Corey Hart and Optimism

There was word Tuesday night that Corey Hart was closing in on a decision, and while Hart didn’t figure anything out Tuesday, it didn’t take him long Wednesday to settle on a new employer. For a year, Hart will play for the Mariners, and according to Ken Rosenthal, his deal is a lot like Mike Napoli‘s deal a year ago, in that he’ll get something like a $5-million base, with $8 million or so available in incentives. There’s no long-term commitment, and the incentives also mitigate the risk. Hart might be the first offensive player ever to go to Seattle to try to re-establish his value.

By and large, my exposure to baseball fans is on the Internet, and they tend to be smarter than average. I’m also familiar with Internet analysts, and there seems to be a consensus here: the Mariners did well in signing Hart for what they did. I don’t disagree with the conclusion, but it also makes me wonder about a bias that might exist. They say the Mariners are getting a good deal in signing a guy who just missed an entire season, having both his knees operated on.

Most of us love upside and we love rolling the dice. We love looking for potential bargains, and we love highlighting players who might have injury issues. It’s this perspective that makes the Hart deal look so good. The same perspective led people to like the Ben Sheets contract, and it’s why people have remained interested in players like Erik Bedard and Rich Harden. If you have to pick between talent and durability, you go for talent, right? Because, who knows? Why pay the premium for someone more “proven”?

If you allow me to defer to authority for a moment, the league allowed Hart to sign this contract with Seattle, as a free agent. Nobody else was willing to pay much more, if more at all. Other teams, therefore, must not see this as a tremendous bargain, except maybe for some teams with absolutely no roster space. You’d think there has to be some significance in there. Realistically, I think there are two things going on.

One, I think a lot of teams are conservative about these kinds of things. They recognize Hart’s ability, but you can’t overlook a guy not playing. So you could have a market overreaction to a guy being sidelined. At the same time, I think we tend to be the opposite of conservative, recognizing Hart’s ability while not thinking enough about the downside. The fan projections we’ve had here demonstrated that people tend to be pretty optimistic, and we probably don’t give enough consideration to the ways in which things can go wrong. So you could have a fan under-reaction to a guy being sidelined.

Hart’s defense could be worse, and maybe he’ll be limited to DH duty. Maybe the knee issues will nag at him, forcing him to miss time or taking a toll on his swing. No player in baseball is a sure thing, but Hart is less of a sure thing than average. This matters. Yet I am still in favor, overall. I still like the move, and I suspect Hart’s market was limited to just a handful of teams, some of whom weren’t comfortable with the idea of potentially shelling out $13 million.

There’s nothing we can do with Hart’s 2013. All he did was get cut open and rehab, and we have no way of knowing what that’s going to mean. So we have to go back to the last time Hart was healthy, and we can examine the 2010-2012 window. Over those three years, Hart was one hell of an offensive weapon.

Out of 230 qualified players, Hart ranked tied for 27th in wRC+. His company was Billy Butler, Joe Mauer, and David Wright, and he was one point back from Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Gonzalez. By isolated power, Hart ranked 15th, a point behind Mark Reynolds. For that window, Hart was one step back from being an elite-level slugger, and that window closed just a year ago. Not because Hart went on to perform worse; because Hart went on to not perform at all. There’s no certain deterioration of skill, so the upside here is that Hart is one of the better hitters in baseball, again. It’s by no means unreasonable.

Of course, you’d never sign Hart for his defense, especially now that his knees have been looked at from the inside. He might well be a DH. But, you’d never sign Choo for his defense. You’d never sign Nelson Cruz for his defense. Choo projects for the same wRC+ that Hart put up over those three years. Cruz projects considerably worse. Choo is looking for a nine-figure contract, and Cruz is looking for something in the upper eight figures. Both those guys have draft picks attached. Hart might turn out just as good, or better, in 2014, and while that’s an obvious gamble, it comes with no long-term commitment and no lost draft flexibility. Hart’s an upside play that won’t clutter the books down the road.

It’s the right kind of move for a team that’s going for it, but that might not be close enough yet. Choo would be the sexier get for Seattle, but then that would be another massive contract on the books, and there’s no guarantee this is going to work out. Hart doesn’t spoil anything beyond 2014, and while that also means he’s not under contract in the event he’s really good, then the Mariners can at least extend a qualifying offer. The Mariners need to improve now without sacrificing much long-term value, so Hart is precisely the right kind of target.

The Mariners added Hart almost simultaneous to adding Logan Morrison, and that makes things confusing with Justin Smoak already around. At present, it looks like one of Hart or Morrison would have to play in the outfield, and just last year the Mariners fielded some real shipwrecks. But it’s only still December, so we don’t know what else the team might do between now and the spring. They could turn around and deal Morrison, or they could move Smoak. We can’t just assume a subpar defensive alignment, and this is why general managers complain about moves being evaluated in isolation. Sometimes you have to wait to see what else might go down.

I don’t know what’ll go down in Seattle yet. I do know that Hart looks like a good, virtually risk-free roll of the dice. The addition of Morrison makes things at least temporarily weird, but that’s its own subject, independent of the Hart pick-up. This can exist as a fine move within a suboptimal plan.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


51 Responses to “Corey Hart and Optimism”

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  1. Chris from Bothell says:

    “We can’t just assume a subpar defensive alignment”

    Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay and Michael Morse look up from their respective front porches, stare contemplatively into the middle distance, then resume whittling.

    https://tinyurl.com/Ms2013OF

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  2. JS7 says:

    I wish you were GM Jeff.

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  3. Brian says:

    Good signings…….I think. Low risk, high reward kind of guys, especially Hart. I don’t think Morrison is much more than a fourth outfielder.

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  4. archibaldcrane says:

    Apparently Hart was just joking around with the whole “hometown discount for Milwaukee” thing.

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  5. Kinky Friedman says:

    Millions for fans is mad money. We may pay a small portion of it through … but we’re inured to that, and don’t clutch for our lost nickels and dimes, even if Hart is injured in spring training and misses the season.

    I suspect most GM’s, no matter how rational they or the owner/ownership, can not so easily explain away such a total loss. Irrational, maybe, but human and understandable.

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    • Zen Madman says:

      GMs are essentially professional gamblers. As such, they should be immune to the emotional aspects of large numbers preceded by dollar signs.

      Also, I like your books.

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  6. Brandon Webb says:

    Way to go, Corey. I only stole $3 million guaranteed from the Rangers.

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  7. Gregory says:

    Mariners. Shipwrecks.

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  8. Johnston says:

    “Hart looks like a good, virtually risk-free roll of the dice.”

    Exactly. The Mariners do a lot of really stupid things but this was not one of them.

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  9. GilaMonster says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    I like this move a lot. But not with the LoMo trade. Hart should play 1st where he can be average defensively especially with knee problems. You bench Smoak or something. But not 2 guys.

    I’m surprised more people weren’t in on him. He made sense for Boston,Pittsburgh,LAA,Tampa,Baltimore..etc.

    I have no clue why Tampa or Pittsburgh weren’t interesting in a cheap high risk high reward guy. The both need a 1st basemen and a 1 year deal doesn’t break the bank. Although making a trade more Smoak and turning him into a reclamation project does seem very Tampa like….

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    • Belloc says:

      Probably because Tampa and Pittsburgh are run by GMs who aren’t brain-dead.

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      • ian says:

        So what better options do you think Tampa and Pittsburgh will use at 1B?

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        • GilaMonster says:
          FanGraphs Supporting Member

          Especially considering there was no draft pick compensation on Hart.

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      • GilaMonster says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Why wouldn’t you want a very good bat for $3 + incentives? Your brain dead if you weren’t in on him considering all options at 1st are dreadful for both teams.

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    • Dr Morris says:

      Hart wanted a team that does its spring training in Arizona, thus eliminating most East Coast teams.

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  10. AK7007 says:

    Endless laughter if true:

    There is a belief in the M's that Hart's knee has improved enough to play OF and that Hart wants to play OF— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) December 11, 2013

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    • AK7007 says:

      Translated into Headline form:

      “Mariners do something smart, try to make it look stupid.”

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    • 68FC says:

      The Seattle Mariners starting outfield: Morrison, Ackley, Hart. It will create plenty of excitement with close plays at the plate on routine doubles.

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    • joser says:

      They may be indulging the new hire. Plenty of time in Spring Training to see if that’s true, as long as he doesn’t hurt himself proving it isn’t. Which would be a very Mariners outcome, certainly.

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    • chuckb says:

      remember, this is the organization who thought that Raul Ibanez could play the OF. By their definition, hobbling out to one of the OF positions and then standing there until 3 outs are somehow made constitutes “playing the outfield.”

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  11. Preston says:

    It is crazy how far Jesus Montero has fallen. After his call up at the end of 2011 nobody could restrain themselves from the Miggy comparisons. Now he isn’t even being considered in an article discussing the DH/1b platoon between Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak.

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    • 68FC says:

      That’s what no hitting and then being suspended for steroid use will do to ya

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    • GilaMonster says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I’d like to see him be dealt. Maybe to the White Sox or even back to the Yankees. He is still relatively young.

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      • Spit Ball says:

        Oh sure the Yankees make to of sense! 3 more years of Teixeira, 5 years of McCann behind the plate and a Plethora of DH types. Yeah the Yankees make total sense.

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        • GilaMonster says:
          FanGraphs Supporting Member

          Split time behind the plate for 3 year and full time duty after when McCann moves to 1st. Very good injury insurance.

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        • Natman says:

          Agreed. Yankees did not view Montero as a catcher. Only as a DH or poor 1B.

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  12. John C says:

    The reason no one wanted to pay him more is simple: Hart was not that good to begin with. He’s basically Mark Trumbo with a better batting average. He hits 30 home runs, draws 40-50 unintentional walks a season, and makes well over 400 outs in the process. And that’s before he got hurt badly enough to have to sit out an entire season. If he comes back and hits like he did before, he’s valuable, but he’s a long way from an elite hitter. If he comes back and can’t match his old numbers, then you’ve just signed Mike Jacobs 2.0.

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    • ian says:

      Wha? Mark Trumbo with a better batting average is a really good hitter. Trumbo’s an above average hitter, and with defense/baserunning grades out to about average overall. Hell, even $5M for Trumbo is a decent deal.

      No one’s calling Hart an elite hitter (other than the strawman you’re attacking) – those guys get $20M a year.

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    • GilaMonster says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Fun exercise. From 2010-2012 and 1800 PA

      Player A : 9:24 BB/K ratio,90 HR, .374 wOBA, -33.6 Def
      Player B: 8:23 BB/K ratio,87 HR, .369 wOBA, -34.4 Def

      Player A is Matt Kemp. He is making $21M next year. Until 2019 too.
      Player B is Corey Hart. He will making $3M next. For one year.

      Trumbo 2011-2013: 6:25 BB/K ratio,95 HR,.331 wOBA, -21.6 Def.

      Trumbo is a worse hitter and bad defensively at 1st. At least Kemp can move to corner OF and Hart to 1st. Trumbo can’t even play the easiest position. Despite playing a season less, Hart’s WAR is only .8 behind Trumbo from 2011-2013.

      A move to 1st and some luck and he is 2014’s Mike Napoli.

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  13. dbronski says:

    Somehwat related, you want to know what’s going on with the Mariners? Read this article about their GM: http://seattletimes.com/html/mariners/2022420240_mariners08xml.html

    Apparently, Jack Z’s metrics for evaluating players are limited to HR, RBI, AVG, W and ERA.

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  14. dbronski says:

    Ugh, I hate when I post with a type.. anyway, someone at fangraphs needs to take on Jack Z.

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  15. Z..... says:

    If Nelson Cruz is allowed to play the OF, Corey Hart should be allowed to play the OF…that reasoning probably isnt very good, but I guess it points to the fact that it could have been worse

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  16. LHPSU says:

    It’s a great deal for players than aren’t great. The Mariners now have a servicable backup plan if they fail to sign the FAs/make the trades they look for. It also doesn’t preclude them from making any other moves – they could still resign Morales, they could still sign one of the premier OFs, they could trade Smoak, they could still take a look at Montero, they could use the DH a variety of ways. Almost makes you wonder, what did they do with the real Jack Zduriencik?

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  17. Jacoby says:

    The incentives are a joke. If the Brewers truly wanted to keep Hart they would have offered him much higher incentives. There is no reason to be so cheap, as if he is on the field and producing he is generating much higher value that the maximum 6.5 million he could have earned. That is approximately about the price for 1 WAR in free agency. I have no problem moving on from Hart but that insulting offer is a joke to both Hart and the fans who thought the team was in on him.

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  18. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Great thing about this kinda deal is the low money means even if Hart gets injured and misses tons of time, there isn’t much of a loss.

    Doing this and the LoMo trade at the same time is…bizarre, though.

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  19. vivaelpujols says:

    “If you allow me to defer to authority for a moment, the league allowed Hart to sign this contract with Seattle, as a free agent”

    If you want to defer to authority than Nelson Cruz is worth 50+ million. What happened to you Jeff? How come like half your articles these days are some variation of “they know more than us”?

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    • Natman says:

      Sabean knew more than fangraphs when he put together those two World Series winning teams and was panned for it. I think Jeff is pretty reasonable here in talking valuation and risk and what the market seems to view it as versus what the fan does.

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    • JamesDaBear says:

      “…for a moment”. Don’t punish Jeff because he’s a superb writer capable of handling both sides of an argument.

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