The Seattle Mariners signed Corey Hart to a one-year contract Wednesday, and shortly after a report surfaced that the cub had traded right-hander Carter Capps to Miami for Logan Morrison.Both players are best suited for first base and/or designated hitter.
Why did the Mariners acquire both?
If you ask them, at least today, they’ll tell you they’ve just added depth, suggesting the moves do not mean Justin Smoak is now trade bait. In April, if all three players are on the roster, one of them will either be on the bench or in the outfield. None belong in the outfield at all. It is, however, December, not April, and a lot can happen between now and then. The Mariners still need outfielders, plural, whether Hart or Morrison ultimately end up getting time there or not.
In September, GM Jack Zduriencik admitted the club was taking a risk at putting together an outfield that included Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez. The M’s know this kind of defensive setup doesn’t work all that well. The problem is it’s difficult to be fully convinced they’ve learned their lesson.
The club has been linked to another should-be DH Nelson Cruz all offseason, and Prospect Insider learned Wednesday that Billy Butler is still among the Mariners’ targets. There’s a chance that Smoak is traded, and it’s not out of the question that Morrison is included in another trade, too. If Cruz or Butler are acquired, I’d imagine both Morrison and Smoak are dealt before Opening Day. There are a number of teams looking for inexpensive first base options, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays and Milwaukee Brewers, who attempted to retain Hart, so there could be something to such an idea.
A deal with the Rays could be independent of, or connected to, a trade involving left-hander David Price, but it truly sounds as if the M’s are unwilling include Mike Zunino or Taijuan Walker in a package deal. Would Tampa value James Paxton, Morrison or Smoak plus Nick Franklin enough? If it were me, I’d want at leas one elite talent in a deal for Price, but the market for the former Cy Young winner appears to be quite soft.
Of course, Tampa could just hang onto Price, pay him around $13 million via arbitration in 2014 and explore their options in July or next offseason.
In Hart, the M’s have a power hitter that can do some damage versus left-handed pitching — a glaring weakness a year ago — and when healthy a solid bat that can produce and one not completely useless versus right-handed pitching, either. Hart will be 32 in March, but is coming off knee problems that forced him to miss all of 2013. Before the knee issues, he was considered a fringy defender in right field — not awful, but acceptable. He spent 2012 at first base where he looked out of place at times, but if he’s fully healthy he may be significantly better in 2014.
Considering he’s two years older and has gone through the surgeries on each knee since the last time he played even a fringe-average right field, it appears to be a bad idea to send him out there much going forward. The outfield, versus first base and designated hitter, also is much harder on the legs, suggesting he’s much more apt to wear down or even re-injure himself playing his natural position.
Morrison has played more outfield in the big leagues than he has first base, and he, too, has had knee problems. He’s just 26, suggesting he’s a better bet to put the injuries behind him than is Hart. Morrison, however, has never shown playable in the outfield. To be fair, he’s battled nagging injuries to his legs for much of his short major league career, but it’s clear he belongs at first base, which is where he spent most of his minor league career, sans the 2008 Arizona Fall League where he split time between left field and first base, and stint near the end of 2010 when he spent the final few weeks almost exclusively in the outfield.
Morrison’s value, if he’s to have any on the field, will come from his bat. He came through the minors batting nearly .300 with high on-base percentages. He flashed above-average raw power at all stops and has teased the same in several stints with the Marlins.
Morrison is patient, controls the strike zone and employs a doubles swing via slightly above-average bat speed. The problem is he hasn’t turned that natural ability into consistent production at the big-league level, and he hasn’t stayed healthy. Yes, he’s also very active on Twitter and at one point, at least in the eyes of the Marlins, it went too far and it’s believed he was demoted to the minors as some form of punishment.
Morrison, like Smoak, is arbitration eligible for the first time this season and figures to earn between $1.5 and 2.5 million in 2014.
The cost for Morrison was Capps, a pure reliever with a big arm and perhaps enough upside to suggest he could serve in the ninth inning at some point down the line. Capps has just the one year of service under his belt, so the M’s took on a wee bit of salary in this deal. If Morrison were to bottle what he showed in the minors and in 2010 in the big leagues, it’s an easy win for the M’s, regardless of what Capps accomplishes with Miami.
As much as I like Capps, he is just a reliever, a position that is relatively easy to fill and one the M’s can replenish within their own system — Dom Leone, anyone? Taking a shot at Morrison is probably worth Capps. This deal becomes a no-brainer if Smoak or Morrison become part of a bigger deal to add an impact player.
There continue to be signs that such a move is in the plans — nothing is imminent or even close — considering ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick’s latest report. A source tells Crasnick that Seattle will remain in the mix for Cruz. Unless Zduriencik is looking to repeat the mistakes of last season with the awful defense in the outfield, particularly the corners, adding Cruz to the rotation would mean one of the 1B/DH would have to go. Butler is another pure DH, though there is no risk of Seattle using the former prep third baseman in the outfield.
If this were Wall Street, I’d advise Mariners fans to wait and see how things play out over the next several weeks. Even if the club passes on Price and he goes elsewhere — meaning neither Smoak nor Morrison is being dealt to Tampa Bay — many scenarios are possible, and some of them look pretty good. Ya know, like not relying on awful defensive outfielders and having multiple options at first base and designated hitter. That alone is an upgrade over what took place a year ago.
Pitching still probable
The Mariners have not forgotten about pitching as the markets for relievers and starters has yet to develop much — see what Fernando Rodney is apparently requesting? — and the M’s are considered one of five teams in the running for Joaquin Benoit. Among rotation candidates, it appears the Mariners are either out on Matt Garza or are keeping their interest close to the vest. Same goes for Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.
Garza, tweets ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark, has told interested clubs that he may sign in the next 24-48 hours.
There is no progress with Masahiro Tanaka, though it appears his team’s owner would prefer not to give his ace away for a mere $20 million. Tanaka, however, is believed to badly want to play in the states. If Tanaka is posted and the system is approved with a $20 million maximum bid, I can’t imagine Seattle not giving it a shot, despite the contract likely exceeding what Yu Darvish cost the Texas Rangers.
Tanaka is not as good as Darvish, from what I have seen on video. He typically sits 91-93 with good life up in the zone and with good command and deception, and offers two breaking balls — both slurvy, one sharp and one more like a slow but true curveball, and split-change like offering. Stuff wise, he’s better than any of the three top starters on the free agent market, and a better investment since he’s just 25 years of age. I’d bet at least 10 clubs make a bid if he’s posted.
Jason A. Churchill
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