I’m combining these two positions simply because there’s so much overlap. Seattle has gotten very little out of these positions over the last few years, even though both are traditionally the easiest to find offensive power bats for.
Justin Smoak: A lot is riding on Smoak to be the player the M’s thought they got when they traded Cliff Lee. 2010 wasn’t a complete disaster for him, but his .1 WAR and .300 wOBA in 397 major league plate appearances didn’t exactly impress. Smoak claims to have developed some bad habits trying to take advantage of the stadium he played in while with Texas, and that his time in Tacoma helped him correct that. His .433 wOBA after getting called up in September should give us hope, but it’s also a very small sample size. Either way, right now Smoak is considered the 1B of both the present and the future.
Mike Carp: There’s a lot of debate about weather or not Carp is actually still a prospect. I believe he is, though he’s held back by the fact that he’s not a good defender, there are multiple reports that he “runs like a DH,” and that he doesn’t have the traditional power of a 1B/DH. Still, Carp had a wOBA of .358 last year in AAA despite a BAPIP of just .259, so he actually hit well despite being quite unlucky. He also has 29 HR and an ISO of .259, and while that may not translate to the major league level, those were the best of his minor league career and it suggests that he’s starting to develop more power as he matures. He’s only 24 still, so there’s no reason to assume he’s done developing. Carp projected out to be a 1.8 WAR player in 2010 had he been allowed to play. Personally, I’d rather see Carp getting at bats over someone like Bradley or Kotchman.
Casey Kotchman: When putting this list together I actually forgot Kotchman was on the team. That’s how forgettable his season was. His wOBA was just .270 and his WAR came out to be -1.1. This means the M’s would have been better letting Carp have all his at bats last season. Kotchman was out righted to AAA recently and refused his assignment, thus becoming a free agent. He won’t be back.
Russell Branyan: Branyan played in just 106 games in 2010, but still managed 25 HR. If he can stay healthy (a big if) he can be a good addition to the lineup as a DH. The M’s declined his 2011 option that would have paid him $5 million, making him a free agent. It is still possible that he will return to the M’s for a smaller figure.
Milton Bradley: I’m lamenting the fact that I have to add Bradley to this list. If he starts the year as the team’s DH I’m personally going to be unhappy. His .289 wOBA in 2010 doesn’t belong in the DH spot. Still, he is owed $12 million for 2011, so I expect him to still be around on the team. Apparently he was hurt for much of last year (and not just his overinflated ego) so perhaps there’s hope he could rebound, but after 2 straight seasons of poor performances I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.
Ken Griffey Jr.: Griffey retired mid-season after another very poor offensive showing. He has nothing left in the tank, and his status as a local hero shouldn’t be able to get him another contract.
Mike Sweeney: Sweeney was traded to the Philadelphia after spending most of the season on the DL with back problems that apparently weren’t bad enough for him not to be playing. The M’s just didn’t feel he was worth a roster spot, which is odd since they could have used his bat. I don’t expect he’d return to Seattle even if the team asked him to.
Brad Nelson: With Tommy Everidge gone to Houston’s farm system (not that he was really a prospect anymore either), Brad Nelson is the last 1B on the Tacoma roster. At age 28 already, and only posting a .800 OPS in Tacoma, it is unlikely that Nelson will ever see a major league uniform.
Overall Analysis: I don’t think that anyone got less out of 1B/DH than the M’s did last season, so it’s probably good that there are only 2 players from the above list that are currently on the roster. Smoak has the potential to be very good at 1B, but the team desperately needs a DH.
Prediction Guaranteed to be Wrong: Smoak is a lock to be the everyday first baseman. As for the DH spot, my magical coin flip told me that Russell Branyan wont be back, and I doubt the team will go into 2011 with Carp as the everyday DH. So, your guess is as good as mine as to what’s going to happen there.