Corey Hart's injury could save the Mariners millions

Ezra Shaw

After Corey Hart's injury and Stephen Drew's Boston reunion, people are talking about the Mariners and Kendrys Morales again. The Mariners might say they're out of money, but they likely just saved a bunch.

Yesterday the Red Sox, Scott Boras, and Stephen Drew all caved at once, as Drew signed a 1 year, pro-rated contract based on his original decline of a $14.1 million qualifying offer last October. Drew lost about $4 million in the waiting game but he still got his payday, and Boston knew it likely wasn't going to get that draft pick in return with the MLB draft (and subsequent clearing of the compensation attachment) just a few weeks away.

Naturally, this has led to a lot of people speculating once again about the Mariners and Kendrys Morales, as the Mariners are in a similar scenario to the Red Sox, being that it seems highly unlikely anybody is going to surrender a pick for Morales when they can have him without penalty in just a few weeks. It doesn't matter for the Mariners either way, and if they so desired, they could ink Morales to a more lucrative deal now than most teams will offer him in several weeks time. After all, the Mariners just lost their primary DH for what appears to be an extended period of time, and that's without setbacks.

Though I argued against a Morales reunion earlier in the season, bringing him back would make more sense than before, even though it's not necessarily the right move. There's actually a place for him to play now without jeopardizing Corey Hart's knees in the outfield. Morales slides into Hart's old role, Nick Franklin plays SS/RF, and on paper the Mariners offense looks up, the only cost being money. There's little chance Morales can demand a multi-year deal at this point, and he should be lucky to get the same pro-rated offer that Drew got, given the polarizing difference in positional scarcity between the two. The Mariners, if they wanted to improve, would just need to open up the wallet.

But the Mariners have already started to put word out that "money is tight," via Bob Dutton's daily link post. This is unsurprisingly predictable, but it's also kind of misleading. Money may be tight, but they shouldn't be out of it. Not after this.

Corey Hart signed a contract for 1 year, $6 million, with up to $4.65 million more in incentives. While the exact levels of Hart's payday milestones weren't made public, it's been reported that his contract structure is similar to the one Mike Napoli received in 2013, with the following breakout.

In 2013, Napoli earned $500,000 at 30, 60, 90 and 120 days on the active roster, and the same figure for 300, 325, 350 and 375 plate appearances. Each subsequent 75 plate appearances were valued at $1 million. The Boston first baseman earned the full $8 million, notching 165 days on the active roster, per NESN.

We know Hart's is based on plate appearances up to 650. Dutton passes along that Hart's absence is already expected to be closer to six weeks than four. Assuming Hart's injury keeps him out the full 6 weeks, the Mariners are looking at around 40 games missed for Hart, if not more.  Hart has only appeared in 37 games to date, racking up 156 PA. There's little doubt that Hart missing 170 PA is going to make a significant impact on his incentives, possibly saving the Mariners millions of dollars they had previously planned to spend. There's no way to tell exactly how much they'll save since the exact plateaus aren't public and Hart's length of absence is still undetermined. Still, if Jack Zduriencik confirms the murmurs that are starting to leak, telling the fanbase the organization is out of money, it's going to ring a little hollow.

It may still be a stretch to go get Kendrys Morales, but the Mariners just freed up some money, even if it was expected instead of guaranteed. They're not going to save enough on Hart's injury to simply buy Morales with found money, but he could come at even more of a discount, depending on how you look at it. If the Mariners did bring back Morales for say, $7 million, they would have every right to continue to use him in the DH role when Hart came back, further stifling Hart's plate appearances, limiting him to sporadic starts in right field and pinch hitting. Hart wouldn't have much of a case for a grievance, given his balky hamstring, knees, and poor performance to date. It would be the kind of move a serious contender would make.

I'm not saying the Mariners should absolutely go get Morales and kick Hart and his potential incentives to the side. There's still no guarantee that Morales will be able to come in off the street and instantly start hitting, or that he'll even be a worthwhile upgrade depending on what Nick Franklin does. But with Hart out and his current replacement able to play right field, there is suddenly a place for Morales to play on a team full of DHs and corner outfielders, as long as the Mariners choose to forget about Logan Morrison like most of us already have. There's plenty of reasons to pass on Kendrys Morales, but if money is one of them, it comes with a big asterisk.

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