What Do Corey Hart, Logan Morrison Moves Mean for Mariners' Post-Cano Plan?

Jason Martinez@@mlbdepthchartsContributor IDecember 11, 2013

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With star second baseman Robinson Cano in the fold after agreeing to a $240 million deal last week, the Seattle Mariners have executed their first two moves in an effort to build around him. 

Longtime Brewers first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart agreed to a one-year deal earlier Wednesday, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, that will allow him to try to rebuild his value—he missed all of last season recovering from multiple knee surgeries—before reentering the free-agent market next offseason.

Less than an hour later, Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reported that the M's had acquired another first baseman/outfielder, Logan Morrison (pictured) of the Marlins, for hard-throwing reliever Carter Capps. The 26-year-old, who has also had knee troubles over the past two seasons, is expected to play left field.

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 02:  Logan Morrison #5 of the Miami Marlins celebrates after hitting a two-run homer in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on July 2, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

If it sounds familiar, that's because Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik also loaded up on similar players last offseason. Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse were added through trades, while Raul Ibañez was signed to a one-year free-agent deal. All three fit best in a designated-hitter role.

With first baseman Justin Smoak and a catcher, Jesus Montero, who was also a better fit as a designated hitter, already in the mix, manager Eric Wedge was left to figure out how to fit all of the imperfect parts into the defensive puzzle. Morales split his time between first base and designated hitter, while Ibañez and Morse were miscast in the Mariners outfield.

Now, barring another trade that would send Smoak or Morrison elsewhere, is new manager Lloyd McClendon headed for the same predicament? Not quite. But if they plan on adding another big bat, he very well could be. But it could be a very good problem to have if they can add another impact hitter to the middle of the lineup.

While the Dodgers are saying that they won't trade Matt Kemp, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN, and Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports is hearing that the Mariners are not interested in free agent Shin-Soo Choo, former Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz is still a possibility. With Hart guaranteed only $6 million and another $7 million in incentives, according to Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times, the M's appear to have the potential to make at least one more big-money acquisition.

ARLINGTON, TX - JUNE 29: Nelson Cruz #17 of the Texas Rangers fields a fly ball to center field hit by Brandon Phillips #4 of the Cincinnati Reds in the third inning in the interleague game at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on June 29, 2013 in Arlington, T
Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

Adding Cruz (pictured) to man right field would likely create a competition for the center-field job between Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders, although one could also be traded. Ackley, who finished the 2013 season with a .795 OPS over his last 61 games, has drawn interest from the Mets, Yankees and Padres, according to Heyman

Saunders, who would be a terrific fourth outfielder, would also be popular on the trade market, giving the team at least two good young position players—second baseman Nick Franklin is likely available after the Cano signing—to offer in a trade. 

As things stand, the Mariners could trot out a lineup that looks like this: 

1 Dustin Ackley, CF
2 Kyle Seager, 3B
3 Robinson Cano, 2B
4 Corey Hart, DH
5 Justin Smoak, 1B
6 Logan Morrison, LF
7 Michael Saunders, RF
8 Mike Zunino, C
9 Brad Miller, SS

Add Cruz, who has an .842 OPS with 27 homers per season since 2009, and it could look like this:

1 Dustin Ackley, CF
2 Kyle Seager, 3B
3 Robinson Cano, 2B
4 Nelson Cruz, RF
5 Corey Hart, DH
6 Justin Smoak, 1B
7 Logan Morrison, LF
8 Mike Zunino, C
9 Brad Miller, SS

Even with the addition of Cano and possibly a hitter like Cruz, the Mariners, who signed an estimated $2 billion network deal with DirecTV back in April, could still have the ability to sign a big-name starter or acquire one and enter 2014 with a payroll under $100 million—they currently have less than $40 million committed in guaranteed contracts, according to Cot's Contracts.

Rays ace David Price is a possibility, although the team's hesitancy to include top prospect Taijuan Walker in a deal and Price's lack of interest in signing a long-term contract with the team could complicate things. 

With the top free-agent starters still available, could the M's dive into that market and add Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana? I wouldn't count them out. 

The rotation could end up looking something like this: 

1 Felix Hernandez, RHP
2 Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
3 Ervin Santana, RHP
4 Taijuan Walker, RHP
5 James Paxton, LHP

Not bad, right? 

It seems like ages since the team's 116-win season of 2001, the year of its last playoff appearance, which was followed by back-to-back 93-win seasons. In 10 seasons since, it has had a winning record twice while finishing last in the division seven times. Mariners fans should be excused if they're not believers quite yet.

But could 2014 be the year they turn things around? 

If Ackley, Morrison and Smoak, all former top prospects, can have halfway-decent seasons, and Miller and Zunino can continue to develop, this group has the potential to be very good with Seager, Cano, Hart and potentially one other impact hitter forming the heart of the lineup. 

Combine that with a starting rotation that includes ace Felix Hernandez, the very underrated Iwakuma and Walker, one of the top pitching prospects in the game, and the M's would appear to have a legitimate shot in the AL West. 

At the least, Mariners fans should be cautiously optimistic that Zduriencik has his team headed upward in the American League.


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