Hart, Morrison, And Something For Everyone
Jeff Passan just put something up at Yahoo! about two agents fighting in the winter meetings resort parking lot. As Passan says, it’s maybe the most interesting thing to happen at the meetings so far, as the biggest move was a three-way trade in which the best player is Mark Trumbo. With the pitching market on hold and so many moves having already been made over the previous few weeks, the meetings have been relatively slow, but then Mariners fans have at least had some material to talk about Wednesday. Earlier today, the Mariners signed Corey Hart to a one-year contract, and then barely minutes later it came out that the Mariners also traded Carter Capps for Logan Morrison. In the time it takes to make a sandwich, the Mariners picked up two significant players, and now we’re that much closer to seeing what the overall picture will look like next March.
The pair of moves is so interesting specifically because it’s so interesting. They might as well be grouped together, since they practically happened together, and what’s notable is that there’s fodder for the most ardent front-office supporters, the most stubborn, outspoken critics, and everybody in between. Truly, there’s something for everyone, no matter where they might be found along the organizational opinion spectrum.
We can take the super positive angle first. Hart’s a great get on a low-risk, one-year deal with a $6-million base. He missed literally the entire season, but he’s not old and over the previous three years he was one of the more productive hitters in all of baseball, with a hell of a lot of power. He’s a good bet to out-hit Nelson Cruz in 2014, and he might even stand a decent chance of out-hitting Shin-Soo Choo, and both those free agents are looking to really cash in. Hart can’t hurt very much, but he can deliver very much, and he makes the Mariners better without taking anything away from the future. What’s not to like?
And then there’s Morrison, who the Mariners got for a reliever with nothing to throw to left-handed hitters. A reliever with diminished velocity and unstable mechanics. A non-elite reliever. Morrison isn’t that far removed from being an upper-level offensive prospect, and while he was on the market, smart teams like the Rays and Pirates checked in to see what they could make happen. He’s supposed to be healthy now, after fighting some knee issues, and he has a good approach, and he’s basically an upside get. He’s under team control for three years, should he take a step forward. He’s 26 years old and his OBP in the upper minors was north of .400. Morrison has potential. Capps has potential, too, but better to have the bat with potential than the reliever with potential, most of the time.
And having Hart and Morrison adds flexibility because now the Mariners can deal Justin Smoak. Or, they can turn around and deal Morrison if they want, maybe as part of a bigger package. There are still teams out there looking for cheap first basemen, and suddenly the Mariners have cheap depth. There’s nothing wrong with having options.
Now we can shift to the negative outlook. You know who Corey Hart is a lot like? Michael Morse. You know who Logan Morrison is a lot like? Justin Smoak. You know who haven’t worked out for the Mariners recently? Michael Morse and Justin Smoak. You can only complain about Hart so much, since he’s affordable and he required nothing in the way of a long-term commitment, but it’s easy to interpret Hart as just the latest in a series of intended dinger-providers. Who knows what he can do after a year off, and reports say the Mariners are giving Hart a base salary that’s about the same as where the Brewers’ offer would’ve topped out. Hart seems like a bargain, but the market allowed him to be a bargain, which might mean he’s not a real bargain at all. And he’s not even the most troubling half of this pair of moves.
Over parts of four seasons, Logan Morrison has posted a career WAR of 1. That’s according to FanGraphs. According to Baseball-Reference, he’s posted a career WAR of -0.1, and that’s while being an above-average hitter. The year Baseball America called Morrison baseball’s #20 prospect, it called Smoak baseball’s #13 prospect. It called Dustin Ackley baseball’s #11 prospect. It called Jesus Montero baseball’s #4 prospect. The Mariners have seen enough of these guys threaten to bust, and Morrison isn’t automatically better just because we haven’t been the ones watching him struggle. His offense has taken a step back, and he doesn’t seem to be an adequate defender anywhere.
And the Mariners say they intend to keep Smoak where he is. Of course, they also say they will turn Nick Franklin into a utility player, so, you know, whatever, this is just how things go this time of year. But the Mariners have been Smoak supporters for a while, and if they do keep him in place like they say, that means Hart and Morrison will split time in left field and at DH. The way it’s been explained to me is that both players will get about half the time at both positions. That means the Mariners would have two left fielders coming off three major knee surgeries.
Morrison might well be a replacement-level player. Hart wasn’t an asset in the outfield even before he busted both his knees. This would be an example of the Mariners both getting suckered again by Smoak-like potential, and ignoring the importance of defense as they did with Morse and Raul Ibanez. If anything the Mariners needed one fewer Smoak, not a second one, playing a defensive position he shouldn’t play. Maybe if Morrison and Smoak were in a job share, you could wait to see if one stepped up. Maybe if the Mariners weren’t in position of needing to win soon, you could wait to see if one stepped up. But Morrison doesn’t look like a great gamble as a half-time outfielder, and Smoak and Hart are forcing him into that position. Though he has the prospect background, that’s getting further and further away, and he’s got 1500 big-league plate appearances suggesting what he is.
If you’ve got material for the most positive people, and if you’ve got material for the most negative people, you’ve got material for everybody else somewhere in the middle. So this has been a pretty fascinating day, with no real consensus and with a lot of potential implications. Myself, I like the Hart move quite a bit, even if he is just another dinger hitter. Dinger hitters can be good! Especially when they don’t cost you much. In isolation, I’d like the Morrison move, too, because I’ll take potential for a young reliever. But it’s a strange fit for this team if this team really is going to hang on to both Morrison and Smoak going forward. Neither have hit very well, and the guy expected to play in the outfield isn’t real good at that. It’s bad for the defense, and how high is Morrison’s upside, really? Is this the best way to maximize the chances of winning in the next few years, before Cano turns the wrong corner?
This does open the door to in-season flexibility, in that, if Smoak struggles, the team could try Morrison at first and someone else in the outfield. In a sense, they have two simultaneous chances to find a young first baseman. It’s just that one of them won’t be playing first base out of the gate, if things stay as they are. That’s weird, and together, these moves do suggest the Mariners still highly value power and don’t highly value defense. That’s about how we thought of them, so it’s no surprise we are where we are now. But we could still definitely be worse off, if the Mariners, say, caved to Nelson Cruz’s lofty demands. The front-office philosophy led to a couple interesting players, and neither is expensive. It could be a lot worse. Things are sort of odd now, but the offseason’s far from over, and for the Mariners I think today was more good news than bad. A few more days like that and we could really have something.