By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — First baseman Justin Smoak, armed with a new contract, shrugged off the looming competition from the two of the Seattle Mariners’ key offseason acquisitions.
Smoak said he was excited by the moves to sign free-agent Corey Hart and obtain Logan Morrison in a trade from Miami even though both are tentatively ticketed for at least some time at first base.
“I’m excited,” Smoak insisted. “I feel like it’s somewhat my job to lose. It’s always good to have more bats. After losing guys like (Kendrys) Morales and (Raul) Ibanez, you’ve added a couple of more.
“I’m ready to get this thing going.”
Smoak, 27, avoided arbitration Saturday by reaching agreement on a one-year deal for $2.7875 million that includes a club option and vesting clause for 2015.
The contract, which is loaded with performance bonuses, calls for a $2.6375 million salary this season with a club option for 2015 at $3.65 million with a $150,000 buy-out.
That $3.65 million for 2015 becomes guaranteed if Smoak gets 525 plate appearances or if he is selected as an All-Star, wins the Most Valuable Player award or is a Silver Slugger recipient.
“It’s pretty interesting going through that whole process thing,” said Smoak, who was eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career.
“But I think both sides were pretty excited to get something done, and we were able to do that. I’m excited to get it done now and focus on baseball.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon wants that focus to include some changes in Smoak’s approach at the plate when the Mariners begin full-squad workouts Tuesday at the Peoria Sports Complex.
“One of the things we’re going to try to impress upon him,” McClendon said, “is to be a good hitter, not a home run hitter. What that entails is using the whole field, driving balls to the gaps and being a good two-strike hitter.
“And when they make a mistake, you hit it out of the ballpark. But if your mind-set is you’ve got to go up there and hit a home run, you’re not going to be much of a hitter.”
Smoak batted .238 last season in 131 games with a career-best 20 homers but just 50 RBI. He then requested $3.25 million in arbitration, while the Mariners countered at $2.025 million.
Saturday’s agreement prevented the two sides from going to a binding arbitration hearing, which would have chosen one of the two submitted figures.
The Mariners have not had a case go to a hearing since 2003 with pitcher Freddy Garcia.
The abundance of performance bonuses in Smoak’s deal could boost the two-year value to $8.2875 million and suggest a willingness by the club to pay for performance — and Smoak’s willingness to bet on his potential.
“There’s a lot of potential there,” McClendon said. “He continues to improve and get better, but we’ve got to push those RBIs up and be a more-productive hitter.”
And is Smoak right? Is first base his job to lose? How do Hart and Morrison fit into the picture?
“He’s going to play first base and DH a little bit,” McClendon said. “One thing I know is the manager doesn’t make out the lineup.
“You go out and go three for four, hit a home run and drive in four runs … somehow, your name is in the lineup the next day. Your performance will dictate what the lineup is.”