It's painful to write this article. I endorsed the Corey Hart signing pretty heavily, campaigning for it not only in the off-season plan, but in a separate piece well before that. I celebrated the signing when it happened, given the relative difficulty to attract free agent power hitters to Safeco Field. If everything worked out, Hart could have been a steal in the middle of the lineup. Even if he was rusty and struggled with the park, he still looked like he could be an adequate, affordable replacement for Kendrys Morales. The price was right, and the risk was low.
Sadly, the Mariners have seen all of the downside and little of the upside, at least not after the first few weeks of the year. Hart hasn't looked quite right for months. Talk about him playing right field all year long quickly shifted to regular starts at DH. A hamstring injury sidelined him for six weeks and he came back flailing, but he was scuffling well before that.
Hart has two extra-base hits in July, despite playing nearly every day. Even before his injury, he only had two extra-base hits in May, and combining up his last 133 PA since May 1st is telling -- a .190/.256/.240 line. An OPS under .500. An OBP higher than his slugging percentage. He looks done, but if he somehow still has life left in there, the Mariners just can't afford to wait any longer with their wild card hopes slipping away.
The team essentially replaced Hart when they acquired an almost-equally struggling Kendrys Morales, but at least Morales, physically, still looks similar to 2013. Even while knocking off the rust, Hart still flashed explosive power early in the season, stepping into pitches and unleashing torque.
This is from April 7th.
We haven't seen that kind of explosion/timing combination from Hart that made him a dangerous hitter in months. He's been constantly late on fastballs, unable to get his timing correct. There's little to no power generated from the lower body, perhaps associated with his hamstring or faulty knees. Even if you don't buy that anything is wrong with Hart from a physical standpoint, the numbers speak for themselves. If the Mariners are serious about upgrading their offense, they can't keep waiting for Hart to come out of this. Hart has was good for the first 13 games of the year (.891 OPS) and has a .508 OPS since. Lloyd refuses to drop him in the lineup.
I'm not a believer in Jesus Montero becoming a major offensive contributor for the Mariners, and the same goes for Justin Smoak. Montero hasn't demonstrated anything in Tacoma that convinces me he's a different, more disciplined kind of hitter that will suddenly start mashing better pitching, especially since pitchers already know how to exploit him. Justin Smoak is what he is, and it's fairly unremarkable. There really isn't any room for either, but there's really not for Hart, either. The whole thing is a mess, and that's probably why they haven't moved on yet.
While he's still on the roster, Hart needs to be heavily platooned or moved down completely. Something is broken with his swing, and it's fairly clear that whatever coaching he's receiving hasn't helped him snap out of it. The Mariners have better options at the plate, but once again, thanks to the Morales trade, they find their roster in an inexplicably inflexible situation. The Mariners need offense badly, and have all of the easy spots to to add offense filled with bad hitters.
There are no easy fixes to this situation, outside of a DFA for Hart. If the Mariners do indeed make a trade, Hart would likely be replaced by Stefen Romero because of the positional squeeze, and that's barely an upgrade worth making. Hart may survive for now, but the second the Mariners acquire another bat that can play anywhere but 1B/DH, it's probably, sadly time for Corey Hart to make his exit. At the very least, stop starting him against right-handed pitchers.