We're finally sitting on the opposite side of the holiday season, which means that the glut of remaining mid-tier free agents out there on the open market should be cleared up within the next couple of weeks -- and while the negotiations figure to be a bit more complicated and protracted where the few remaining high-end commodities are concerned, we should also see the likes of Edwin Jackson, Ryan Madson, and Prince Fielder deciding upon their new 2012 homes in the relatively near future. Yu Darvish finds himself in a similar boat, but wields far less in the way of decision-making latitude, and will either agree to terms with the Rangers on a long-term deal in the next 2½ weeks or reach no agreement at all.
Darvish isn't really the player that I wanted to discuss this morning, though. Neither, for that matter, is Fielder -- not directly, at least. I don't have a very solid read on whether the Rangers actually will make a run at Fielder or not, but then I can't imagine there are too many people outside of the organization's protective umbrella that have a very good read on that, either. I do, however, think it's far enough within the realm of possibility that it can be discussed unless/until it becomes abundantly clear that the Rangers aren't going to be involved, or unless/until the Rangers decide to hotly pursue some other alternative to the current status quo at first base.
And, yes, I get that Mitch Moreland isn't as bad as the power-deficient, .241/.300/.367-hitting black hole that we saw during the second half of last season (and amassed more than 200 plate appearances in that span), and that every aspect of his offensive game was to some extent compromised by a surgery-necessitating case of tendinitis in his right wrist, and that the Rangers have reiterated their loyalty to Moreland multiple times this winter. I also get that wrist injuries are tricky, power-sapping buggers, that it would thoroughly behoove the Rangers to push for Fielder given their position on the win curve in relation to the Angels, and that -- assuming the reinvigorated talk of the Rangers actually having a $3 billion-plus TV deal in their future is legitimate -- they would seem to possess the future revenue streams needed to gun for another big-ticket player with confidence.
But, again, Fielder isn't really who I wanted to discuss so much as the concept of bringing somebody like Fielder to Arlington. One of the questions that has been brought up with respect to replacing Moreland is how the Rangers would go about optimizing their lineup with a true everyday first baseman in the fold, since that eventuality would entail virtually no playing time for Mike Napoli or Michael Young (or anyone else) at first base, and would further tighten the playing time crunch. It's all well and good to proclaim that the Rangers could bring such a first baseman in here with no repercussions as far as anyone else's allotment of at-bats, but the reality is that Moreland started just 89 games at first base last regular season, with Michael Young (36 games started), Mike Napoli (27), and a long-departed Chris Davis (10) filling out the back end of the depth chart.
If the Rangers did end up landing somebody like Fielder (or any other first baseman of his higher-quality ilk that the coaching staff would look incredibly foolish in ever benching for any reason other than injury), you would have Young, Napoli, and every other regular that tends to garner between 5-10 games at DH per season battling for 650-700 plate appearances. I'm inclined to think that would be a problem closer to being desirable than wholly unwelcome, but it would be a problem all the same -- Young hasn't responded very well to role reductions in the last couple of years, Napoli is too damn good to leave riding the pine too often, and, well, I think you get the point.
Since I do tend to enjoy messing about with playing time projections, here's one way that the Rangers could configure the lineup while keeping everyone reasonably happy:
C: Mike Napoli (80 GS), Yorvit Torrealba (80 GS)
1B: Mysterious First Baseman That's Too Awesome To Bench (160 GS)
2B: Ian Kinsler (145 GS), Michael Young (15 GS)
3B: Adrian Beltre (140 GS), Michael Young (20 GS)
DH: Michael Young (100 GS), Mike Napoli (40 GS), Everyone Else (20 GS)
It is important to note that the perception of Napoli as an everyday catcher doesn't really dovetail with reality; he's never started more than 84 games behind the plate in any calendar year (including both the regular and post-season), and only started 72 games total behind the plate last season. It's nice to think that he could reasonably handle a 90- to 100-game regular-season assignment without great difficulty, and, heck, he probably could do it -- but catching games in Texas is an altogether different experience from catching games up north or out west or in a climate-controlled bubble, and one of the stated (and reasonable) concerns we've seen put out there in the past is that playing Napoli behind the plate too often could ultimately undercut his offensive production.
A team with serious designs on getting back to the World Series probably shouldn't be too quick to assume that an important offensive cog like Napoli can suddenly handle a materially greater workload than he's ever handled in his major league career without suffering from any sort of ill consequences -- and therein lies the main reason why you want a nice, dependable, borderline starter-quality backstop like Torrealba around. You could probably make a vaguely similar argument for the handling of Kinsler and Beltre, both of whom are max-effort ballplayers with tendencies to get hurt due to their styles of play and both of whom can derive some benefit from staggered rest days that leave them on pace to amass around 140-145 starts in the field during the regular season.
That does leave Michael Young out in the field more often than any defense-conscious observer would prefer, but there's the other bit of upside in this plan -- by adhering to this plan, you can still get Young anywhere from 135-140 starts without too much difficulty, and perhaps drive that number a tick or two higher if you cut back your Too Awesome To Bench first baseman's playing time to 150-155 starts. That may not be the ideal solution, but it should be good enough to ward off any potential dispute between Young and management about him being marginalized ... and if it's not good enough for whatever reason, well, it's been insisted time and time again by the guys down in the trenches that he's all business once spring training gets underway, so let him get mad. He did, after all, play mad pretty well last year.
So, there you go. Yes, I did just write an entire post on how the Rangers would deal with a playing-time crunch in the still-unlikely event that they upgrade from Moreland. Yes, most of these hypothetical problems would instantly cease to exist if the Rangers stuck by Moreland. If you actually made it as far as this point, though, consider what it says about you that you actually read this entire post. A great, big, long, fake post.
Have you ever thought about it?