Remember Corey Hart? Not "Sunglasses at night" Corey Hart, but the former Brewers power bat? He sat out all of 2013 with a knee injury, and he's about to become an under-the-radar free agent.
Since his knees are shot, there's pretty much no shot of Hart being an outfielder anymore. Hart's been a fairly poor defender in the outfield anyways, and with a year away from the game and a freshly reconstructed knee to go along with his other balky one, it isn't likely to get better. As a result, he's most likely going to be stuck to 1B and DH, which hurts his market value.
Hart will be 32 before the season begins. He's a right-handed hitter who's only played for Milwaukee, where he was drafted in 2000 by Jack Zdurencik in the 11th round. He posted wRC+ of 130, 137, and 124 from 2010-2012. Each of those years included more than 25 homers and a SLG% of over .500. He hasn't been a player of perfect health, even before the current knee injury. As previously mentioned, he's been a mediocre defender in right field at his best, and pretty bad at worst.
Hart has pop. He hasn't posted an ISO of under .226 since 2009, and bonked 68 XBH in 2012. He's not a particularly patient hitter with a career 7.1 BB%, and he's consistently ran higher than average BABIP through his career.
Steamer is still relatively optimistic about Hart's 2014 projection, tagging him with a .262/.331/.469 line over 97 games. Hart's expected to be fully healthy before the season starts, but the slash line projection is still in line with my expected production for Hart - a downtick in power and contact, but still better than average production. Fangraphs crowdsourcing has his offensive projection slightly higher, but with enough health to produce 2.7 WAR.
Here's where it gets tricky. Hart is likely going to have to settle for a short-term deal given his injuries, and one with many incentives built in could make a deal happen. Hart's already said publicly he'd like to come back to Milwaukee and would take a hometown discount to do so, but coming off a 3 year, $36 million deal, Milwaukee isn't going to break the bank for him, and isn't expected to make him a qualifying offer. I think a 1 year, $7.5 million contract with durability and performance incentives to bring the possible value up to $11 million could be extremely enticing for a player like Hart, who has to prove his value before he gets another sizable payday. There's a strong chance Hart never hits the free agent market, settling with Milwaukee before the bidding begins.
It seems almost ridiculous to suggest the Mariners should pursue another DH-type bat before the offseason even begins, but it really isn't. Kendrys Morales is going to get a qualifying offer, and all indications are that he'll decline it. If Hart's available, he's a riskier, but potentially better option for the Mariners in 2013 than Morales, though the two aren't mutually exclusive. While Hart carries injury risk, Morales isn't without his own red flags. If the Mariners decided to nab Hart and let Morales walk, they'd net themselves a draft pick in return, and could even open themselves up to a possibility of trading Justin Smoak while still bringing back Kendrys Morales after he meets a dry market, thanks to his attached qualifying offer flag.
The Mariners also desperately need help against left-handed pitching after posting a 80 wRC+ against them this season, good for second to last in the majors. By wOBA, they were the worst. Hart has always mashed lefties (.300/.370/.526), but has still been competent against RHP.
There aren't very many impact bats available that won't require a significant investment outside of Hart, especially right-handed. If and when Morales declines the qualifying offer, the Mariners should look into Hart, because signing him actually opens a lot of doors for them. Justin Smoak can be included in a package deal for another piece, and their hands won't be tied with Morales anymore. Morales may find himself staring at an ice-cold market when the Mariners fill his position, and there's at least some chance that he could come crawling back at a deal far less than Boras wanted to command, leaving Justin Smoak as the odd man out, which exactly isn't a bad thing.
There's a chance to add a quality right-handed bat on a low-risk contract and not close any doors for the rest of the offseason. It almost makes too much sense. Hart probably isn't going to become available for the Mariners, but if he is, he's one of my top free agent targets.