ARLINGTON -- Designated hitter remains the last mystery in the Rangers' lineup. Mitch Moreland is the leading candidate, but he has not been anointed as such, and the Rangers still have five weeks to go before Spring Training.
Even Moreland is unsure of what might happen before it's time to officially report to Surprise, Ariz.
"The way it's gone, I'm still not sure," Moreland told reporters at a Rangers Winter Caravan stop on Sunday. "They have definitely made a lot of moves and been very active this offseason. From what I know right now, I'm still here and still a Texas Ranger and happy to be here, and looking forward to the season."
Moreland finished last season as the Rangers' starting first baseman. But he lost that job when the Rangers acquired first baseman Prince Fielder from the Tigers for second baseman Ian Kinsler. On the depth chart, Moreland has been pushed to the designated-hitter spot, but that may only be a part-time role as a left-handed hitter.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels has at least acknowledged the possibility of acquiring a right-handed bat to go with Moreland at the position. Michael Choice, acquired from the Athletics on Dec. 3, is another platoon possibility with Moreland.
The Rangers, depending on how much payroll flexibility they have, could still add another big bat to what they already have. Nelson Cruz is still available, and Daniels remains in contact with Cruz's agent, Adam Katz. Kendrys Morales, a switch-hitter and a player the Rangers have shown interest in at times in the past, also is still a free agent. Beyond that, the free-agent market is getting thin as far as quality hitters from the right side of the plate.
Another available right-handed hitter is Mark Reynolds, who hit .220 with 21 home runs and 67 RBIs for the Indians and Yankees last season. Against lefties, Reynolds has a career .238 batting average with a .475 slugging percentage. Reynolds also can play third base, which would give the Rangers insurance behind Adrian Beltre.
The Rangers also may be saving up for a push at free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, which would be a major financial commitment. If Tanaka goes elsewhere, the Rangers still want to add starting-pitching depth, especially after losing Derek Holland for at least the start of the season after he underwent surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee.
Moreland has shown at times he can be a productive everyday offensive player. He just hasn't been able to stay healthy the past two seasons, and both times, injuries seem to have knocked him off his game.
He was hitting .272 with 10 home runs, 25 RBIs and a .513 slugging percentage after 55 games in 2012 when he went on the disabled list on June 20 with a strained left hamstring muscle. He came back after the All-Star break and played in 59 games, hitting .278 with five home runs, 25 RBI and a .426 slugging percentage.
Last season, Moreland was hitting .288 with 12 home runs, 29 RBIs and a .561 slugging percentage in his first 58 games before going down with a strained right hamstring. He was only out for two weeks but hit .189 with 11 home runs, 31 RBIs and a .345 slugging percentage in his last 89 games.
"Ups and downs," Moreland said. "I felt like, especially my first half [in 20130, was pretty good. I struggled a little bit in the second half, but that's part of the game. It's going to happen. I'm going to try to learn from it and try to get better from it.
"You can find some positives and negatives. You try to build on the positives and fix the negatives as best you can. I want to be more consistent."
The Rangers, now that they have Fielder, have talked about the possibility of Moreland being used in the outfield. He has played there occasionally in the past. But what they need most is to identify a designated hitter. Right now it appears to be Moreland, unless the Rangers aren't done shopping this winter.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less