Corey Hart Disabled, Nick Franklin Able
Over the offseason, the Mariners acquired a pair of bat-first players coming off knee surgeries. Both players are currently on the DL with leg injuries, and while that seems like an over-simplification, it also kind of doesn’t, in that it feels kind of obvious that we’ve wound up here. It wasn’t a guarantee that Corey Hart and Logan Morrison would develop the problems they’ve developed, but it’s not a surprise their lower bodies are currently preventing them from participating in the games the team plays.
Hart just hit the DL with a hamstring strain, and not one of the minor ones. He hurt himself stealing second, which seems like just teasing fate, and while now Hart isn’t disabled in the way that gives you a placard and better parking, he is disabled in the way that he’s still mostly able and collecting a massive paycheck. The estimate at the moment is that Hart will be missing from the Mariners for 4-6 weeks, and that’s a significant percentage of the rest of the season.
To replace Hart on the roster, the Mariners have recalled Nick Franklin. That’s a stupid word — it’s not like the Mariners forgot about Nick Franklin. All anyone’s literally wanted to talk about lately has been Nick Franklin. So the Mariners brought Nick Franklin up, which was going to happen soon anyway, and from the sounds of things Franklin will play all over the place, including the middle infield, the corner outfield, and DH. He’s not up to replace Brad Miller, but he’s also not up to watch Brad Miller from the dugout, so Franklin’s going to get his at-bats and he’s going to keep getting at-bats if he hits.
Is This Bad For The Team?
In almost all circumstances, it’s bad to lose a starter to injury. Hart has been the Mariners’ DH, demonstrating a preference for playing Corey Hart, and now the Mariners have to give those plate appearances to other guys. This is a decision the Mariners didn’t want to have to make. But it’s important to note that Hart hasn’t been hitting very well. I don’t think he’s as bad as his slash line, and just the other week he basically had two doubles turned into singles, but think of it this way: the rest of the season, Hart projects for an OPS in the mid-.700s. Franklin projects for an OPS in the low-.700s. And, in Tacoma, Franklin has been beating the living crap out of the ball.
Hart, in the majors, has under-performed. Franklin, a step below the majors, has as many walks as strikeouts and a slugging percentage that starts with a 6. Franklin’s hit even better than he hit last year in triple-A, and last year in triple-A, he forced his way up with his hitting. Granted, that was followed by a hot streak and a long big-league slump, so it’s not like Franklin has proven himself against the best, but this is his opportunity, and he’s not trying to replace David Ortiz.
Most simply, Franklin might be a slightly worse hitter than Hart. Or he might not — Franklin might have improved, and Hart might be declining. What Franklin provides that Hart doesn’t is flexibility, so a number of players can shuffle through DH in Hart’s absence. And this gives the Mariners an opportunity to challenge Nick Franklin’s bat without yet giving up on Brad Miller. By discipline, Miller is getting better. By hits, Miller is getting worse. The Mariners know what Miller and Franklin are defensively, but they don’t know what they are as bats at the highest level, and now they can see them both. That could help down the line if Miller continues to fight it. It’s easier to stomach a defensive downgrade if you know for sure you’re getting a considerably better bat. Franklin’s going to get a chance.
Of course, it is worth noting that Hart is a righty slugger and Franklin is a switch-hitter who bats righty like Hisashi Iwakuma break-dances. Since 2012, Franklin has 33 dingers batting lefty and one dinger batting righty. He’s a switch-hitter who really isn’t, so he makes the Mariners even more lopsided, and some of the time, that’s a problem. But, 63% of the Mariners’ plate appearances have come against righties, and I’d rather a player be useful a lot of the time than some of the time. Of all the concerns about the Mariners’ roster, the handedness isn’t high on my list.
So Corey Hart’s going to shut it down for a little while. Nick Franklin will take a lot of the playing time Hart’s giving away, and if Franklin performs, the playing time will keep on coming. There’s reason to believe Franklin’s as good a hitter, and this is a way to introduce his bat without yet having to make a call on Miller, who Lloyd McClendon thinks is progressing. In terms of expected performance, the Mariners aren’t meaningfully worse than they were a couple days ago. And now their lineup’s going to have another interesting young hitter, a hitter who’s done all the right things since returning to the minors. For sure, Nick Franklin’s got issues to iron out. Corey Hart has a .295 OBP. It’s not the worst thing to be forced into this.