Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
For the second time in six days, the Mariners have significantly improved their team. First it was by way of the still-unfathomable Robinson Cano deal, which, really, will probably always be unfathomable. Ten years! $240 million! Robinson Cano, True Yankee! Today the Mariners got a lot better again, signing Corey Hart to an incentive-laden one year deal and trading Carter Capps to Miami for Logan Morrison. This gives them a logjam at 1B/DH for the second year in a row, and again threatens to push a non-outfielder into the outfield. Factor in the continued presence of Justin Smoak, and the pieces just don’t seem to fit.
Justin Smoak’s natural defensive position is first base. LoMo’s is DH, as he’s simply an incapable defender at any position despite his youth. He’s had a couple of knee surgeries, just like Corey Hart, who, despite positive showings as a right fielder by defensive metrics, should be seen as a DH coming off injury. There’s now no spot on the major league roster for Jesus Montero, of course, but that was always the goal. There shouldn’t be room on the roster for Jesus Montero. But now the Mariners are going to have to do something to avoid playing a DH in the outfield any given day. A move has got to be made.
It’s hard to see how Smoak and Morrison could fit on the same roster since they are essentially the exact same player, former top prospect pedigree and everything. There have been some speculative murmurs that Smoak has more trade value, which would make sense given that Morrison was just had for a homer-prone reliever with an ERA in the fives. But Morrison also looks like the better player, given that he’s hit a little better and has smaller platoon splits. Morrison’s also a year younger and has more untapped power potential. Whichever one it is, all that’s clear is one of them has to go.
Luckily for the Mariners, there are plenty of teams in need of a buy-low starting first baseman. As it stands, James Loney is the only starter on the free agent market, and he’s going to command more years and dollars than his volatile bat is likely to be worth. The Pirates, Rays, and Brewers all have openings at first, and at least Milwaukee was involved on Hart until the end. The Rays were eyeing Morrison before he got shipped to Seattle. The Pirates fancy themselves contenders and their current incumbent is Gaby Sanchez. Someone has to bite.
Tampa Bay is the most intriguing trade partner because Tampa Bay is David Price‘s team. While the Rays are unlikely to send their ace to Seattle for a package built around James Paxton, Nick Franklin, and one of Smoak/Morrison, that doesn’t mean it’s not a deal they should do. The Rays had the pleasure of whipping Kansas City around in last year’s Shields/Myers swap, so don’t expect them to settle on anything less than a coup for Price. But the Rays also have Matt Joyce, and the Mariners really, really need outfielders. The Pirates have all kinds of young talent that they could send to Seattle for a surplus first baseman. The Brewers don’t have much of anything now that Norichika Aoki is a Royal, but hey, you never know.
What’s not yet obvious is the next move, but what is obvious is that the Mariners current 1B logjam is undeniable. They tried putting DHs in the field a year ago, and it didn’t work. If there’s anything to hope for, it’s that they learned their lesson last time around. A Nick Franklin trade has been seen as a given since the M’s signed Cano, and now the same should be assumed about Justin Smoak given the presence of Logan Morrison and Corey Hart. Just say no to fielding DHs, Mariners. Don’t do it.