Justin Smoak And Hedging

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I'm still not quite in the mood to review the first half that was for the Seattle Mariners. I mean, it feels almost obligatory given these days off, but we all lived through that first half and the last thing we should want to do is wade through a summary of it. We'll see what comes to me in the coming days, if anything. Right now, I'm going to keep on focusing on the individual.

And here I'm focusing on Justin Smoak, or more generally, the Mariners' situation at first base. It was two years ago and a day that the Mariners dealt Cliff Lee to the Rangers for a four-player package with Smoak as the core. The remaining pieces were differently interesting, but without Smoak, it wouldn't have been a package worth much of a player. Smoak was the big target, the guy the Mariners might have preferred over Jesus Montero at the time, and we figured that by now in 2012 Smoak would've established himself as the first baseman of the present and future.

Nope! Still working on that. Smoak was 23, and now is 25. He posted an 82 OPS+, then a 106 OPS+, and now has a 70 OPS+. I don't need to walk you through the Justin Smoak situation - it's one of the predominating current topics of conversation. His swing is too long, they say. Something's gone wrong, they say. There are no guarantees that Smoak ever gets it straightened out, although it's too early to give up on him completely.

The reason I'm writing about this is because Larry Stone sort of wrote about this. He talked to Matt Wieters, who's an old friend of Smoak's, and Wieters still believes that Smoak will hit, as he would. Within Stone's post, he links to this article by Jerry Brewer. That one talks about how the Mariners can't give up on Smoak, but probably ought to get thinking about potential alternatives should he continue to underwhelm.

And that got me thinking about one possible alternative that's already in-house and currently out on a rehab assignment. This is supposed to be a season of discovery, and while we've learned some things about Smoak, Montero, and Dustin Ackley, we wanted to learn about Mike Carp, too, and what have we learned?

All right, Carp didn't hit over 100 trips to the plate. He batted .157, which is basically what Adam Dunn batted last season. It's impossible to be productive when you're batting in the .150s. But Carp injured his shoulder on Opening Day, he's on the disabled list now with a recurrence of the same injury, and Carp has admitted that it bothered him in between, when he was playing. It changed his swing, and while he figured he could make the adjustment, obviously he could not or at least did not.

So I'm comfortable not putting a lot of stock in Carp's 2012 results. I realize this sounds a lot like throwing out Justin Smoak's 2011 results while he was dealing with his thumb injury, and that looks silly now, but I still believe Smoak's numbers couldn't be taken at face value, and I believe the same about Carp's. We still need to collect information on Carp, because he's an interesting player who put himself on the map down the stretch last summer.

In 2011's second half, Carp posted an isolated slugging percentage of .208 over 271 plate appearances. When he connected he hit the ball with tremendous force, knocking dingers to right, center, and left. If ever there were any questions about his bat speed, Carp answered them, and the answers were encouraging. The concerns were that Carp didn't walk enough, he struck out too often, and he didn't play much in the way of outfield defense. Carp made himself a player worth paying attention to, but he didn't make himself a player worth building around.

What we wanted to see from Carp in 2012 were some strides in the plate-discipline department. If he could hit for the same power, with a few more walks or a few less strikeouts, he could be something. He could be an actual slugger on the Seattle Mariners. We haven't gotten a chance to see if Carp could put things together, but that doesn't mean the book has been closed.

In fact, if you want to dig for something positive, Carp said his swing was affected by his injury, but he didn't say anything about his approach. Over those 100 plate appearances, Carp lifted his rate of swings at strikes while reducing his rate of swings at balls. He also lifted his rate of contact, for whatever that's worth. The sample's small, and we don't know what effect Carp's shoulder might've had, but there's a glimmer. Carp might be trying to take a step forward.

At least in the short-term, the Mariners have abandoned Carp as an outfielder. He's working as a first baseman and a DH, and that's what he'll be when he returns to the Majors. It would hardly be a surprise to see Smoak go down to Tacoma sometime in the near future to get things worked on and to try to find his confidence. Mike Carp could get an opportunity at first with the Mariners, and he could run with it. It's possible. It's not impossible.

If it strikes you as a little bit sad that we're talking about Mike Carp as a possible first baseman, I'll grant that Carp isn't a blossoming superstar. He might not even be a worthy regular. He might suck a lot! The point is, we don't know what Mike Carp might be, and the last time we saw him healthy, he was hitting doubles and dingers. He's hit for all-field power in Safeco - not wall-scraping power, but legitimate power, impressive, jaw-dropping power. He had some issues, but we don't yet have much evidence that he can or can't get past them.

Carp is a player of moderate interest, and where other players have had their stocks go down in the season's first half, I don't think Carp's has really budged, because he's barely played and he's barely played healthy. He's an option, is the only point. For the Mariners, it's not necessarily Justin Smoak or bust. What I'm sure they'd like the most is for Smoak to figure everything out and turn into the slugger he was supposed to become, but failing that, Carp can hit some dingers and stand at first base. Can he do enough of the other things? I don't know. Can he?

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