Nolan Ryan Prefers Mitch Moreland to Albert Pujols?

Early Friday morning, Texas Ranger owner Nolan Ryan turned some heads with a surprising comment about the Rangers’ offseason plans. While the Rangers had made it clear earlier this offseason that they are focusing on acquiring pitching, as one of the large market teams with a weak first baseman, most people expected them to be players in the bidding for Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols.

Well, think again:

“Making a seven-or-eight year deal for Fielder or Pujols is not something our organization is prepared to do,” Ryan said. “I very much expect Mitch Moreland to be our first baseman next year.”

Mitch Moreland may be a solid first baseman and a young player with good upside, but to state the obvious, he’s no Fielder or Pujols. Is Nolan Ryan making a mistake to write off pursuing either of them?

 There are two things to consider when evaluating this decision: Mitch Moreland’s upside and the Rangers’ budget space. At 25 years old, Moreland got his first change to play full time in the major leagues last season, and he was adequate. Kind of. He produced well worse than any of his preseason projections suggested (Marcels proj.: .347 wOBA), and he was in many ways the definition of a replacement player: 0.4 WAR, eight percent below average offensively, and below average in the field as well.

The good thing about being young and a former top prospect is that teams will overlook your performance for a long time if they think you might still break out. Nolan Ryan seems ready to trust in Mitch Moreland going forward, but if I were him, I wouldn’t be so confident in Moreland. For reference, here’s how another former first base prospect produced at age 25:

That’s not to say that Moreland will end up like Kotchman, as he’s already flashed more power in the majors than Kotchman did, and not every prospect that fizzles out to such an extent. I’m merely presenting the comparison to make a point: Moreland is at a crossroads, and he either needs to start hitting for more power or risk turning into a worse fielding version of Casey Kotchman. He’s already entering his age 26 season, so that power better come soon if he wants to turn into even a league average first baseman.

The Rangers likely realize this, though, but they’re still placing their faith in Moreland. How come? They not have much of a choice. According to Cot’s, the Rangers already have $67 million committed to salaries for 2012, and that’s not counting arbitration settlements for Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, Mike Adams, David Murphy, Elvis Andrus, and Matt Harrison. If you include their projected arbitration cost ($31 million), that gives the Rangers a $98 million payroll without signing a single free agent — $6 million higher than their entire 2011 payroll.

How much money do the Rangers have to spend? How high can they push their payroll? It’s difficult to say. Last season’s payroll was their largest since 2003, and we have yet to see exactly how high they can push their budget with their new television deal in place. Even if the Rangers were to increase their payroll to the $120 million level, though, that leaves them a finite amount of room to make moves this offseason. Fielder or Pujols alone would fill that gap, and it wouldn’t allow the Rangers to buy the pitchers they need.

Mitch Moreland is not an ideal first baseman, especially on a roster that is dominated by powerful right-handed hitters and lacks pop from the left-hand side. But if the Rangers want to invest money in pitching and sustain their core, they may have no choice but to let Pujols and Fielder both go to franchises that can afford them.

Like, you know, the Marlins.

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

42 Responses to “Nolan Ryan Prefers Mitch Moreland to Albert Pujols?”

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  1. Josh says:

    You make it seem like this is a no-brainer, but money and length is the biggest obstacle in dealing with Pujols.

    Of course everyone would like him, but at what cost do you put your foot down? He’s not even willing to sign at 9/200 with the Cardinals.

    Besides, offense is not an issue for the Rangers. They can afford to cut back at 1B thanks to their production at other positions.

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    • JimNYC says:

      I’d assume Pujols would be looking to outdo ARod’s current contract. 10 years, $330 million is what I’d imagine his opening demand to be.

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      • Daven says:

        But the three teams most likely to be able to afford that (Yankees/Red Sox/Phillies) don’t have a place for him. Beyond them, is there another team that could afford a 10/330 type contract out there? Doesn’t seem likely, even if he would be worth it.

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      • HodgyBeats says:

        Prince Fielder still exists, even if Albert is very unlikely to re-sign in STL. I don’t see why Ryan would make this statement before seeing how the Fielder market plays out. Moreland isn’t good.

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    • Jake says:

      You’re just killing value if you settle for less production at first base if you get it at other positions. To say that would be like saying “Well I can afford to have Barry Zito in my rotation if I also have Cliff Lee.” The end result is mediocre production if you add crappy to good, Mitch Moreland is not an average level first basemen, he’s a replacement level, so why even pay arbitration to someone who’s production you could replace on the waiver wire.

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  2. Jim Lahey says:

    Isn’t the main reason Napoli? He will play first when Moreland isn’t and serves as the best plan as a backup without having to commit long term to a fielder or pujols

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  3. Josh Shepardson says:

    Would it be crazy for them to pursue David Ortiz to DH, and play Michael Young at 1B? It seems like a bat only first base type would be one of the easiest players to acquire through trade, international free agency, or the draft no? Finding a platoon mate for Moreland wouldn’t necessarily be a bad move either, as he’s passable against them, but a train wreck against southpaws.

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    • Adam D says:

      yes, it would be crazy.

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    • Zach says:

      Yes, they need the DH spot to keep their line-up flexible, primarily to get Napoli more abs.

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      • Josh Shepardson says:

        Everything I’ve heard/read after the season is that Napoli’s defense grades as average now at catcher. Seems like he could play catcher primarily and some first base with Young providing a day off to the rest of the infield as need be. It would limit their flexibility to a certain extent, but not entirely eliminate it. It would be a unique situation, but would be much more cost effective than signing Pujols/Fielder. It would also offer a further shot in the arm offensively (which they don’t necessarily need) than using Moreland regularly.

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  4. Jim Lahey says:

    And that’s forgetting Michael young too wHo last I knew didn’t really have a position

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  5. Schide says:

    Misleading headline incoming.

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  6. steex says:

    This headline makes it sound like Nolan Ryan so loves Mitch Moreland that he would pick him before Albert Pujols in the serpentine draft of his rotisserie league, rather than the reality that Ryan apparently feels Moreland is acceptable for his team’s needs given the reality of budgets.

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  7. t ball says:

    Moreland had a wrist injury the last half of the season that may explain his lack of production during that time. Up through June Moreland’s career OPS was .833, not bad at all, especially for the league minimum. I think it’s smart to see if he can produce better when healthy next spring, and continue to use Napoli and Young at 1B on occasion as well. You don’t want Napoli catching 140 games.

    If Moreland tanks you can address it with a mid-season trade if need be. I doubt it becomes necessary. Outfield depth is likely to be a greater issue.

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    • Paul says:

      That and he was a rookie. I know he’s a little older, but it was the guy’s first full season. And besides the injury his manager bizarrely played him in RF a lot, where he is terrible, and complained about his defense at 1B while not allowing him to improve by, you know, playing there. He also hit 8th or 9th a lot. I know they have a good lineup, but that’s silly. I think Wash totally mismanaged him last year and I hope Nolan tells him to play the guy. The org’s support of Moreland is not new, they liked him over Smoak, which is still right.

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      • Josh Shepardson says:

        I don’t know about liked him over Smoak. More like, they liked him enough that they felt they could deal Smoak in a package for Lee. Big difference.

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      • Paul says:

        Media reports before the 2010 season, after the trade, and before this past season, noted the FO liked him over Smoak. Not a big difference, unless you think multiple reports are a figment of writer’s imaginations. And how is this is even an argument at this point? Understand if Smoak would not have gone to Seattle and stunk it up.

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      • t ball says:

        Actually, Paul, media reports had the front office split over Smoak and Moreland. Some preferred Moreland to either Smoak or Davis, some preferred Smoak. And media reports were not specific about the point Josh makes, that maybe they just liked him enough that they weren’t afraid to deal Smoak for Lee. You’re making it sound much more concrete and detailed than it was.

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      • Josh Shepardson says:

        Media reports after the trade, and prior to this deal mean nothing. What do you expect the Rangers to say to media “we really regret trading Smoak, he was a far superior player to the one we kept.” Regardless, it likely wasn’t a choice as to which they dealt, as the Mariners had what they wanted (Lee) and almost certainly asked for Smoak.

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      • Jacob says:

        He played right field in the minors? How exactly was he “mismanaged?”

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  8. Larry says:

    And then the Rangers go out and sign either Pujols or Fielder…

    I can see where Ryan is giving the vote of confidence to Moreland just to fill a writer’s notebook – it may not be a stretch to imagine that what they will actually do maybe quite different from now until a Pujols or Fielder is signed.

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  9. Barkey Walker says:

    I’d never sign a long term deal for more than 15-20% of my budget. Way, way too much of a boat anchor possibility. This is very smart.

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  10. jpg says:

    I think Ryan is posturing. With Young’s money coming off the books soon they will be able afford a big bat and the SP they want.

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  11. Silencio says:

    I think its overselling Moreland to call him a former top prospect. AFAIK he was mostly just a guy that people thought might be a decent stopgap for a few years.

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    • Silencio says:

      I went back and looked on BP.

      In 2010 he was a 3 Star prospect and 7th on the Rangers prospect list.
      In 2009 and 2008 he didn’t make Goldsteins top 11 either year and he didn’t even make the just missed from those lists either.

      Moreland is what he is. Somewhere between replacement level and league average, and a stopgap until you can find something better on the farm or can sign or trade for something better.

      He has also played the outfield in the past so he wouldn’t be a terrible bench player and I don’t think he should be much of a deterrent to them signing Pujols, Fielder, or even Ortiz.

      Also all the people arguing that they shouldn’t sign Ortiz because it would take away from Napoli’s PT should realize that signing Ortiz would have almost the exact same effect on Napolis PT as signing Fielder or Pujols would.

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      • TexPantego says:

        So Baseball Prospectus is the Gospel on how good a player is going to be? I’d suggest going back to even later issues, and you’ll see they often have highly touted guys you’ve never heard of, and very good players who barely get a mention.

        Moreland’s been a guy who’s exceeded expectations at every level. He doesn’t look intimidating, but he has good plate discipline, gets into a lot of deep counts, and can hit it a country mile. His big bombs rival bombs hit by Nelly and Josh, and he’s years younger than them.

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      • Eric says:

        “Also all the people arguing that they shouldn’t sign Ortiz because it would take away from Napoli’s PT should realize that signing Ortiz would have almost the exact same effect on Napolis PT as signing Fielder or Pujols would.”

        …except Fielder or Pujols would be an infinitely better addition than Ortiz, as they are better hitters (141 and 167 career wRC+ compared to Ortiz’s 135), younger (Prince-27, Pujols-31, Ortiz-36), and wouldn’t only clog up the DH spot since they can play 1B…

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  12. Keystone Heavy says:

    I’m suing the crap out of this website. As a Rangers fan, that headline gave me AIDS!

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  13. Melkman says:

    If it doesn’t work out they can just pick him up a platoon mate at the deadline, no biggie. They don’t really need pujols or fielder, more likely focusing on replacing wilson’s production.

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  14. Steve says:

    “Making a seven-or-eight year deal for Fielder or Pujols is not something our organization is prepared to do,” Ryan said.

    So the Rangers would prefer Fielder or Pujols if the contract is for 5 or 6 years. Given Albert’s age and Prince’s weight, who can blame them?

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  15. pudieron89 says:

    Nice to see you can write an article without bashing Casey Ko….d’awwwwwww.

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  16. TexPantego says:

    Maybe your calculator failed to mention it, but Mitch played through wrist tendinitis for most of the year. Had he been healthy and struggled like he did, I’d be more concerned, but in 2012: a healthy Mitch at first, with Michael Young and Mike Napoli getting some platoon work in versus lefties, the sum of all three can put up some very good numbers. (Young’s defense at Fitrstbase is pretty atrocious though) Mitch can also play a passable corner outfield, his original position, which adds some versatility.

    Beside the hundreds of millions you’d pay for Pujols or Fielder, a platoon situation at first is highly advantagous for the Rangers because (A) it allows Napoli to get a lot of PAs without wearing him out at Catcher, and MIchael Young gets in a foul mood if he DHs all the time.

    Also, I’m not doubting Nolan’s veracity on this one, but if Nolan were interested in Fielder, do you think he’d really say he’s not too sure about Moreland at firstbase? Negotiating 101, don’t let your target think you’re desperate.

    BTW, it’s no sure thing David Murphy is back in 2012. The Rangers have the option of not tendering an offer in arbitration, which would make him a free agent. If he goes, look for it to be Houston. He’s from Houston, he’d get more playing time there, and that team is young and could use some vets with a good work ethic who don’t cost an arm and a leg.

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