ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There are plenty of statistics, traditional or advanced, that can give you a good sense of a baseball player’s worth and Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland pays attention to a few of them.
But one indicator occurred to him just a few days ago that felt particularly meaningful.
This season marks the first time in his major league career that Moreland has played meaningless games in September.
“This is definitely different for me,” he said. “I’m used to playing right up until the last game with something on the line. It’s not a good feeling.”
Moreland played for five postseason teams during his seven years with the Texas Rangers. In 2013, the Rangers missed the wild card by one game after a furious September charge.
The Rangers lost 95 games in 2014 but Moreland had season-ending ankle surgery in June.
In three seasons with the Sox, Moreland was an important member of two postseason teams and had an .898 OPS in 11 playoff games last fall for the World Series champions.
Moreland’s 48 career postseason games are tied for 11th most among active players.
“My goal has always been to win and help my team do that in any way I can,” Moreland said before the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Red Sox, 7-4, on Monday night. “Everything else is part of that.
“The goal is always to win the World Series and we did that. Obviously last year was special and this year we came up short. But, absolutely, I feel like I’ve succeeded here.”
For Alex Cora, a rookie manager in 2018, Moreland was a valuable conduit to the clubhouse.
“He was important, very important,” Cora said. “I played with him [briefly in 2010 with Texas] and knew him coming into the situation . . . For all the positives last year, there were a few things that we had to work on in the clubhouse and on the field, and he helped me out.
“He understands where I’m coming from and I know he works, how he operates, and what kind of teammate he is. It’s been gratifying. I’m a big fan of his.”
Moreland learned the importance of leadership from Texas teammates Adrian Beltre and Michael Young during his first few seasons in the majors.
“Early in your career you don’t think about that. You’re looking for somebody to help you. But as you get on, you learn to appreciate your experiences and try to pass that on,” Moreland said.
“I would like to say I’ve played the game the right way throughout my career. Kept my head down and worked hard. I’ve enjoyed every part of it.”
Moreland’s two-year, $13 million contract ends after the season and he will return to free agency at the age of 34.
Moreland is prepared for what figures to be a difficult transition given the cold reception aging hitters have received the last two winters.
“It was bad the last two times I went into free agency and I came out of it with a job,” Moreland said. “I’m not really worried about it yet. I just want to enjoy this last week with these guys. It’s a great group. I’ll worry about the rest when I get there.”
Moreland has an .827 OPS, 18 home runs and 56 RBIs over 57 games, having missed nearly two months with a quad strain.
The Sox are more likely to look for a younger and cheaper alternative at first base, perhaps Michael Chavis or Bobby Dalbec with 19-year-old former first-round pick Triston Casas on the horizon.
The coming months could be anxious ones for Moreland. He has nine years and 67 days of major league service time, just shy of the 10 years every player aspires to. Fewer than 100 active players have reached that mark.
“Is 10 years my final goal? No. But it definitely would be an accomplishment,” Moreland said. “Not a lot of players can say they’ve done that.”
There are practical considerations, too. Ten years of service time fully vests a player in the pension plan. That guarantees from $68,000 to $220,000 a year depending on what age you start to collect.
For now, Moreland will soak in what are likely his final days with the Sox. Three of those games will be back at Globe Life Park in Texas starting on Tuesday. Then it’s back to Fenway Park.
“Just try to enjoy it,” Moreland said. “It’s been fun. I just want to enjoy it and worry about the rest later.”