Justin Smoak Returning
It’s been rumored to happen for several days, but according to Ryan Divish, the Mariners are activating Justin Smoak from the DL and sending Alex Liddi back to Tacoma. Smoak didn’t exactly light the world on fire in Tacoma, but he’s apparently healthy enough that the team feels comfortable bringing him back.
The only question now is what that move means for the line-up. In Smoak’s absence, Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales have been sharing the 1B/DH jobs, which is where they both belong. Morse hasn’t played the outfield since May 28th, as his leg issues have kept him from being able to run, and Morales’ back started giving him problems after he played first base 14 times in 16 games, and he hasn’t touched the field since.
If the Mariners want to stick Smoak back into the line-up, they basically have two options: put Morse back in the outfield or create a 1B/DH platoon that gives all three of them regular days off. Realistically, they should probably do the latter.
Despite the team’s glaring lack of outfielders, Morse just isn’t physically capable of playing the OF at an acceptable Major League level. For his career, he has a -17 UZR in over 2,200 innings, and running at half speed, he’d be even worse. While playing the outfield, Michael Morse provides no value to the team, as his defense more than offsets any contributions he makes at the plate. He’s okay at first base, since doesn’t have to move around as much there, so limiting him to 1B/DH duties is more likely to keep him healthy and maximize his value.
Not that Jason Bay, Endy Chavez, or Raul Ibanez provide any value in the outfield either — or even the recent version of Michael Saunders, though at least he still has talent — but none of those three are going to have any trade value at the deadline. The Mariners could probably give Ibanez to a contender who wanted a left-handed bat off the bench if they wanted, but you’re not getting anything in return for him. Playing those three regularly is a problem from a winning games perspective, but you’re not actively tanking potential trade value.
With Morse, though, sticking him in the OF and giving his legs a chance to tighten up again might actually take away from the team’s chances of moving him for something in order to salvage some value from the debacle of a trade that brought him back in the first place. If the Mariners just tell him that he’s a first baseman who will get some DH at-bats too, they have a shot at keeping him healthy through the end of July, and might be able to convince an offensively challenged contender that he could fit into their needs for the stretch run. You’re not going to get a king’s ransom for Morse either, but there’s a better chance for teams to put in positive scouting reports on the guy while watching him play first base and hitting some homers than butcher balls in the outfield and missing time because his legs are hurting him.
Smoak isn’t good enough to be an everyday player anyway, and Morales’ health problems mean that scheduled days off aren’t the worst thing in the world for him. Toss in Morse’s leg issues, and the best bet here is probably for a 1B/DH rotation, giving all three a chance to play both spots but not asking any of them to be everyday players.
And then, in July, the Mariners can ship Morse off to a contender and play Smoak everyday the rest of the year if they want to give him a final push to see what he do as a full time player. For the next six weeks, though, a job share is probably in order, because the idea of Michael Morse as an outfielder just didn’t work.