As the winter meetings progress and the Corey Hart sweepstakes heat up, Matt Kemp won't be changing places, or at least not now. The Dodgers have pulled him off the block according to his agent, passed along by Jayson Stark.
A trade for Kemp was always kind of unlikely, but given how quickly outfielder options have shrank on the free agent market, he was beginning to look like a pretty realistic risk the Mariners could take. The Red Sox were in, and then they were out. The Tigers were sort of in, but it would have required some roster shuffling. The Mariners were in, but the Dodgers might have wanted a superstar price for a guy that simply isn't one right now, and thus ended negotiations. At least that's what one can speculate.
The Dodgers dangled Kemp out there to see if anyone would pay full price, and whatever their price was, it probably got lowballed. Now expect to hear a bunch of rumors about Andre Ethier, who always made a lot more sense for the Dodgers to trade. The Mariners aren't a great fit for Ethier and his $69-$86.5 million remainder, as he's already in decline and struggles heavily against LHP, which has clearly been a major point of concern for this front office. The Mariners haven't been shy about their desire for right-handed bats, and that's why they're in on Corey Hart.
Hart was not only part of our off-season plan, but I endorsed him heavily before that as well. He's now choosing between Milwaukee and Seattle, and I think it's essential that the Mariners get this done. He's not without risk, as he missed the entire 2013 season and has two surgically repaired knees, but reports on his 2014 outlook are good, and the Mariners can protect his health by sticking him DH or 1B. He probably can't or at least shouldn't play the outfield anymore, and he really wasn't any good to begin with there. He's the right-handed bat they desperately covet and he doesn't have a major weakness against same-handed pitching, posting wRC+ of 119, 122, and 120 versus RHP from 2010-2012. If the Mariners have to give Hart two years plus a vesting option to get him out of Milwaukee, they should do it.
Hart's plenty risky, but the risk is reflected in the cost. What kind of deal does Hart command if he stays healthy in 2013, in this market? $60 million? $80 million? I wouldn't put it past some team, including the Mariners. The M's need a lot of things for them to break right in order to contend in 2014, and that includes a bounce-back year from somebody like Hart. He's not going to prevent you from doing other things if his health goes south, and he's one of only a few remaining ideal bats available on the free agent market. While his signing could push Morales out, it doesn't mean Morales couldn't return to bump out Smoak - Hart gives the Mariners a lot of options, and hopefully a lot of production.
This is the one move I can point to that the Mariners really need to get done at the winter meetings, and that's often ended in disappointment in the past. The off-season is going well so far. Let's continue that.