Studying at the Texas Rangers roster, their starting nine appears set with Prince Fielder, Josh Hamilton, and Adrian Beltre providing punch in the middle of the order and youthful middle infielders Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor forming a formidable double play combination for years to come. Texas has considerable depth up and down their roster, making their flirtation with free agent OF Justin Upton somewhat of a head scratcher.
While Upton provides one of the best right-handed power bats in the game, there is no place for him to play every day unless the Rangers trade the immovable contract of Shin-Soo Choo or believe that Josh Hamilton will suffer his annual season-shortening injury earlier than expected. Since Delino DeShields Jr. is the lone natural center fielder on the roster and under team control for the next five seasons, he appears an unlikely trade candidate.
By process of elimination, any future signing makes first baseman Mitch Moreland the most logical piece to unload. Moreland, 30, has progressively evolved into one of the most undervalued first basemen in the game, after being an afterthought as an 17th round pick out of Mississippi State University back in 2007.
Since debuting with the Rangers in 2010, Moreland has been a mainstay on two pennant winners while averaging nearly 20 home runs per season with league average on-base skills and an excellent glove at first base. In 2015, Moreland set career highs in games played (132), home runs (23), and runs batted in (85), and WAR (2.2). Earlier this offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates expressed significant interest in Moreland, but eventually opted to acquire the more analytically geared John Jaso to replace the outgoing Pedro Alvarez.
While the Pirates appear to have their first base situation settled, the Baltimore Orioles will need a first baseman in the event Chris Davis leaves via free agency and Moreland, making just $2.65 million next season is a real bargain that can offer versatility for manager Buck Showalter. The Rangers could also look to trade Moreland for prospects and continue to add depth in their minor league system should injury strike the way it did in 2014 when half of the team’s 25-man roster saw time on the disabled list at various points in the season.
Armed with the fifth ranked offense in the American League last season, the Texas Rangers return with largely the same group that fell to the Toronto Blue Jays in the Division Series. A full season from Josh Hamilton and consistent production from Rougned Odor should boost the team’s collective .257 batting average, but if the Rangers are looking to bolster their output as rumors indicate by acquiring a piece such as Upton, then they are better off trading Moreland and sliding Fielder back to first base. Given the other Rangers assets, few are as tradable or as valuable as Moreland, but with the team once again a perennial contender in the AL West, dealing their first baseman for additional firepower in the lineup represents the best course of action in the immediate future.