Hart’s return could affect M’s trade deadline plans

corey hart 300x207 Harts return could affect Ms trade deadline plansAfter spending almost seven weeks on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Corey Hart returned to the Seattle Mariners’ lineup on Friday night against the Chicago White Sox. In a corresponding roster move, the M’s designated veteran outfielder Cole Gillespie for assignment; he hit .254/.312/.324 in 78 plate appearances this year. In another move, they club opted to send first baseman Justin Smoak down to Triple-A Tacoma instead of having him rejoin the big league club, meaning Logan Morrison will continue to be the M’s regular first baseman. Smoak, like Hart, was on a rehab assignment that was set to conclude next week.

This is where things could begin to get even more interesting for the Mariners. The July 31st non-waiver trade deadline is now less than four weeks away and the club has a hold on one of the two American League Wild Card slots. Seattle’s success this season has been largely due to the performance of their pitching staff — which has been one of the best in all of baseball. Up to this point, their offence has managed to provide enough, but the need for another bat has been painfully obvious since Spring Training.

When the M’s took a one-year flier on Hart his winter, they were hoping to get something resembling the 2010-2012 Hart: a right-handed bat with 30-plus home run power. That in and of itself may have been wishful thinking considering the slugger didn’t play a game in 2013 after having surgery on both of his knees. So far this season Hart hasn’t provided much offensively. Sure, his five home runs this year are only one fewer than Robinson Cano has, but his .209 batting average in 156 plate appearances prior to hitting the disabled list is nowhere near his .273 career average.

Even after the club added Hart, many believed that Seattle was still a bat short and it’s safe to say that Logan Morrison isn’t quite the substantial upgrade that was really needed. LoMo has been hitting better of late and with Brad Miller‘s resurgence at the plate over the last month, the lineup is definitely in a good spot for a timely upgrade in the outfield/designated hitter/first base department.

A report from Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com yesterday suggested that Seattle would be willing to part with Brandon Maurer and another piece in a potential trade for Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo. This isn’t the first time that the M’s have been linked to the 25-year old, but it is the first time we’ve gotten word on what the potential cost of acquiring him would be.

It would certainly make sense for the Mariners to deal from their reliever surplus and names like Maurer and Dominic Leone could be of interest to other teams. But a deal for a player like Viciedo would only make sense depending on who the other player involved would be, of course. Myself and many others have been impressed by Maurer’s first couple appearances out of the bullpen and he does have the makings of a potential future closer, but that shouldn’t make him untouchable. The question at hand would be if Viciedo specifically, is the player that would help the Mariners.

Viciedo has mainly played right field this year for the White Sox, but has seen time in left as well, so hypothetically he would displace Dustin Ackley in left should he be acquired. It has to be noted though, that while Ackley is struggling mightily this year with the bat, he has been very sound defensively and has helped shore up an outfield that was downright terrible in the field at times last year. Viciedo isn’t even an average defender in the outfield and owns a -12.7 UZR in his outfield career. The athleticism of centerfielder James Jones could help offset some of the liability Viciedo would bring, but the downgrade that would take place defensively by replacing Ackley projects to be very noticeable, and possibly disastrous during a Chris Young start.

That’s not to be a complete downer on Viciedo however, as he does carry something sorely needed by the M’s: right-handed pop. The Cuban outfielder has a career 88 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, but also has a career 90 wRC+ against right-handed pitching so he wouldn’t necessarily be acquired for the purposes of being utilized in a platoon situation. For what it’s worth, eight of his nine home runs this year have come against right-handed pitching.

Remembering that Seattle does appear to have the financial flexibility to make a trade, it wasn’t all that long ago that they were deemed to be tapped out by the front office. Viciedo’s 2014 salary was just $2.8 million and he’s owed about half of that now so he would be a potential fit financially as well. It’s even possible that the club could pick up the outfielder as well as a starting pitcher with a low salary to provide some extra depth.

I have a hard time seeing Hart get much action in the outfield for the remainder of the year, but there could be a plausible scenario where he spends some time at first base, which would open up the designated hitter spot for someone like Viciedo. Or, the club continues to play the matchup game and starts Ackley on nights when Young is pitching and brings him in to the game late as a defensive replacement.

All that’s speculation on my part, however, and really it’d be ideal to take a week or two to evaluate Hart and see if Ackley can build off of a strong serious against the Houston Astros to begin July. But sitting back and hoping for the best is a terrible idea and something the Mariners must avoid.

If Hart is able to return to his pre-knee surgery form then certainly the M’s could get away with making a small or medium upgrade to their offence with a guy like Viciedo. But there’s a very real possibility that he won’t and Seattle should be looking at a bigger fish anyway.

Prospect Insider’s Jason Churchill compiled a list of potential trade targets for the Mariners, and on that list was Texas Rangers outfielder Alex Rios. The former Toronto Blue Jay would seemingly fit the Mariners perfectly — right-handed bat, a solid defensive outfielder, has plus speed, and is capable of hitting at Safeco. However, as Jason notes, it’s unknown at this point whether or not the Rangers will be willing to part with their outfielder as he has a $13.5 million club option for 2015. And if he is made available and ownership is willing to eat what’s left of the $12.5 million he’s due this year, he’d definitely cost more than a reliever and a secondary prospect.

But that doesn’t mean the M’s don’t have the pieces to get a deal done.

Realistically, Seattle needs a healthy, productive Hart and a secondary bat that they bring in from outside the organization to solidify the lineup. Does a healthy Hart and Viciedo take this lineup to another level? It’s unlikely. Does Hart and Rios? Probably.

The Mariners can’t afford to stand pat now that the Oakland Athletics have made the first blockbuster of the summer by acquiring starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs for three top prospects. The A’s were one of the top teams in baseball to begin with and they just got a whole lot better.

Seattle has an opportunity to make something out of Cano’s first year in blue and teal and what’s turning into an outstanding season from Felix Hernandez, and there’s no reason for them to waste it.

Written by Tyler Carmont

Entrepreneurial student living in Vancouver with a love of all things baseball, hockey and rock’n’roll. Been riding my polar bear to Safeco for more than a decade. I proudly support all MLB players from the great white north, and long for October baseball to return to the Pacific Northwest.

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12 comments on “Hart’s return could affect M’s trade deadline plans

  1. topherdig says:

    For me it has to be big trade or don’t do it, except maybe Willingham but don’t give up much. I like this proposal…http://marinerbrainstorm.com/2014/07/07/the-counter-blockbuster-outline/…M’s get Price and Jennings for lots , but not DJ or Walker. But don’t know if they do it but maybe. M’soffense needs lots more than Hart.

  2. maqman says:

    Cole Gillespie went hitless in three at-bats for Toronto after being claimed off waivers. I think I would still prefer him to Viciedo. Willingham and Byrd make sense if the price is right.

  3. rotoenquire says:

    With Oakland landing those 2 starting pitchers. I say DO NOT make a huge deal. Find what value you can and not give up any top tier talent to do it. Wait for Soriano to slip through waivers give him a shot at DH. Hoped the M’s could have got Reimold but the Jay’s got him. To over pay now that the A’s have the best rotation in the AL would not be smart. We have no shot to win our division and to maybe get a wild card or a one game play off. Not worth moving any of our future for.

  4. Tyler Carmont says:

    I think any *big* move for offense is more likely to happen in the off-season. For one it’s generally easier, and two there’s a lot more options. The Twins aren’t ready to sell yet so Willingham and Morales are still of the board, and who knows what the Phillies are trying to do right now with their set of old guys and pair of stud pitchers. I could see Byrd eventually being available, but the cost is going to be high. Should the M’s be willing to part with top prospects to get a moderate upgrade? My gut says no, but I could be convinced otherwise. Certainly I do agree with the preposition that Seattle doesn’t routinely have a shot at the playoffs and should take advantage of that, but any move in the next three weeks has to be made within reason and not with haste.

  5. ripperlv says:

    To get shut down by Noesi. What a slap in the face. Ouch!

  6. ripperlv says:

    How often do the M’s have an shot at the playoffs? Makes sense to try and get some offense and give it a shot. Easier said than done. I’m not sure that Hart is even healthy enough to be a DH. Viciedo and his career .300 OBP make sense in that the M’s are about the worst OBP team in baseball. Shades of Peguero. I don’t think Rios has the power to help the lineup that much, but is he a good all around player. Willingham and Bryd make sense at a reasonable price. We have the pitching, so don’t screw that up. Long on pitching talent, short on depth. Just might have to go back to the free agent market in the off season, but would surely like to see a few more bats this season.

  7. Jerry says:

    I agree with Paul: the pickings look slim, and the M’s shouldn’t go all in like the A’s just did.

    The guys being mentioned prominently right now that make sense are Viciedo, Rios, and Willingham. However, all come with HUGE caveats. The other guy who would make sense: Carlos Quentin.

    Rios would be a great fit as he’s good defensively, can steal bases, and has some power. He’s also under contract for another year, and could help us in 2015 when our chances to make a serius playoff run are even better. As an athletic player, I think he’s likely to age well. But he plays for a division rival, and the cost could be exhorbinant. I wouldn’t deal Walker or Paxton for him. I also wouldn’t deal any of our top prospects, like Peterson, Guerrrero, or Wilson. Would Franklin or a package built around relievers like Maurer or dissappointments like Smoak, Ackley, or Montero get it done? Probably not.

    Willingham would be a great addition, as he’s the best hitter of the group. As a guy with RH power AND ability to get on base, he’d be a great addition. However, he has no defensive value, struggles to stay healthy, and is a free agent. Basically, he would be best as a DH. If he replaces Ackley in LF, the Ms would take a significant hit defensively. It obviously depends on cost, but I’d hate to see the Ms deal good young players or prospects for a rental like Willingham.

    Viciedo is interesting because it’s a pure upside move. Right now, Ackley is a better player. Thus, it would make no sense to acquire Viciedo unless the Ms think he might improve dramatically. And honestly, that isn’t a ridiculous proposition. He’s only 25, and has talent. Maybe he freaks out and turns into Edwin Encarnacion or Nelson Cruz. But that’s a big if. Basically, switching Ackley for Viciedo is just trading a bit of power for defense. I haven’t watched Viciedo much, so perhaps the Ms see some upside. But that’s the only reason why this would make sense.

    Finally, one other guy who would be an interesting addition: Carlos Quinten. He a very similar player to Willingham – Oft injured, good RH hitter with power and ability to get on base, bad defensive player who would benefit from time at DH – but might be a better pickup. He’s signed for $8 mil next year with a $10 mil option in 2016. Plus, he’s only 31, so the extra years of control would be a plus. When he’s healthy (which isn’t often enough), he’s a .270/.370./500 type of hitter. And unlike the Padres, the Ms can play him at DH to help his ability to stay healthy. Most importantly, he’s having an off year, and I’m sure the low-budget Padres would love to ditch his $9.5 mil contract for this year plus the future cash he’s owed. The Ms could even look into a package of Quentin and Ian Kennedy, who is also likely on the trade block I’m thinking he could be a great under the radar acquisition for some team. If I were Jack, I’d be talking to the Padres.

  8. clayton puglisi says:

    Up until about yesterday, I thought the Mariners should stand pat and play this out to the deadline. Now with Oakland making a big move and the angels getting Joe thatcher and Jason Grilli to help with a terrible bullpen, the Mariners need to do something. I have always said that the pitching is there for this team to be successful, if this team can just score a little bit more, this team has a chance. Viciedo is a an upgrade from what they have up there now in the Outfield offensively. Jones defensive value could offset Viciedo defense. Rios would be an even better piece but he could cost mouth full.

  9. Paul Martin says:

    Oakland’s trade shows what it will take to beat out the other teams competing for the limited talent out on the market right now. There are so few offensive players available, you are not willing to give up your top prospects to get one of them. I would love to have Rios, but Texas is going to insist on Walker in any trade scenario. I wouldn’t do it…

    Seattle has a great chance to get a wild card WITHOUT making a big move. Then in a one game playoff, we have King Felix.

    Unless a reliever and lower prospects can get us a bat, I would prefer to stand pat and build on what we have in the offseason. No need to do something stupid. Rome wasn’t built in a day…

  10. Tyler Carmont says:

    I agree with you both, but the real dilemma here is simple: supply and demand. The marketplace is almost empty for quality hitters and the few that come available are going to be very costly. I’m not offended for trading a reliever and a minor prospect for a guy like Viciedo who offers some offensive upside, but the reality is that may be the most cost effective move for GMZ to make. I’m with Churchill — acquiring Rios would be the way to go, but what’s the cost going to look like?

    I’m sure Jon Daniels is aware of his team’s situation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s okay with moving Rios, but I have a feeling he’s going to downplay that card and let a team blow him away with a trade offer. And as we’ve seen with the M’s and their pursuit of Justin Upton not that long ago…the waters become very murky.

  11. Shawnuel says:

    I agree with Bookbook. Rios, Marlon Byrd, Josh Willingham….all seem like better targets than Viciedo. Viciedo would command less in return, however and possibly has better upside than the other three.

  12. Bookbook says:

    Acquiring a hitter with a 90 wrc and negative defensive value? What’s the point? Why give up anything to “gain” that?

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