Will Rangers stick with Mitch Moreland?


The Texas Rangers have certainly tried to fill first base from within -- Chris Davis (now in Baltimore), Justin Smoak (now in Seattle) and Mitch Moreland (still in Texas, but...).

Something happens to these guys once they face big-league pitching on a consistent basis. Davis, one of the great minor-league sluggers of all time, didn't hit better than .250 with 278 strikeouts over three-plus seasons up and down with the Rangers. Smoak hit .209 with 57 whiffs in 70 games with Texas in 2010 before being shipped to the Mariners in the Cliff Lee deal.

Moreland, the Rangers' best hitter in the 2010 World Series, hit .259 with 16 homers and 51 RBIs last season. He slumped late, and Rangers manager Ron Washington had little choice but to sit Moreland for much of September and the postseason because of his quiet bat, which certainly could have been affected by a sore right wrist. It forced Washington to play Michael Young at first base more than he might have liked in critical postseason games. Of course, Mike Napoli is also an option at times to play first.

In the nine playoff games Moreland did play, he hit .103. At least he made his three hits count with two leaving the yard.

"He found out what a grind is in a 162-game season," Washington said. "I certainly intimated that to him, to go home and get healthy, come into spring training and just apply what you learned from the grind of the 2011 season and we will see improvement."

This winter, excellent outside options are certainly available to bolster first base, but the Rangers will have to be ready to pay. St. Louis Cardinals star Albert Pujols could become a $200 million man. Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, a hefty lefty who would like the looks of the Home Run Porch, isn't in quite the same tax bracket, but he won't be too far off either.

On Monday, the Rangers handed 37-year-old closer Joe Nathan $14 million for the next two seasons, and they could well keep millions in their pocket if they pass on free-agent C.J. Wilson. That wouldn't necessarily mean they'd be eager to then pay mega-bucks to either All-Star first baseman and secure really the only unsettled position on the club (outside of maybe center field).

So just how much faith do the Rangers have in Moreland? He is only 26, has a steady glove and it still might be premature to judge his offensive production through just 181 career big-league games played: .258 batting average, .331 on-base percentage, .427 slugging percentage, and .758 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

Washington seems to suggest that the club will maintain a patient approach.

"I thought he did a good job of fighting, and all he can do from this point is get better," Washington said. "I certainly let him know that."