As you can see above from Jon Heyman, the Mariners have reportedly signed free agent Corey Hart, formerly of the Milwaukee Brewers, to a 1-year contract.
Hart, an 11th round draft pick by the Brewers when Seattle General Manager Jack Zduriencik was running that department for them, is a two-time National League All-Star with 143 home runs and a 118 OPS+ in his last six seasons, but he missed the entire 2013 season recovering from microfracture surgery on his right knee and ultimately getting surgery on his balky left knee as well. Before the injury, though, Hart -- who will turn 32 in late-March -- showed that he is a legitimate power threat. He has eclipsed 30 home runs in two of his last three seasons and posted an .857 OPS and .369 wOBA over that time. The right-handed hitter has a career slash of .300/.370/.526 against left-handed pitching, too, and he has put up an OPS of .969 against them -- good for the 10th best mark in the major leagues -- over his last three seasons. And as I’ve covered in-depth here of late, that area was a glaring weakness for the Mariners of late.
After being a right fielder for most of his major league career, Hart played in 103 games at first base for Milwaukee in 2012. But he has reportedly shed considerable weight while rehabbing his knees in order to give him some flexibility and play a bit of outfield. How much outfield can he realistically play? Hart told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel last month, “Running around won’t be an issue. I don’t know what teams want me to do. If it comes down to me playing 50% at first base and 50% in the outfield, that won’t be an issue.”
Hart does hit for considerable power, but he isn't a dead pull hitter. Check the graphic:
The Mariners are very light in MLB-quality returning outfielders so Hart could be huge for them if he can play in the outfield. But even if he can’t, his bat represents a real upgrade for a team that has been searching for right-handed power for what seems like forever. His arrival could mean that a few things have opened up for the Mariners, though. For instance, If Seattle decides they’d like to play Hart at first base only, Justin Smoak would become expendable. If they’d like Hart to DH then it likely means that they are unlikely to bring free agent Kendrys Morales back.
Whatever their plans, this signing looks like a good bet to bolster the offense in 2014 and provide some legitimate protection behind Robinson Cano. The team still needs more, but adding a bat of this caliber via what is likely a relatively low cost free agency deal should allow the club to make some more moves still. Stay tuned.
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