MLB Free Agents 2012: Rangers' Priorities Will Show Confidence Level in Moreland

Ethan GrantAnalyst INovember 28, 2011

Will Mitch Moreland trot out with the starters on Opening Day?
Will Mitch Moreland trot out with the starters on Opening Day?Brandon Wade/Getty Images

Since July 2010, the Texas Rangers have primarily relied on Mitch Moreland to handle a majority of the responsibility at first base. He has been an above-average defender and has also handled his bat well, hitting .257 with 25 home runs during his time in the big leagues.

But as free agency approaches and the rumor mill begins to churn, Rangers fans can't help but think about ways to push their team from the brink of a championship to finally winning the hardware in 2012.

First base will be a position of great debate, primarily due to Moreland's three hits in 29 ABs during the postseason (although two of those hits were home runs). 

Would it be worth the money to lure Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols to Texas to replace Moreland as the starter? That money would end any chance of attracting any kind of starting pitcher, including incumbent No. 1 C.J. Wilson.

Are the Rangers prepared to enter into 2012 with Colby Lewis as the No. 1 and Neftali Feliz almost required to hit 12-13 wins?

My guess to those questions is yes, partially due to the Joe Nathan signing and partially due a myriad of other moves the Rangers have made over the past two seasons. They gave away highly-regarded prospect Justin Smoak in the Cliff Lee deal, knowing full well Lee might not re-sign with the Rangers after the end of their first run to the World Series. 

The Nathan signing showed confidence in Feliz's ability to become a full-time starter, and including Smoak in the Lee deal showed Moreland he was more than just a AAA player.

Remember, at the time of Moreland's call-up in July 2010, the Rangers still had farmhand Chris Davis slugging away and breaking Pacific Coast League records. They chose to bring Moreland up for the stretch run, showing their confidence in a guy who had never been in the big leagues before.

The knock on Moreland since the end of the World Series has been his inconsistent play towards the end of the regular season, which carried into the postseason. But fans should remember that Moreland played 143 games, including the postseason, and might have hit a wall during his first full-time campaign.

We will learn a lot about what the Rangers' level of confidence in Moreland is in the coming weeks, starting with the winter meetings scheduled to begin in Dallas in the next week.

The trade rumors and potential free-agent rumblings around Major League Baseball will signal whether the Rangers believe Moreland is better off as trade bait or as a mainstream fixture in their future plans. 

If I were a betting man, I'd bet that the Opening Day lineup includes Moreland starting at first base, hitting eighth.

Ron Washington will still have Michael Young and Mike Napoli to rotate in if he feels Moreland is wearing down or can't handle left-handed pitching, and with prospect Mike Olt on the horizon, I have a feeling Jon Daniels and company will be happy to save their money for another day.