Round Rock to see him have any real chance of moving up to the majors. Nelson was a former 4th round pick in the 2001 draft by the Brewers. The last time he saw time in the majors was in 19 games in 2009.
Brandon Snyder was acquired by the Rangers on January 3, 2012 from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for cash. Snyder spent the 2011 season with AAA Norfolk Tides of the International League. There he hit .261/.312/.406 which is nearly identical to the numbers Moreland put up. During the year he was called up to the Orioles for 6 games in the year. Snyder was a 2005 1st round draft pick by the Orioles.
Brad Hawpe comes in with the most realistic chance of taking over for Moreland. The 32 year old Hawpe was signed by the Rangers on January 20th, 2012 to a minor league contract. He was a 2009 All-Star with the Colorado Rockies. After being let go by the Rockies midseason in 2010, he signed a free agent contract with Tampa Bay. Following the conclusion of 2010 he was granted free agency and signed with the San Diego Padres. In his 2011 season with the Padres he put up offensive numbers of .231/.301/.344. While these numbers are inferior to those of Moreland, it needs to be mentioned that Petco Park is a much less hitter friendly park than Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Just remember Mitch fans, if that isn’t enough to scare you without worrying about signing Prince Fielder there is the shadow of Mike Olt coming.