Mariners Part Ways With Justin Smoak – Is Saunders Next?

Slugging First Baseman Now A Jay

In a move that one had to figure was coming sooner or later the Seattle Mariners finally made a decision about their problems at first base this week.  Justin Smoak was placed on waivers and claimed by the Toronto Blue Jays.

What it means, at least for now, is that the Mariners are going to go with Logan Morrison at first.  I say “for now” because with the World Series just ending, the free agency period is just about to get started.  Who knows what the M’s will do there.  The one thing we do know is that Smoak will not be a wearing a Seattle Mariner’s uniform in 2015.

Despite breif flashes of greatness, Smoak could never find consistency at the plate in Seattle

Despite breif flashes of greatness, Smoak could never find consistency at the plate in Seattle

Now that the Mariners have finally thrown in the towel on Smoak, a man they gave up an ace starting pitcher for in Cliff Lee, the question becomes, was it the right move?  On the surface it might seem so.  Morrison was better at the plate this year for the M’s, batting .262 with 11 homers.   Smoak, on the other hand batted just .202 with seven homers.

The offensive numbers aside, there is no question who is the better guy at first base.  Morrison plays serviceable defense at first while Smoak could probably win a gold glove over there if he could hit well enough to stay in a lineup every day.

Is trading 40 points or so in batting average along with half a dozen home runs for substantially weaker defense the right move for the Seattle Mariners?

For the M’s run starved offense, it appears the answer is yes.  The Mariner’s GM, Jack Zduriencik, made the move to place Smoak on the waiver wire and he got claimed.

Some have asked why not trade Smoak or send him to AAA?  Both are valid questions but Smoak has been around the majors long enough to make both of those things impossible.

Smoak is out of minor league options meaning he is going to have to be a part of a team’s 25 man roster.  There is no more “sending him down to figure it out” for Smoak.  Perhaps Jack thought no one would claim Smoak on waivers which would have given the M’s the freedom to outright him to AAA.

The other thing that worked against Smoak remaining with the M’s is his contract situation.  There is an option for 2015 in Smoak’s current deal for $3.6 Million dollars.

In baseball terms that’s not exactly a lot of money but it is more than the M’s wanted to spend for someone who could not be sent down, is not producing and only plays one position.  The other wrinkle here is that the M’s could have declined the option and offered Smoak arbitration since he’s still eligible there.

Smoak made $2.6 Million in 2014 and salaries rarely go down in arbitration no matter how badly a player performs on the field.  Perhaps the M’s could have gotten Smoak for less than the $3.6 million option money, perhaps not.  Now, that’s the Blue Jay’s decision.

Could Smoak take off offensively for the Jays?  Of that I have no doubt.  I have always been a fan of Smoak and I would have given him one more chance.

Smoak is an extremely talented, powerful and relatively young switch-hitter.  This could easily be a move the M’s wind up regretting down the road and I personally think they will.

Michael Saunders

The other situation worth monitoring in the early part of the Mariner’s offseason is that of Michael Saunders.  A couple of weeks ago the Mariners and Saunders traded barbs in the media about Saunders’s durability and just what might be the cause of some of his injuries.

Michael Saunders

The Mariners might have seen enough injuries from Saunders to move on.

Zduriencik suggested publically that Saunders’ conditioning might be the source of the problem.  Those comments infuriated the Saunders camp who fired back at the M’s saying the injuries Saunders has experienced are nothing more than a gutsy player going all out to make a play for his team.

Now the question is, has the Saunders/Mariners relationship developed too much frost to thaw out before spring training?  Saunders was after all the M’s best outfielder from an offensive standpoint last year albeit in limited playing time due to injuries.

All has been quiet since the verbal exchange a couple of weeks ago.  In reaching out to Saunders’s agent, Mike McCann, to see if things have been smoothed over I received no immediate response.  One can only assume things are still a bit frosty.

It might not matter for Saunders in 2015 given that he’s still under club control.  Saunders is eligible for arbitration this year.   He made $2.3 million in 2014 and the number is going to go up either via the arbiter or in a contract extension with the M’s during this offseason.

The M’s seem to regard Saunders as a 4th outfielder at best.  Dustin Ackley appears to be staying in left field and they just traded for center fielder Austin Jackson in July.  That only leaves right field as a potential opening for a starter and it seems clear the M’s are shopping for an outfielder in free agency.

Maybe the M’s move on from Saunders in the same way they did Smoak or they try to deal him during the offseason.  The other option is to keep him as their 4th outfielder which might only further damaged relations between team and player creating locker room problems as well.

Blame who you like, but regardless of what does happen ,it is clear that the words “Mariners starting right fielder” are not in Michael Saunders‘ immediate future.

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About Brian Scott

Husband, Philosopher, Animal Rights Advocate, and Author Brian is a Spokane native and Gonzaga University grad. Seahawks, Mariners, GU Hoops and Cougar football are the teams that drive his passion for sports. You can catch him on twitter too! Connect with Brian today!
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