Offseason moves…what do the Mariners do at first base?

Seattle’s Achilles Heel

The Seattle Mariners outlook on the first base position was bright coming into 2012, after a sharp 2011 September for Justin Smoak and a scorching hot second half of the season for Mike Carp, the question was not if there would be success, but which one would deliver it.

With the addition of Jesus Montero taking up the DH spot, Carp found playing time in LF in order to get all three big bats in the lineup.

Then the reality of 2012 settled in. Carp struggled with injuries the majority of the season, and just when Mariners fans did not think it could get any worse the day Ichiro was traded, the M’s sent Smoak to triple-A Tacoma.

Not that Smoak’s demotion was undeserved; he finished the year (excluding AAA stats!) with a .217 BA and 19 HR’s and 51 RBI’s. Smoak has played 1B for three years in Seattle, and his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in that time is -0.1, gross.

In Carp’s 59 games with the club, he only added a .213 BA with 5 homers and 20 RBI’s. Maybe he was hurt all season, but in all likelihood, Carp is quad-A player, good to great in the minors, but not quite enough against Major League pitching.

Let’s assume GM Jack Zduriencik is not assuming turnarounds from either player and line up some options for the Mariners.

Free Agency

This is the least likely, and least expected of the three options for Seattle. The Mariners under Jack Z have been extraordinarily shy in the free agency department, except for the inadequate and overpaid Chone Figgins, of course.

Going into 2013, aside from Felix Hernandez, Franklin Gutierrez, and Figgins, no one on the Seattle Mariners is making more than five million dollars.

Dustin Ackley high fives

Is Ackley the solution to the Mariners’ woes at 1B? Only time (and next season) will tell.

Also, the free agent class at 1B is nothing to gush over.

Nick Swisher: His agent has mentioned that the most annoying player on the Yankees is looking for “Jason Werth money” despite never hitting well in Oakland or Chicago without Yankee-type lineup protection.

Adam LaRoche: Not a terrible option if the Mariners played every home game at altitude instead of sea-level and enjoyed watching swinging strikeouts.

Kevin Youkilis: No.


Getting warmer with this option, the M’s have pieces in the minors and starting pitching that teams covet. Excluding players that have giant contracts or are too costly, here are some options that might work.

Ike Davis: The Mets’ 1B is in need of a scenery change. New York can be difficult for players to escape distractions and Davis’ production has never reached his potential. This option seems the most likely for a Mariners team that is building on youth, perhaps struggling prospects could switch homes with a Smoak plus “pitcher A” for Ike Davis?

Mitch Moreland: Clearly, we have been down the Texas hitters’ road before without success, but it might be inexpensive to dip one more time.


This is the winner. The Mariners front office probably hoped to avoid this, but there are two first round picks that could play at first and produce.

Mike Zunino: I’ve written this before, and I love the idea of a Mariners first baseman with power. We haven’t had that since Russell Branyan, and that was a stretch.

Dustin Ackley: He played 1B at North Carolina, he played there this season and looked comfortable, perhaps Ackley is the answer. The main reason for doing this would be the rise of Nick Franklin, who is being groomed as the Mariners next great shortstop in the minors. If he is ready but the M’s want Brendan Ryan and his gold glove caliber defense to remain at short, this is an option to fill the infield.

The Mariners better think of something soon, 1B is too valuable a position to be filled with combined .215 hitters in Carp and Smoak.

Perhaps someone out of position will rise up like Eric Thames or Alex Liddi and become the best option, but let’s hope it works out before Spring Training.


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  • Zunino is far too valuable on defense to be moved to first. Especially when the M’s have no long-term solution there—Montero is a DH in the long-term. I really like Jaso, but his defense is still shaky.

    I do think signing Nick Swisher would be Seattle’s best bet, but I’m surprised you were so quick to reject Kevin Youkilis. He plays gold glove defense, and is a .338/.448/.493 hitter in Seattle. Yes, he’s struggled his last two seasons, but he’s still got more power and patience than Seattle’s other internal options.

    • Jeff

      Napoli is intriguing to me, I didn’t mention him because he is not listed in the 2013 free agency list I was looking at – Error on me

      • Jeff

        Zunino’s value is sky high to me, I don’t care where he is, I just hope he plays in the bigs as soon as possible. As for Yukilous, decreasing numbers over two years mean a lot to me, especially with older players showing their age now that baseball is a little more clean. His injuries would be very discouraging for Seattle’s fans, if he could be a valuable club house asset (I don’t know him personally) then perhaps Jack Z would bite, but signing veteran players is not his MO. I should not have dismissed him so casually, but I would be very surprised if the M’s pulled the trigger.

        • I’m right there with you on Zunino. Guy is going to be awesome. I think I’m less sure about his emergence as you though. I don’t think we’ll see him in Seattle until 2014.

          I see what you’re saying about Youk, but I guess you just never know. Could be another Russell Branyan kind of signing—just better defense. And Youkilis would be able to stay healthier at first than third.

          I guess it all depends on the costs associated with a deal, and Jack Z’s feelings on where the team is at. If he sees being competitive in 1-2 years, then he might want to bring in a veteran on a 3-4 year deal. If he thinks they have further to go, then I can seeing him be less apt to sign a vet like Youk.

        • Oh, and I, like you, am intrigued by Napoli. Coming off a tough season, he could come at a discount with high rewards. Not fond of his defense though.

          It would sure make for an interesting platoon situation between him, Jaso and Montero.

  • William Henderson

    Pretty quick to dismiss Kevin Youkilis and Adam LaRoche, Youkilis with a one-word “No” (great analysis!) and LaRoche with some implication that his stats (33 HRs, 100 RBI in 2012) were somehow aided by playing at altitude. He plays for the Washington Nationals, not the Colorado Rockies! Further, 17 of his HRs were hit at home last year, 16 on the road, so it’s not like he’s being helped by his home ballpark. He can hit anywhere. In any event LaRoiche will probably re-sign with the Nats, who won their division last year, rather than coming to Seattle to play for a sad-sack franchise.

    And while you were dismissing LaRoche and Youkilis out of hand, you actually mentioned guys like Alex Liddi and Mike Zunino. Liddi can’t hit and Zunino isn’t being moved off catcher. Unless you meant “Montero”, who could potentially be moved to 1B, that makes no sense.

    All in all, with these nonsensical suggestions, I have to question your qualifications to even write an article about the Mariners. Perhaps you should go over to Bleacher Report, where the rest of unqualified high school students hang out.

    • Jeff

      Thanks for the reply, I am the hack that wrote the article.

      I know LaRoche played in Washington, but I was insinuating that his success is based on the long ball, something Mariner hitters are unaccustomed to and perhaps he would be better suited n Colorado. I did not make that clear enough.
      Yuk is not the answer for the M’s, not because of his pay or desire to play here, but merely his age and decreasing numbers. Jack Z is not going to sign an aging vet again, no matter the track record when he can build from within instead.

      Despite the baby face, I am not in high school, but thanks for the suggestion. I write on the M’s because I care about the team and I know Jack Z has a plan, none of which include someone from this free agent class. Sorry to disappoint you on my FA suggestions, but I think the M’s will be creative within the organization, which was were my analysis and hypotheses went.

  • Rob

    Swisher is done. Best years behind him. Let me start by saying I am no fan of Justin Smoak, however you cannot ignore recent developments. #1 moving the fences in. Although I am not in favor of it because it gives opposing teams (all of which have more power in the lineup than the Ms) a better long ball chance at Safeco. It is being done to help the production of the M’s so called power hitters(Smoak, Saunders and Seager) Funny though, moving the fences in will not help situational hitting, hitting for average, strong side ground outs, weak fly ball outs, foul outs and strikeouts. All of those issues mentioned are preventing this team from winning. #2 For the first time in his career, Smoak had a full month of great production. In September & the three games in October he hit for average (over .350), hit for power, had 11 walks, had only 11 strikeouts and it seemed he had finally figured something out. The end of season output is going to give him one more shot next year, like it or not. There will be no moves for a first baseman in a trade or FA, Smoak is penciled in, period.

    • Rob, you need to take another look at Smoak’s September numbers. 2010: .340/.421/.580. 2011: .301/.354/.438. He does this thing every year, and come next season it’s more of the same.

      Also, moving in the fences can help average. You’ll have more balls banging off walls, and leaving the park. Those lead to more hits. Also, it can change the ways guys are playing in the outfield, which can lead to more lucky drops. Not a huge fan of “average” as an indicator of success to begin with, but I still thought it was worth mentioning.

      And don’t forget the intangible change of confidence. When you can actually feel good about hitting at your home park, you never know how that can effect your game for the better.

  • Biggie C in Seattle

    If we are looking at Smoak still i like this option the best, but with this scenario, we just got rid of a 20 mil a year player in Ichiro so why not spend it on Josh Hamilton, Then we can work him at 1st and outfield….. There have been talk with Mr. Hamilton on the his future and how he sees himself playing 1st in a couple of years. As Insurance we sign him for the Outfield and to take over 1st if Smoak blows in the first couple of Month of the season. Mr. Hamilton may even take it seriously enough to make the switch now. so lets sign Hamilton to a 4 year deal to seal it up.

  • Mariners should also look at Adam Lind from the Toronto Blue Jays in the trade market by acquiring him for pitcher Danny Hultzen, Tujuan Walker, or James Paxton plus third baseman Alex Liddi, and a player to be named as low level prospect. This trade should make sense for both teams going into 2013 season.

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