By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s three new bats and counting now for the Seattle Mariners after a busy Wednesday at the winter meetings that saw them sign free-agent Corey Hart and acquire Logan Morrison in a trade from Miami.
Both will join a roster that, officially, should add free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano, at 10 years and $240 million, at a news conference tentatively scheduled for this afternoon at Safeco Field.
“Coming here (to the meetings),” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “one of the things we talked a lot about (after landing Cano) was a right-handed bat.
“We felt we really needed that because the rest of our club is so left-handed oriented. To get a right-handed bat was really important to us.”
That right-handed bat is Hart, who didn’t play last season after undergoing major surgeries on both knees. He batted .270 in 2012 with 30 homers and 83 RBIs in 149 games.
Hart, 31, agreed to a one-year offer that includes a $6 million guarantee with incentives capable to boosting the value to $13 million. That was more than twice the offer tendered by Milwaukee, where he spent the last decade.
“I can’t get into specifics right now,” said Hart, who made $10 million last season with the Brewers. “But this was a family decision based on a lot of factors.
“The Mariners showed they were sincerely interested in me and made a strong push. No hard feelings toward Brewers. This was just the best thing to do for me and my family.”
That strong push, coincidentally or not, came shortly after the Los Angeles Dodgers appeared to pull outfielder Matt Kemp off the trade market. The Mariners were generally viewed as the likeliest club to acquire Kemp.
And then, not long after they snatched Hart away from the Brewers, the Mariners completed a deal with the Marlins to obtain Morrison, a left-handed hitter, for hard-throwing reliever Carter Capps.
Injuries limited Morrison, 26, to 178 games over the last two seasons, and he became expendable earlier this week when the Marlins signed Garrett Jones to be their first baseman.
Morrison batted .242 with six homers and 26 RBIs last season in 85 games. He made $491,500 but is likely to triple his salary this winter through arbitration.
In Capps, the Mariners surrendered a 23-year-old righty who was 3-3 with a 5.49 ERA in 53 games last season while registering 66 strikeouts in 59 innings.
Both acquisitions are pending physicals, which limited what Zduriencik’s comments in terms of their anticipated roles. But both are first basemen/outfielders, which creates a potential logjam with Justin Smoak.
“I think Justin, right now, is our first baseman,” Zduriencik declared. “There’s no question. I think the pending deals would give us flexibility. It doesn’t mean anyone on this club is going to get moved.”
Zduriencik indicated he believed the two pending additions can each spend considerable time in the outfield in addition to drawing duty at first base and designated hitter.
That could be more of a hope than a realistic expectation.
Hart previously indicated he strongly preferred to play first — although he could also DH — while he recovers from his two knee surgeries.
Morrison played only first base last season for the Marlins after registering notably poor defensive stats (one example: minus-36 in defensive runs saved) in 240 games as a left fielder over three previous seasons.
Rival clubs believe the Mariners will now look to trade Smoak, who is eligible for arbitration after batting .238 with 20 homers and 50 RBIs in 131 games. Industry projections peg his 2014 salary at $2.8 million.
Several clubs, including Milwaukee and Tampa Bay, are searching for first basemen. In any event, Zduriencik indicated the Mariners aren’t necessarily finished with their off-season overhaul.
The club’s payroll currently projects at roughly $82 million amid indications it can go to $100 million or more.
“I think we’re still going to keep our ears open,” Zduriencik said. “We have conversations going on. We’ll see. We’re listening…It’d be nice to add another starting pitcher, but you have to look at your options.
“Eventually cost is going to be a factor.”