A healthy Hart could see plenty of outfield time this year

 While it may not be much of a surprise, some will be intrigued to hear that the Seattle Mariners’ plan on using Corey Hart as their every day right fielder should his health allow it. As we’ve all heard several times by now, Hart missed the entire 2013 campaign after undergoing microfracture surgeries on both of his knees, and hasn’t seen regular outfield time since the first half of the 2011 season. The Mariners had expected Hart to see the outfield a couple days a week back when they signed him to a one-year deal in December, but conventional wisdom placed him as a regular first baseman and designated hitter rather than an outfielder. Perhaps that’s changed.

I’m going to go ahead and get it out of the way immediately: Spring Training quotes are practically meaningless. Lloyd McClendon can say whatever he wants, Jack Zduriencik can say whatever he wants, and Hart can say whatever he wants too, and we should read little into it. Of course McClendon would love to see Hart in the outfield the entire season because it means he’s completely recovered from surgery and his bat has hopefully gone back to it’s 2010 form. Not to mention it would alleviate some of the 1B/DH logjam the Mariners seem to love creating for themselves. However, seeing the 31-year old start Spring Training with the outfield group has to be considered a good sign for what may come in the upcoming season.

Hart says that he’s been feeling good so far in camp and admits that his timing is still off, but that’s to be expected from a player who hasn’t seen game action in over a year. There’s absolutely no reason to try and rush Hart throughout Spring Training or force fate by playing him in the outfield if his body isn’t up to it. Many viewed Hart as the team’s primary DH heading into the season anyways, so if by chance he can consistently spend some time in right field for any stretch of the year, that should be considered a plus. Bottom line though, the Kentucky-born slugger was brought in to fill the void in the middle of the batting order, so as long as he’s hitting, the position he plays isn’t all that important.

Let’s play the optimistic game and assume Hart’s knees will be ready to hold a corner outfield spot come Opening Day and the McClendon fantasy is suddenly almost realistic. Corey’s never been confused for a Gold Glove caliber outfielder, but it’s not like the guy is a complete liability in the field a la Raul Ibanez of last year. He’s actually had two seasons in which UZR has rated him positively with 4.4 and 2.0 ratings in 2007 and 2011 respectively. In both years Hart played nearly 1100 innings, mostly in right field, which translates to about 122 nine inning games. From 2008-2012 with 2011 excluded, Hart averaged about a -4.68 UZR rating in the outfield over the four seasons which is really just below average. And if he’s hitting 30 long balls, a below average defensive performance is more than tolerable. For comparison’s sake, Ibanez hit 29 home runs but had a -17.1 UZR rating. Still wondering why his WAR was practically zero?

So even in the best case health scenario Hart will likely be below average defensively, but given the questions surrounding his knees, what he’s actually able to contribute on the defensive side of the ball in 2014 is anyone’s guess. Perhaps Seattle ends up with an outfielder who’s lost a step and will produce an UZR rating closer to the -8.4 he posted in 2010, the lowest of his career. If we do see that as the product of 80-100 games in the outfield this year I don’t think anyone should be too disappointed. In fact, it could be considered an almost miraculous upgrade over last year’s outfield “defence”.

Looking at more realistic scenarios, the Mariners could probably plan for about 75 games in right field from Hart this year since he’s going to need a couple months to get his endurance back and get his body used to the rigours of an MLB season once again. We’re likely to see a one game in right field followed by one game as designated hitter kind of rotation for the right-hander. Like I said, there’s no reason to push Hart too hard and especially not during the early part of the season. If Seattle employs a rotation like this for April and maybe even part of May and Hart’s still standing, perhaps they begin utilizing him in back-to-back games and see how he holds up.

By the time June and July hit, we should have a fairly good idea of what Hart’s outfield capabilities will be, barring any set backs or new injuries that might occur (fingers crossed). He did miss some time in 2012 with the beginnings of his knee issues and missed the first month of the 2011 campaign with an oblique strain, so concern over him being injury prone is mostly validated right now. The point though, is that when healthy, he provides plenty of right-handed power and should slide nicely behind Robinson Cano in the new look batting lineup.

Nothing’s been set in stone yet, but one certainly could get the feeling that Seattle plans on using Dustin Ackley in left field and Michael Saunders in center field on a regular basis to start the year at least. Saunders would be a much better fit in right field where he’s been consistent defensively, but considering the other roster options are limited, it’s likely he’ll get the nod in center once again. Willie Bloomquist figures to play the role of utility man this year and will probably see some time in the outfield as a reserve. Perhaps Abraham Almonte could be a surprise factor in Seattle’s outfield as well.

Although Almonte may be best served to start the year with the Tacoma Rainiers, it’s possible he could play his way on to the roster this spring as a super-fourth outfielder of sorts. If Hart does find himself rotating in and out of right field, the 24-year old may be a decent option to be the other half of that rotation. Almonte does have a capable glove and solid speed and would be very useful off of the bench, but there’s reason to think he might push for an everyday role if Ackley struggles in left and he gets off to a hot start.

There’s nothing wrong with stashing him in Triple-A to start the year either and letting things play out, especially since there’s still a chance Nelson Cruz could be eating up many of the Mariners’ available right field at bats.

An interesting note from today on Danny Hultzen who is expected to miss the entire 2014 season after undergoing rotator cuff surgery in October:

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Tyler Carmont

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54 Comments

  1. I see your point, but I honestly don’t see any of those players being traded anytime soon. The Dodgers are going to take their time with Kemp, as they should, and the Cubs still have a high price tag on Samardzija. The Blue Jays want to contend this year, and there’s no way they’re a better team with Franklin instead of Rasmus or Bautista. I know we’ve discussed Toronto as a trade partner numerous times, and there is some kind of a fit, but it just doesn’t look like there’s enough for anything to get done right now.

  2. The Marlins received a lot of talent in their fire sale, that has to be remembered. Nobody should confuse them as a contender any time soon, but if the Marlins can sell Stanton on being the face of their franchise (Fernandez could be too but Stanton’s been around a bit longer), I think for the right price he could be willing to stay. Miami has two years to make that happen. Also, you have to consider the major PR hit trading Stanton would create. Highly doubt that market can afford another one of those right now.

  3. Opinions change, especially if the team starts to show signs of improvement. How he feels today, may not be how he feels tomorrow.

  4. Don’t hold your breath on that happening. The Dodgers had too many starting pitchers last year and didn’t trade any of them.

  5. He’s explicitly stated to the media, directly, that he’s not happy with how the team is being run.

    This spring, he said that he would be open to possibly signing an extension if the club showed him they were committed to winning over the next year or so.

    Do the math: he wants to see the club change its MO over the next few years, and won’t sign until that happens. By that time he’ll be close to free agency, and his cost could be astronomical.

    I think its highly likely he is traded in the next year.

    However, pretty much every club in baseball would be interested in him. The M’s would have to sacrifice a lot of talent to get him. With a huge potential trade market for him, the Marlins could just wait for some team to overpay. RH power and young talent are prized commodities. It would cost a TON.

  6. Screw Stanton, if you like to fantasize go for Trout. The Dodgers will give up Crawford or Ethier once Kemp shows he’s back but they will not give up Pederson, they know his value and have no intention of trading him.

  7. How about adding the missing equation…….

    (Needs 2B, but would (or would not) likely trade said player, to create a new hole)

    Teams need lots of things, the question is, is it worth the hole they would ultimately create, to fill that need?

  8. I’m betting he signs a very profitable long-term extension. It’s not like Miami doesn’t have the money.

  9. Like minds. I wrote the same thing in regard to Walker-Seager, before I read this post.

    Miami will want more than prospects for an All Star caliber player.

  10. What outfielder? Who needs two infield and one pitching prospect, and would be willing to send back a legitimate outfield prospect. And don’t say Miami, because they are already on record saying they won’t trade Stanton.

    For Stanton, you’re more looking at a package that would have to include Walker and Seager, just to get in the game.

    Trades work to ways, not one way. So, while you can speculate, it’s far more difficult to find another team that needs what the Mariners have. You can’t simply look at it from Seattle’s point of view.

  11. If I were Seattle I’d be all in, despite having Brad Miller at SS. Seattle landing Diaz would free up Franklin & Miller with club control through 2019 for trade for their needed OF. Seattle starts putting Miller in a package with Franklin and Paxton (all 3 MLB ready and 18 years of club control between those 3) and all of a sudden Seattle could be in a very strong running for Stanton.

    Just checked out FanGraphs Depth Charts, which is an amazing breakdown of each teams strength, and the Marlins have the poorest 2B & SS positions in MLB. After analyzing the bottom 6-7 MLB teams that need either a 2B or SS, and reviewing the same teams that have very Strong OF’s I come up with the following potential players Seattle could end up landing for Franklin (and if they landed Diaz and included Miller++ for Stanton…here are potential trade partners for Seattle:

    Braves – Jason Heyward (Needs 2B)
    Marlins – Stanton (Needs 2B & SS)
    Blue Jays – Jose Bautista or Rasmus (Needs 2B Badly)
    Reds – Jay Bruce (Needs SS)
    Dodgers – Kemp (Needs 2B)
    Rockies – Carlos Gonzalez (Needs 2B)
    Brewers – Carlos Gomez (Needs 2B)
    Yankees – Gardner (Needs 2B & Future SS)
    Cubs – Their OF is horrible but avail is SP Samardzija (Needs 2B)

    The above list is what I come up with of strong OF’s (except for Cubs), that could lead to great trade partners for Seattle and Franklin (and Miller if Seattle could land Diaz).

    With Cano we know Franklin is good as gone before April 1, some of these OF guys are going to take a lot more than Franklin (ie: Stanton, Bautista, Gomez)

  12. I say Stanton is gone by July. Definitely by next offseason, but I’m betting by July.

  13. “If” Diaz can beat out Miller and Franklin for SS, it makes BOTH Miller & Franklin expendable. You start putting Miller & Franklin in the same package with Paxton and all of a sudden we’re talking a potential and strong Stanton package. I agree we have Chris Taylor coming up, but remember he didn’t hit AA last year, so he’s aways off still.

    I’m thinking totally of pulling Diaz off to put together a very strong package for that top OFer we need desperately.

  14. Hart in a hartbeat. Much more well rounded of a hitter, does have a couple 20/20 seasons to his credit, and is a better defensive player (relativeness is key).

    I think I agree with Edman on your second question; if you’re a bad fielder it’s going to show regardless of where you are. I think park factors are huge in determining that kind of thing. Jhonny Gomes can get by in left field at Fenway, but there’s no way I’d want him in right.

  15. I don’t like giving up on the Stanton fantasy, but he’s not going to be traded. And he especially won’t be traded for package without any true headliners. Think Walker/Seager+ to get into the ballpark. Miami wants to build around Stanton and despite the front office drama, I’m willing to believe if they say they want to keep Stanton around, they’ll be keeping him around for at least another year.

  16. If the Mariners had a deal for a starter or an outfielder based on a Smoak and Franklin package that made sense, I think it would’ve been done by now. That’s the ideal way to go of course considering what’s left on the free agent market doesn’t really help much. My gut says Morales will probably be brought in instead of Cruz who the Orioles are more high on (according to reports), and if Morrison and Hart seem healthy enough to see considerable time in the field, I think Smoak becomes expendable.

  17. I think that Morrison starting camp with the infielder group suggests that the plan is to nothing more than to start with him there and see what happens. He’s played more 1B than OF in recent memory as well. Smoak is allegedly still on the trade market so that may be a factor as well

  18. Also, the Mariners also have Chris Taylor. Why in the world would they be interested in Diaz, especially with the money he’ll command?

  19. The Marlins are not going to trade Stanton. That’s it, you can end it there. They don’t have to trade him, and are not going to commit another Miguel Cabrera.

  20. Why would any team put Diaz on a MLB roster, before he proves that he’s major league ready? I doubt that he’s that gifted. Diaz does not equal Puig.

  21. Really? You’re for taking a second overall pick in the draft, giving up on him, and make him a forth outfielder? He was taken with that pick because he has that kind of talent. Because Wedge didn’t know how to get it out of him, doesn’t mean you throw in the towel.

  22. I’d rather have Hart. When healthy, he’s been a .280/.350/.500+ hitter who won’t kill you on defense. Cruz is a .260/.320/.500+ hitter who does kill you on defense. Easy choice.

    However, the “assuming good health” part is where it gets dicey.

  23. The Marlins are not trading Stanton without also getting Walker. I want to keep Miller Im sure hes going to better that Diaz in the long run. They should try to sign that cuban OF and call it good and keep Paxton and Miller

  24. Am I here to amplify your level of enthusiasm? I’m not trying to kill any buzz, but let’s keep it realistic, and not make things bigger than they are. In two weeks, we’ll all have a better idea what this team is going to look like.

  25. Typically, LF is where you hide your defensive liabilities. But, the thinking for most RF play is that it requires a stronger arm. I’m not sure if you really can hide a bad fielder. I don’t know that it matters which field they play in.

  26. Also, keep in mind that the Mariners were HORRIBLE at holding leads in late innings last year. Yes, the offense needs some upgrades, but the bullpen should be much better this year (how could it not?). Not all is related to the offense.

  27. diderot,
    Even with the fences moved in the Left Field in Safeco requires the outfielder to cover more space. That is why I think fast Ackley, with his weaker arm, is more suited there than Saunders, who should be a slightly better Centerfielder. Right field requires the kind of arm that Ackley doesn’t have.

    I am wondering the same thing regarding Hart and Cruz. Isn’t it distinctly possible that the M’s backed off their negotiation with Cruz coincided with them seeing directly just how well Hart could run and throw while Corey worked out in Peoria in January. In other words, why spend big on Cruz if Hart looks to be just as good.

  28. Two quick questions for the group:
    –Assuming good health for both (I realize that’s a big ‘if’), is Cruz in any way preferable to Hart as RF/cleanup hitter?
    –Is there any evidence that playing left field is easier on the body than playing right?

  29. Seattle one of the teams on Cuban Diaz. I really LIKE this! If so and Diaz pans out that pushes BOTH Miller and Franklin to AAA, but more importantly a Diaz signing and him making the SS roster spot gives Seattle another piece (Miller) to a potential Stanton trade between now and July! You start mentioning Miller and Franklin along with Paxton in a deal (all 3 MLB ready with 6 years of club control), and suddenly Seattle has a strong making of a Stanton trade:

    CF Ackley
    3B Seager
    2B Cano
    LF Stanton (Diaz Signs: Trade Miller/Franklin/Paxton/+ for Stanton)
    RF Hart
    DH LoMo or Morales
    1B Smoak
    SS Diaz
    C Zunino

  30. Smoak isn’t going anywhere. He’s penciled in as the M’s starting 1B. Franklin could be dealt but only for the right offer.

  31. I really hope they can trade the spare parts for a real CF and let either Ackley or Saunders be the 4th OF.

  32. It’s been stated the LoMo will be the M’s primary DH and back up 1B, no more OF for that kid.

  33. If the M’s could swing that type of deal, it would have already happened.

    While I don’t agree with this logic, there is ample evidence that JackZ has dangled both Smoak and Franklin. I do agree that selling Smoak now MAY be underselling. This, of course, depends on Smoak’s 2014 performance exceeding what he has done in the past. I don’t take this as a given for the, at best, streaky First Baseman. The problem with Nick Franklin being blocked by Cano and being relegated to AAA is that this won’t improve his trade value.

    Thinking out loud. What if the M’s believe that Franklin can play SS nearly as well as Brad Miller? Would the team consider trading Miller instead? His trade value is seemingly higher (better perceived glove, more consistent hitter in 2013, less pop, though).

    (And how much actual interest might the M’s have in signing Aledmys Diaz to play SS?).

  34. “The anal retentive idea that stockpiling Nick Franklin in AAA is preferable to acquiring a ML-proven #3 pitcher or a solid Center Fielder is not in the best interests of the M’s.”

    If the M’s could swing that type of deal, it would have already happened.

    There is a chance that some team gets desperate and decided to deal for Franklin, but its unlikely. Teams like Baltimore, Toronto, NYY, and LAD have had huge question marks at 2B, but decided to not do anything about it. It would be strange if they suddenly changed their position.

    That said……it would be sweet if the Dodgers get freaked out over their current situation at 2B and offered OF Joc Pederson in return, that would be sweet. That trade would make sense for both teams: similar talents that fit team needs better.

    Smoak has very little trade value right now. Any deal would be a buy-low acquisition for the other team, and the return on him would likely be a joke. Might as well give him one more shot to turn into a good player. Sometimes a guy will flip a switch and just ‘figure it out’.

  35. Calling it “over-thinking” and “nothing has any bearing on the start of the season” is as speculative as those of us who enjoy reading actual signs (Hart working out in the OF; Morrison not) to anticipate how the GM will best position this team for success in 2014. Edman, have you ever heard the term “buzz-kill”?

  36. There are no definite signs. There have only been two days of full camp. You may wish to believe it, if it makes you feel better. But until camp starts to get serious, it all players getting acquainted with the coaching staff.

  37. People need to stop over-thinking the first few days of camp.

    Why? What’s the fun of under-thinking when definite signs are beginning to emerge??? I worked hard to get where I’m at as an arm-chair GM ;=0

  38. Of course if they get hot then you want to hang on to them.

    The significant question is in the perception of the buyer, and for the M’s, the quality of the player/s we would be getting in return. The anal retentive idea that stockpiling Nick Franklin in AAA is preferable to acquiring a ML-proven #3 pitcher or a solid Center Fielder is not in the best interests of the M’s. Also, the best way to increase a player’s value is by having him prove his productivity/performance in the Show. This will be possible for Smoak this season, but either Franklin or Miller (probably Franklin) will lose out in this real game of musical chairs. More time in AAA won’t enhance the loser’s value, only maintain the current perceived value. (It’s certainly a good insurance policy for the M’s though).

    Finally, if this team believes that LoMo can play solid 1B defense, then Smoak is much more expendable, especially if the M’s are thinking of bringing Kendrys Morales back at DH.

    In other words, if a Smoak/NFranklin/+ package lands the team a solid #3 pitcher or a proven outfielder, and opens the door to Morales coming back, then selling them at less than optimal value could very well make the 2014 M’s much more competitive as a whole.

  39. People need to stop over-thinking the first few days of camp. Right now, nothing has any bearing on the start of the season. Really, because Logan Morrison didn’t get used in the OF the first two days of camp, it suddenly has special meaning?

    Nothing extraordinary is going to happen right now. It’s all about evaluation.

  40. Trading Smoak or Franklin right now would be selling low on them. If they have a productive spring training then they will bring a better return later. Of course if they get hot then you want to hang on to them.

  41. I agree, Jerry. It also makes me wonder if Smoak/NFranklin are being heavily shopped right now with the idea of bringing in Kendrys Morales for 3 years $30-35MM to shore up the DH spot both this year and beyond Hart’s one year tenure.

  42. The only evidence is that while Hart is, Morrison, thus far in ST, isn’t being worked out as an outfielder. Of course, this could change.

    Another anecdote, perhaps telling, came during FanFest when LoMo assuming the Clubhouse jokester role vacated by Brendan Ryan, went into the audience when Robinson Cano was being introduced for the “Dugout” session. LoMo took the microphone and asked Cano if he didn’t think the M’s had that best looking left side of the infield in all of baseball. Cano smiled and laughed and got a kick out of this, but LoMo most definitely wasn’t referring to Smoak playing first base beside Cano. No reference by him to playing LF, so I think Morrison is eyeing 1B for himself. It definitely made me wonder what LoMo has been told by Lloyd and the M’s staff.

  43. I think this issue is one of the biggest story lines to watch this season.

    If Hart can play a credible RF for 100-140 games, it dramatically improves this team’s chance to field a solid team. I like the idea of having Almonte as a 4th OF who can contribute speed, defense, and a solid bat. But if Hart can assume most of the playing time in RF, it really helps the lineup.

    For instance, this:

    Zunino C
    Smoak 1B
    Cano 2B
    Seager 3B
    Miller SS
    Ackley LF
    Saunders CF
    Hart RF
    Morrison DH

    ……is much better than any of the alternatives. If that lineup can assume the majority of the innings in 2014, the M’s will be in good shape.

  44. Is there any evidence that Morrison isn’t being used in the OF? I’d be surprised if that was the case. With huge question marks surrounding Smoaks ability to be an everyday player and Hart’s injury history, Morrison’s ability to play both 1B and OF (at least in theory) makes him a nice piece to have.

    Plus, there is a non-zero chance that Morrison finally puts everything together and turns into an above average ML hitter.

  45. Yeah, I think you are right. Its not uncommon for hitters to improve their platoon splits early in their careers. I think this is probably his last shot, but even if he still isn’t as effective against LHPs, relegating a switch hitter to platoon work completely undermines any chance that that person will improve with coaching and experience. His overall numbers should and probably will dictate his playing time, and it might be smart to sit him against particularly tough LHPs, but giving up on him as a RHB seems a bit extreme right now.

  46. But, not running Logan Morrison through the paces in the outfield seems to indicate that he is not being considered there. Conversely, if the M’s didn’t believe––from just how he is currently running and moving––that Corey Harts’ legs couldn’t handle the outfield whatsoever, then it makes sense that the team wouldn’t jeopardize his key bat (and availability at DH or FirstBase) just for grins by working him out in RF. No, we shouldn’t read too much into early Spring Training, nor should we discount these developments as window-dressing either. Hart in RF opens up more key options for the M’s at DH/1B. (As such, I sense that the M’s bringing Kendrys Morales back has a higher likelihood than signing Nelson Cruz (with the lost draft pick that goes with him).)

  47. Looks like Chris Capuano will be signing with the RedSox. Unless Wolf surprises, this pitching staff is very weak on lefties, with Furbush as the mainstay, Paxton the unproven rookie and Luetge as a borderline candidate to earn a bullpen spot.

    I’m not a fan of Ervin Santana, especially for four years $50MM.

    I sure hope the M’s are highly confident in Scott Baker’s comeback.

    Which takes me back to the point that I find it hard to believe that the M’s are done with this offseason to shore up the rotation (and outfield).

  48. I don’t think using Hart in the outfield early in camp, means anything other than they are running him through the paces. People tend to read more into things than really exists. It doesn’t indicate anything about their desires to sign, or not sign, Cruz. No GM is going to start burning bridges.

  49. It’s interesting that Logan Morrison is not at all in the mix for the outfield. Is this just to push Smoak, or is a Smoak trade imminent? Also, I don’t see Bloomquist playing OF much at all since there is not a decent utility backup at 3B or SS (and either Miller or Franklin will be in AAA instead of rotting on the pines).

    The good news is that by now the M’s have a sense of Hart’s speed and OF range or they would not be prepping him to play regularly in RF. Seems to be a nail in the coffin of signing Nelson Cruz now.

    It just doesn’t seem that the M’s are done. Signing Chris Capuano as another needed lefty and a trade featuring Nick Franklin, Smoak?, and a pitcher not named Felix/Iwakuma/Walker/Paxton still seem like distinct possibilities to shore up our outfield.

  50. IMO, it’s too soon to delegate Smoak to hitting only lefthanded, at least to start the season. He has more value as a switch-hitter. To give up on him before the season starts, is foolish. Give him some time with McLendon and HoJo, then evaluate him.

  51. Smoak will be given an opportunity vs. LHP as he ended 2013 with 2 homers from the right side. I think those were his only 2 homers though. But I think the M’s are giving him his last shot and hoping Mac can do something with him. I wish the best for these guys but there are still alot of “if’s” out there.

  52. I’m not a medical expert, but playing catch from 120 feet now suggests to me that there’s a decent chance Hultzen could be pitching at full strength sometime in the next 6 months.

  53. I don’t see any reason for Hart to be playing the outfield vs. LHP. Both Smoak and LoMo are platoon candidates and the frees up plenty of 1B/DH ABs for Hart. That’s around 40 starts right there where he’s not in RF.

    I imagine Willie could get a lot of starts in the outfield vs. LHP but he’s also the righthanded caddy for the infield as well.

    Stefen Romero could have a role on this roster if he has a big spring. But ideally the team needs to go get a true 4th outfielder who can handle LHP to replace Gutierrez. I’m not sure why they haven’t signed Andres Torres yet.

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