If you’re a regular reader of this site (or a regular observer of baseball games), you’re probably quite aware that the Texas Rangers are a ridiculously good baseball team. Entering play today, they sit 15-5 and are already nine games up on their only real competition in the AL West, the Angels Angels of Anaheim.
It’s early, yes, but as the brain trust said yesterday on the Getting Blanked podcast, this is no small sample size fluke; they’re off to a great start because they’re a great team.
But this is not a team without its holes. In fact, the Rangers have one of the worst starting first basemen in the American League in Mitch Moreland. First base is traditionally a position where you want power and consistent production and Moreland is easily the worst everyday player on the team.
This past winter, much was made of the Rangers apparent interest (or lack thereof) in free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. That interest never seemed to rise above tepid and many, myself included, thought this to be strange. I mean, imagine how ridiculous the Rangers offense would be if you added Fielder to it.
Then again, the Rangers offense is already as ridiculous as can be. And maybe that’s the thing.
With the recent trend of teams locking up elite-level first basemen to cumbersome contracts, the Rangers appear content sticking with a clear second-division option. Clearly, they believe that first basemen are over-valued and who’s to argue with them?
It’s extremely unlikely that players like Albert Pujols, Fielder and Joey Votto will provide enough production to truly justify their massive deals and even deals like the ones received by Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira are unlikely to produce the kind of value that can be found elsewhere on the diamond. That’s not even mentioning Ryan Howard’s terrible albatross of a contract which will continue to be one of the worst in baseball until its conclusion after 2016.
The main reason the Rangers are okay with Moreland at first is that they have several players with first base production at positions that are not traditionally seen as offensive positions. Ian Kinsler at second base had a higher wRC+ than all but six full-time first basemen in 2011, while catcher Mike Napoli led the world in wOBA. The Rangers have major production at almost every spot on the field, they can live with a below-average first baseman
Of course, another reason the Rangers are okay with Moreland is that Napoli is not the type of catcher you want back there 140 games a year and when he’s not catching , you need to get his bat in the lineup at first. It’s much easier for the Rangers to justify sitting Moreland rather than benching Michael Young at DH.
The Rangers, recognizing the overvalued nature of first basemen, are instead locking up players like Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and likely Mike Napoli in the near future. None of those players are going to command the type of money or years regularly handed out to elite first basemen, yet are every bit as valuable, if not more.
The Rangers are going to be very good for a very long time. They not only have the most complete roster in the Majors, but they also have one of the best minor league systems. They have drafted and developed as well as any team in baseball and they have the money to spend on the Major League roster in order to keep their core players in the fold. They are the Rays with money and that my friends, is frightening.
If you look at the way the Rangers, Rays and even the Blue Jays (a team that seeks to replicate both models) have treated the first base position over the last few years, this could be an emerging inefficiency for smarter teams to grab hold of.