LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — They might not be as splashy as signing Robinson Cano. They certainly won’t be as expensive. But on Wednesday, the Mariners made a pair of moves to bolster their 25-man roster and possibly add more production and power to the middle of their batting order to protect their $240 million investment.
Sources confirmed Seattle signed free agent outfielder/first baseman Corey Hart to a one-year contract that will pay him $6 million. It’s also laden with incentives — performance and health related — that could push his salary up to $13 million if they are met.
Shortly after the news of the Hart signing began to circulate, sources confirmed the Mariners agreed to a trade with the Marlins that would send hard-throwing reliever Carter Capps to Miami in exchange for first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison.
General manager Jack Zduriencik wouldn’t officially confirm either deal because the physicals for all three players had yet to be taken. Hart is taking his physical on Friday in Seattle. Morrison is also expected to take his in the coming days.
But he did speak to the idea of how it would change his roster and lineups.
“The pending deals that appear to be there would give us flexibility,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that anyone on this club is going to get moved. What it does do is add to our depth, if these deals come to fruition. And that’s a good thing.”
Zduriencik is quite familiar with Hart. As the Brewers’ amateur scouting director, Zduriencik drafted Hart in the 11th round of the 2000 draft.
There is some risk in signing Hart. He missed all of last season with surgeries on his knees. It’s the reason for the incentive-based contract. There was a thought he wouldn’t be able to play outfield because of them. But Mariners scouts have attended several of Hart’s private workouts in Phoenix, including one on Tuesday. They believe he’s healthy enough to play outfield a few days a week and then see time at designated hitter or first base.
Hart seemed optimistic.
“Knees good as well as the rest of me. Been working hard and glad to be able to get out there with this exciting club,” he said in a text message to the Associated Press.
If he’s healthy, the Mariners hope he can return to his 2012 form that saw him hit .270 with an .841 on-base plus slugging percentage, including 35 doubles, 30 homers and 83 RBI.
Morrison has also had his share of knee issues in the past few seasons. Following the 2011 season, he had surgery on his right knee. But he rushed back from the surgery in 2012 and the knee didn’t heal properly. He was shut down later in July and had surgery to repair a damaged patella tendon in September of 2012. He started the 2013 season on the 60-day disabled list. He appeared in 85 games, hitting .242 with a .709 OPS with six homers and 36 RBI. Going into the 2010 season, Morrison was considered the No. 2 prospect in the Marlins organization behind Giancarlo Stanton.
While Morrison can play left field, he isn’t stellar defensively. The knee issues haven’t helped that. He played mostly first base last season.
The addition of Hart and Morrison give the Mariners two first base/DH types and part time outfielders. What does that mean for current first baseman Justin Smoak?
“Justin, right now, is our first baseman,” Zduriencik said. “There’s no question.”
That could change if another team comes calling with a good offer. Until then, they will try and find playing time for all of them. Zduriencik said they’ll split up the time using outfield, first base and DH. With their past knee issues, both Hart and Morrison would also need days off.
“When you have depth, you have more options and that’s the position we’re in and that’s a very good position,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anybody is going to get traded. It’s created more competition and at the end, you’ll make decisions you think are best for your club. But any player on this club right now should feel like they’re on this club.”
ZDURIENCIK PLANS ON KEEPING ZUNINO
With Jack Zduriencik saying on Monday that prized pitching prospect Taijuan Walker was essentially off limits in trade offers, opposing team’s gazes turned to the Mariners’ best position player prospect — Mike Zunino.
The 22-year old catcher of the future is advanced defensively, has a bat with potential power and already has 52 games of big-league experience.
“He gets asked about,” Zduriencik said. “Nobody really picks up the phone and says I want to make a deal for Mike Zunino because I think people realize how difficult it is to fill that position.”
The Mariners know how difficult it is to find good young catcher, failing with Jeff Clement, Rob Johnson, Adam Moore and Jesus Montero.
“We’ve been trying to do it for five years, and now you have a kid that is under control for the next six years, he isn’t making much money and he’s got such an upside,” Zduriencik said. “Clubs will check in and say, ‘Are you going to do anything behind the plate?’ and we’ll say, ‘No, we’re fine where we’re at.’ There are calls. But we’re not interested in moving him.”