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The First Base Predicament


When the Mariners acquired Justin Smoak as the center piece to the Cliff Lee deal, they believed they were shoring up the not-so-hot-corner for the next decade. Smoak was everything the Mariners could ask for, a switch hitting power hitter who had received zealous comparisons to Mark Texiera. The deal was the right move to make, Smoak was an untouchable prospect on nearly every teams radar. Everyone wanted him.

As things often do in Mariners Universe, it didn’t work out as planned. Smoak has flashed brief stints of the ability and talent that Zduriencik believed he was getting, but when his entire body of work is reviewed as an overall entity, it has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. Smoak has been the worst everyday 1st basemen in the league, and it’s not even close. The Mariners didn’t even gamble, and they still lost.

The organization is teetering on the edge of calling it quits with regards to the former gem of the Cliff Lee spoils. His recent demotion to AAA is still being paraded as a temporary*, though his performance hasn’t exactly inspired anyone to believe such a thing. Carp has taken over first base duties in Smoak’s absence, and while his performance has been an upgrade it still isn’t representative of an everyday, productive, Major League first baseman. On top of Carp’s interrupted performance, he has found it extraordinarily difficult to stay off the Disabled List this season. The Mariners haven’t found the answer between Carp and Smoak, and they now have many routes they are going to have to explore.

The options are aplenty, internal and external. We discussed a few external options earlier (Link1, Link2), but for I’ll make it easy for you and re post a couple of them here, with more detail.

Ike Davis

Davis brings a bit of a mixed bag to the table. The power is legitimate but, so are his strikeout issues. His struggles this season have stemmed mostly from a low BABIP. Rumors have begun to swirl that the Mets aren’t comfortable moving forward to Davis as their future 1st baseman, making him a prime target for acquisition this offseason. Davis isn’t what most would categorize as a super star, but affordable and above league average, that certainly describes this potential offseason addition.

Billy Butler

I wouldn’t say the Royals are actively trying to move Butler, I wouldn’t say they wouldn’t move him either. Butler unlIke Davis is coming at a premium. He is in the midst of a career best season, and his age fits perfectly into the Royals future plans. A few concerns come to mind with Butler as well. One, as mentioned earlier, is cost. He isn’t going to come cheap and the Mariners may have to deal someone they are uncomfortable parting with in order to acquire the Royals first baseman. Second is Butler’s primary hand. Right handed pull hitters don’t fair well in the thick marine air of SafeCo and coming to Seattle would zap a large portion of his power.

Obviously the Mariners will take a look at sure fire studs such as Freddie Freeman, Carlos Santana, or Paul Goldschmidt, but just because you shop for a Lamborghini, doesn’t that you wish to bury yourself in debt in order to own it.

Internal options becomes a bit more complicated. Seattle doesn’t have a complete first base prospect awaiting in the wings at the moment. That was Smoak’s role to fill. However the organization does have a few pieces they can shift around in hopes of creating a permanent option.

Dustin Ackley

Many forget that when Ackley was originally drafted he was playing 1st base for his college squad. He started out his collegiate career as a center fielder, but finished it at 1st due to Tommy John Surgery. We’ve seen Dustin man the position a few times this season and it hasn’t been a complete disaster, but he doesn’t exactly fit the mold of what you are looking for in the position either. Ackley is a temporary fix at best, and eventually the Mariners would have to find someone else to play the position. I do believe however that Ackley fits the CF mold perfectly… but that is a whole post in itself.

Jesus Montero

The Mariners pretty much explained to the world that Jesus Montero was not the catcher of the future when they drafted Mike Zunino. I’m not suggesting that they drafted from a position of need, but I am saying that if they wanted a pitcher instead, they could have had one. Montero has been taking ground balls at first all season long, and while the manager insist he isn’t ready, he is going to have to get into the field eventually. When the games don’t matter… I can’t picture a better time. Montero isn’t left handed, which puts him at a  minor disadvantage, but I see no reason why he can’t play there and be at the very least average.

Mike Carp

He recent stretch of injuries may have bought him one more season of auditions. Carp’s 2011 still has many hooked and interested. Carp certainly isn’t the worst option in the world, but a return to near 2011 form would be necessary in order to justify putting him in the lineup day in and day out. His 2012 has been near impossible to evaluate, which may buy him a shot in 2o13.

Of course you still have Smoak who is still technically an option, but I’m doubtful the Mariners are going to stand pat at 1st this offseason and allow Smoak to be the teams “best” option over there at first. Then again the organization has had a hard time admitting bust, just look at Chone Figgins who is still here, so Smoak may still have a lengthy leash. 1st base is now a bit of an enigma and one that the Mariners puzzle solvers are going to have to figure out. The winter meetings ought to be fun this year.

* The Mariners have recalled Smoak placing Carp on the DL with strained left groin