December 12, 2013
Signed 1B/RF-R Corey Hart for one year with a reported base salary of $6 million, with incentives that could add $7 million more. [12/11]
In making the case last year that we should be amazed by Buster Posey the player but not Buster Posey the comeback, we ran this table showing position players since 2001 who had missed a full season and come back. Their TAvs before are on the left, TAvs after on the right:
Caveats then, which are still applicable, and conclusions then, which are also still applicable: “That chart oversimplifies things: some of these players’ pre- TAvs might have been artificially low because of untreated severe injuries; some of the effects of the injuries might have shown up in the longer term; the parameters narrowly exclude Jesus Flores, whose recovery from a foul-tip shoulder injury has been depressing; etc. But at least it gives us a very general guide to ballplayer injuries: they suck, they take a while to heal, they can go bad, but they don’t, as a general rule, cost players their talent.”
Hart certainly had talent, particularly the sort of talent that you expect some GM to overpay for in the Great Power Panic of 2013. Consider the following lines from 2010 to 2012:
Now consider their 2013 seasons: One missed the entire year. The other missed two-thirds of the year, and when he played he hit his average fly ball 10 feet shorter and lost 80 points of isolated power. The injuries are different, but both have risk—Hart might never play a month straight again, but hand injuries can sap power for years. Grant a win or so of difference on defense + baserunning, but acknowledge that a seemingly smart front office gave the second guy four years and $60 million and be impressed that the seemingly dysfunctional front office scored the first guy for one year and just $5 million guaranteed. Without seeing Hart’s medical records—lol like I'd be able to conclude anything from Hart’s medical records—it looks like a pretty slick bargain in a world where inferior imitations are asking for $7 million and more comparable imitations cost 10 service years of mid- or bottom-of-the-rotation starters. He slots in perfectly at DH, where there won’t be as much stress on his knees and where his declining defense can retire to the country. Swell job by the messed up front office. A rose that grew from concrete!
Now that the Mariners have made their obligatory Dingers move, they can move on to other needs, like a rangy right fielder and somebody to throw strikes in the rotation and-- aw, crud, Morrison too?
Morrison, like Hart, plays corner outfield and first base and he plays them all poorly. How poorly is a matter of dispute, and goes a long way to determining whether you think he’s a replacement level player (as on B-Ref and FanGraphs, where his defense grades out at -36 and -50 over the course of his 363-game career) or nearly average (as you’ll find here, where he’s merely a -8 defender for his career). These sorts of clashes are never easy to resolve—as Colin Wyers once argued, bigger sample sizes might just calcify the misassumptions in each system—but if defensive metrics are immature they’re probably not incorrectly labeling plus defenders -50 defenders. Morrison’s glove certainly sucks.
You’ve identified a problem: Morrison and Hart can’t both play DH, so one will be on the field, and not even at first base (presumably), where Justin Smoak is coming off something of a breakout year (though his defensive metrics argue for DH duty, too).
While Hart was sitting out 2013, Morrison’s bat was. After putting up a 119 OPS+ from age 22-23 -- narrowly ahead of Jay Bruce, Matt Kemp and Jason Heyward -- Morrison’s power disappeared in 2012. Still, his .236/.321/.387 line in those seasons would have actually been better than the median for AL designated hitters last year, which is very faint praise but also means Michael Morse won’t be back.
So how does this play out? If Smoak doesn’t get traded for pitching, then it presumably goes like this: Hart plays right field as much as he can; Morrison plays right field as much as Hart can’t; and the Mariners have used up all the positions on the field to update their offense. There’s still a long offseason ahead, and there’s still a lot of years left for the Mariners to win something with this core. But, though Hart and Morrison make them better than they were this morning, it’s a pretty unambitious way to upgrade two very upgradeable positions. —Sam Miller
It didn’t really matter where Morrison ended up this offseason; it just mattered that he got out of Miami. While Safeco isn’t the hitter’s have we could’ve hoped for, it’s still much friendlier to left-handed power than is Marlins Stadium. Morrison will now also bat in a lineup with other real, live MLB players, and should have ample opportunity to score and drive in runs.
Next season is probably Morrison’s last chance in fantasy circles. Neither his 2012 nor his 2013 was terribly encouraging, but any modicum of BABIP luck should at least ensure that Morrison gets on base, and he still projects to hit 20-plus homers if given 500 PA. Overall, Morrison’s value as a Mariner is higher than it was as a Marlin, even if he’s more at risk of losing playing time down the road if he fails to produce.
Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero
It’s tough to properly rate these guys right now, but the M’s have certainly put a dent in the potential playing time of each player with the acquisitions of Morrison and Corey Hart. Smoak appears most likely to retain playing time for now, with Hart manning DH and Morrison heading to left field. Yet if the former top prospect struggles, it’s not difficult to envision a scenario in which Hart moves to first and Montero gets another crack at the DH job. If you’re hanging on to either of these players in a dynasty league—and let’s face it, some of you are—you need to feel a little worse about your odds of seeing these guys break out in 2014. —Ben Carsley
Acquired RHP Carter Capps from Seattle Mariners in exchange for Logan Morrison. [12/11]
A classic FIP/xFIP disagreement: By the former, Capps went from a closer-quality rookie (2.15 FIP) to a complete mess (4.73) in his sophomore year. By the latter, he was indistinguishable: 3.47 to 3.56. You get to decide how much you think a pitcher's abnormal HR/FB rates in small samples are meaningful.
Capps allowed 10 of his 12 home runs on a four-seamer that averages 96 mph with significant movement. His whiff rate on the pitch stayed steady, as did his velocity, as did his strike rate, and his groundball rate actually improved. And yet somehow one in five of those fly balls went over the fence last year, resulting in a .615 slugging percentage. According to Hit Tracker, only four of the 12 were “just enoughs,” so he wasn’t allowing cheapies.
Capps is relatively new to pitching still, he’s got a funky motion from a long frame, and his command was a problem even when he was dominant. And all that up and you can understand why the Mariners sent him back to Triple-A to find his center again:
“Carter has got to get his emotions under control on the mound, gather himself and not overthrow,” Stearns said. “He’s doing that a little bit. Terry Clark (Rainiers pitching coach) and I, we are going to work with him and turn this thing around.”
In other words, it’s far too simple to say that the home runs were just bad luck and he’ll revert to the mean. Still, if the going rate for an obnoxious first baseman who hits worse than the league average with Adam Dunn’s defense and an approaching arbitration payday is a raw relief arm coming off a terrible year, then the Marlins probably got the right raw relief arm coming off a terrible year.
Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @SamMillerBP