Jose Abreu and the Mitch Moreland Experiment
By Lee Stitzel
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
I love Mitch Moreland. When we dealt Justin Smoak and Chris Davis I assured everyone who would listen that Moreland was better than either. I appear to be half right on that one. At first it looked great. Moreland was not great but Smoak was awful, recall that he got sent down half way through the year when his OPS was even worse than Michael Young’s, and Davis was mediocre. Davis had a strong 120 wRC+ compared to Moreland’s respectable 105. (Fangraphs) Davis also produced 2 WAR while Moreland only mustered 0.7 although he had over 200 fewer plate appearances.
I like every guy wearing Rangers’ Red but my pride is tied to two particular Rangers. I jumped on the Yu Darvish and Mitch Moreland bandwagons early and I have stayed on through all of the bumps. Darvish has made me look like a genius among my friends and family. Moreland has not been bad but he has been disappointing. Early this year it appeared he had figured it out and perhaps could be the answer at first base long term for this team. Let’s break down this year’s performance by month.
April—267 average, 3 HR, 312 OBP, 102 wRC+ in 93 Plate Appearances
May—300 average, 8 HR, 349 OBP, 160 wRC+ in 109 PA
June—200 average, 1 HR, 333 OBP, 66 wRC+ in 53 PA
July—169 average, 2 HR, 231 OBP, 26 wRC+ in 91 PA
August—300 average, 3 HR, 389 OBP, 163 in 36 PA
Total—247 average, 17 HR, 307 OBP, 102 wRC+ in 381 PA
We see a nice April followed by a red hot May. This is the Moreland we all dreamed of; power with plate discipline. Moreland was hitting lefties and driving the ball the other way. Then he got hurt in June. It is my opinion that Moreland’s struggles are often a product of injuries. Last year Moreland battled a sore wrist most of the year and based on his performance in March, April and May it has to make you wonder if the wrist injury was a bigger deal than Texas let on. This year Moreland got banged up in June and ended up on the DL for a couple weeks. When he came back the results were not pretty. His July numbers resulted in a negative WAR. Now that he is presumably healthy it looks like his timing is back. Moreland is once again raking in August. It is a small but non trivial sample. I look for Moreland to be one of the hitters that carries this team down the stretch. Can he produce 163 wRC+ the rest of the year? Not likely, but with his timing back we could expect a healthy 120 wRC+ or so.
The Rangers have had an impossible vacuum at first base over the years. They have a nasty track record with the first baseman they have traded away. The list of former Ranger first basemen traded away is staggering, Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Davis, Travis Hafner and even Justin Smoak is starting to look good. I hope Moreland nails down this first base position but if he proves inconsistent, first base could be a place Jon Daniels improves during the offseason.
There are be some intriguing free agents at first this coming offseason but none strike me as true difference makers. As per Mlbtraderumors, Mike Napoli, Paul Konerko, Corey Hart, Kendrys Morales, and Justin Morneu are all set to be free agents. There is a laundry list of others of similar or inferior skill. Based on what we would have to pay these players I do not believe they are better options than Moreland. They would be marginal upgrades at best and none would be significantly better defenders than Moreland.
There is one more fascinating option; Jose Abreu. Abreu is another Cuban sensation to defect. His numbers in Cuba are off the charts. His last two seasons he featured batting averages of 394 and 453, and OBP of 547 and 597 in 2012 and 2011 respectively. He also had slugging percentages of 837 and 986. These are ridiculous numbers. He is the best hitter in Cuba and with the recent success of Cuban stars, Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, Abreu is certain to attract many bidders. By way of comparison Cespedes had a slash line of .333/.424/.667. Abreu had a .452/.597/986. Cespedes’s talents have translated well to the Majors although this year he has struggled based on his free swinging. He has 100 wRC+ and 19 homeruns thus far.
Abreu will probably attract a massive contract. There is already discussion of who might be interested in Abreu. The Red Sox seem to be the most interested suitor although the Orioles have also been mentioned. I cannot see Baltimore’s interest. Abreu is going to have to play first base and they already have the best firstbaseman in the AL. Davis could play third but then Manny Machado must play short. This leaves J.J. Hardy as the odd man out. I cannot see Baltimore putting up this kind of money for a designated hitter. Perhaps they are simply driving up the price on Boston.
We know Jon Daniels and the Rangers love to sign international players. The Rangers have several positions to fill this offseason and it is possible that they could target Jose Abreu. I would be lying if I said that Abreu was not a really exciting option. I would love to see the Rangers pick up a right handed power bat with his potential but I hope Mitch Moreland makes Abreu seem unnecessary.