In recent weeks, much of the discussion I've had with various people about the Rangers in 2014 has centered around the designated hitter position. More specifically, attempting to answer the question: Who exactly will the Rangers use at DH? When you're bored in the middle of the night, you tend to start thinking about these things and debating them in your head. In my case, I end up writing about it.
On the surface, it would appear that the organization's willingness to keep Mitch Moreland around -- and their subsequent unwillingness to deal him according to the Milwaukee Brewers -- would leave him being the favorite to man the position more often than not. That said, Moreland's .232/.299/.437 line in 2013 doesn't exactly ring the bells of confidence.
Despite starting off another season strong, following his return from a trip to the DL, Moreland was mostly ineffective with only streaks of productivity at the plate. He continued to struggle against lefties, sporting a .701 OPS with 3 home runs as opposed to a .752 OPS with 20 home runs against righties.
It seems to be the yearly storyline with Moreland during Spring Training; claims that he's finally figured things out against left-handed pitchers. Yet, every season, the results fail to translate over to the regular season when the games count. I've made it no secret in the past that I don't believe Moreland will progress against left-handed pitchers. Therefore, if Moreland is essentially a black hole in the lineup at DH against lefties, it leaves the Rangers possibly considering the possibility of a DH platoon.
If a platoon at DH were to come to fruition, the Rangers would have several options. First, internally, there's the option of having newly-acquired outfielder Michael Choice hitting against lefties. The downside to this is that you're taking outfield reps away from a young player that is trying to establish a place on the team. Other than Choice, the organization could still look to fill the void externally. Jeff Baker is still available, although he is reportedly close to choosing a team not named the Rangers. Baker, given his .314/.407/.667 line against lefties -- and 10 home runs in only 123 plate appearances -- would appear to be a fantastic option for this type of platoon, but it's likely he's looking for something on a more full-time basis.
For any of the aforementioned options, it all comes down to how much trust the Rangers organization has in Mitch Moreland. He's still here, which indicates a certain level of trust (or hope) that he can offer some sort of meaningful contribution to the club. He also offers some value defensively on days that Ron Washington decides to get Prince Fielder some rest, be it on the bench or at DH.
In an attempt to play devil's advocate, I'll throw one more DH option out on the table: Nelson Cruz.
Cruz has yet to be signed as we head into February and camps are set to open. Chances are, he's not received the types of multi-year offers he had originally hoped to receive after serving a 50-game suspension for PEDs. Despite the insistence of Jon Daniels that the club doesn't expect to make anymore serious moves -- something he also claimed prior to signing Shin-Soo Choo -- I'm inclined to believe that if Cruz could be had at the right price (and with ownership blessing), Daniels would pounce.
Were Cruz and his agent to decide to take a one-year deal, try to put up big numbers, and try the market against next offseason, the door could potentially be open -- even if only cracked open -- for the Rangers to bring Cruz back in a role that would have him serving mostly as a DH. I think I'd be speaking for most of us when I say I would prefer to not see him in the outfield, but in a pinch, he could certainly fill a spot.
Nelson Cruz has always been a streaky hitter, and chances are that won't change. At 33 years of age, he likely won't hit for average, and may not hit 30 home runs, but with a wRC+ of 122 in 2013, he could still offer some extra base power. When used in the middle of the lineup, he has also proven to have an ability to drive in runs. While RBI is sometimes an overrated statistic, having someone in the linup that can drive a runner in from third with one out or quickly give the team the lead with one swing of the bat is hard to replace, and on a one-year deal, the risk would be much lower on Cruz.
Perhaps none of this comes to fruition. Perhaps the Rangers decide to see what Moreland can do in Spring Training and, provided he produces, give him a chance to man the DH position against both lefties and righties. Assuming there is a belief that Michael Choice will eventually play in the outfield for the Rangers, it's unlikely we'll see him as half of a DH platoon. Whatever the case, it's both comforting and slightly unnerving that the Rangers have set themselves up to at least have more than one option set in stone in 2014.
It just depends on how much the organization trusts Mitch Moreland.