As relayed in the link dump this morning, the Rangers relented on their original “plan” to move Ian Kinsler to first base in an attempt to make room for super prospect Jurickson Profar. Rangers GM Jon Daniels instead believes Profar will start the season in the minor leagues, keeping Kinsler at second base and giving Mitch Moreland a chance to earn more playing time at first.
The decision to keep Kinsler at second base also suggests Mike Olt will start the year in the minor leagues. Decisions like these are tough but make the Rangers the envy of many GMs around the league. Too much talent is never a bad thing, but how do the “win now” Rangers arrange their infield to get the most of their copious talent?
There are arguments to be made on either side of this debate. Moving Kinsler improves the infield defense tremendously and gets an ostensibly better player (Profar versus Moreland) into the lineup. Then again, like Manny Machado in Baltimore, shortstop prospects are highly valued for their ability to hit even a little bit rather than their status of mashing monsters.
Jack Moore of CBS Sports puts forth one compelling reason for keeping Kinsler at second base: his offense was down so far in 2012 that it won’t really play at first base or even left field. As a league average defensive second baseman with (at worst) league average offense, Kinsler is a valuable piece. With so little value found in glove work at first base, Kinsler needs to return to his previously strong production levels to make such a move worthwhile.
The math isn’t so difficult. Profar at second base figures to be a defensive upgrade (barring injury) from Kinsler but will struggle to match even Kinsler’s declining offense. Kinsler can play defense as well as first as Mike Olt or Mitch Moreland with similar (i.e. bad) offense, though he doesn’t require a lefty caddy like the platoon monster most make Moreland out to be.
Daniels and the Rangers don’t want a repeat of the situation Profar and Olt found themselves in this fall: sitting on the bench doing a whole lot of nothing. They need to play, especially Profar who turns 20 this February and lacks experience against high level pitching. Olt is a defense-first corner infielder, waiting in the wings for Moreland to fail or Adrian Beltre to age.
Baseball Time in Arlington looked at the Rangers ZiPS projections, which are built on the assumed infield of Beltre Andrus Kinsler Moreland. The author and commenters seem to agree that moving Kinsler to first base could cost the team as much as two wins.
While Daniels and his front office clearly think along similar lines. The health of Lance Berkman might make the decision even easier, as he can step in when/if Mitch Moreland struggles. The Rangers have options because the Rangers have talent.
There is no need to rush Profar nor is there any need to expose Mike Olt to anything which might degrade his trade value. Just because the Orioles seem intent on playing their blue chip shortstop prospect out of position does not mean the Rangers need to risk screwing with theirs in the same manner.