If you can’t beat him, sign him
Oakland A’s pitchers will no longer have to worry about being crushed by Mitch Moreland, because he’s now their teammate.
The 35-year-old Moreland is a veteran of 11 seasons in the majors, and overall he’s graded out as around a league-average hitter who is best cast in a platoon role. But that sentence sells short his ability and accomplishments.
The lefty provides consistent power, with around 24 long balls per 162 games, and eight seasons of 15 homers or more. He’s had some down years, but the best work of his career was his most recent sample in the shortened 2020. His resume also includes a 2018 All-Star berth, a 2016 Gold Glove, three trips to the World Series, and a ring. His career numbers in 1,179 games (4,284 plate appearances):
Moreland, career: .252/.320/.448, 101 wRC+, 176 HR, 8.6% BB, 21.4% Ks
He debuted in 2010 for a Rangers team that went on to win two straight AL pennants, and had a career year in 2015 for Texas (2+ WAR, 23 HR, 117 wRC+). He signed with the Red Sox in 2017 and gave them three solid seasons, including an All-Star nod in their championship ‘18 campaign.
Then in 2020, beginning his fourth year in a then-rebuilding Boston, he caught fire at the plate and earned a deadline trade to the contending Padres. He cooled off in San Diego, but his season line is still impressive.
Moreland, 2020: .265/.342/.551, 135 wRC+, 10 HR, 9.9% BB, 21.1% Ks, .322 xwOBA
Splitting those numbers up, in Boston he had a 206 wRC+ and .375 xwOBA, and in San Diego it was a 59 wRC+ and .264 xwOBA.
Overall 2020 was actually his worst year on Statcast, only 10 points above the league-average xwOBA. Usually he’s 30-50 points above average. One way or other, he can still hit.
As an extra bonus, Moreland will no longer be doing that hitting against the A’s. His 22 homers at the hands of the green and gold are his most off any opponent by far, and many of them have been clutch blasts to change games. In 95 games he has an OPS of .859 against the A’s, including a .535 slugging percentage. That’s basically Prime Khris Davis.
He’s been even better at the Coliseum specifically, where his 15 dingers are the most he’s hit at any park that he’s never called home. Only Tropicana Field comes close, and he’s got an extra 100 points of OPS in Oakland.
Moreland, Coliseum: .275/.340/.561, 15 HR, 36 RBI, in 53 games
Speaking of Davis, the recent departure of the A’s longtime designated hitter means there’s an obvious fit for Moreland on the 2021 A’s. They didn’t have a clear answer for DH despite several internal candidates, and that was also an opportunity to add a lefty bat to their righty-heavy lineup. Moreland checks both boxes, and while he’s not a Davis-level dinger monster he does strike out less and get on base slightly more, and he’s coming off a career-best performance instead of a career-threatening slump.
In addition to his offense, Moreland has generally been regarded as a plus defensive first baseman in his career, with the hardware and the advanced metrics to back it up. Of course, that won’t be necessary in Oakland with three-time incumbent Fielding Bible winner Matt Olson manning the position. Moreland has also played a handful of innings in the corner outfield, mostly RF.
Like Sergio Romo before him, Moreland is a player who always seemed like he’d eventually find his way to the A’s, and now it’s happened at an opportune moment on a modest salary. And on an emotional fan level, I’m not kidding when I say I’m happy we won’t have to face him this year, because he really does always seem to come up clutch against the A’s. If you can’t beat him, sign him.
Granted, I was excited to finally see an all-out prospect battle for Lefty DH this spring, between a bunch of names we’d been following in the minors for years as well as a new Rule 5 draft pick and also Zombie Jed Lowrie somehow. And that’ll still happen, just with one less roster spot up for grabs and everyone knocked down a peg on the depth chart.
But if they were going to hedge on that prospect gamble by adding a safe cheap veteran in front of them, then I’m glad it was Moreland. He’s not a superstar, but he’s good, he’s a clean fit for the roster, and he didn’t cost too much. And I know it’s silly, but I’ve always wanted to see what he’d do in a full season at the Coliseum, even though his success there is likely a small-sample fluke.
If for some reason he doesn’t hit, then there’s a ton of depth behind him to take over. It’s not zero risk like a minor league deal, but it’s a worthwhile investment and it makes the 2021 team deeper and most likely better.