It’s no secret that the Seattle Mariners have been a power-starved offense in recent years. So far this off-season they've struck out in both the free agent and trade markets as they look to attain the young, controllable middle of the order bat they desire. In case you missed it, Rick Randall detailed some potential lower cost trade options that the Mariners could pursue here. Those options are all well and good, but what if Seattle already has what it needs on their roster?
The Mariners were in this same situation following the 2011 season, in the market for offense and looking for a bat to plug into left field that could provide offense suitable for a major league corner outfielder. The club had some in-house options whose names were thrown around -- Casper Wells, Trayvon Robinson but it seemed as though most people had already written one guy off. That guy was Michael Saunders, who -- thanks to a revamped swing and hard work over the winter -- ended up being one of the Mariners top offensive players in 2012. As we head into 2013, Wells is coming back, Jason Bay has been added to the mix, there is also the power potential of Carlos Peguero and Franklin Gutierrez, who is hitting the ball well in Venezuela. But the name that no one is talking about as a potential internal fix for the Mariners, a name that everyone has seemingly already written off, is Mike Carp.
Carp was hailed as the centerpiece of Seattle’s return for closer J.J. Putz in a three-team deal during the 2008 off-season. At the time he was regarded as a power hitting first base prospect with the ability to stick in the Major Leagues within two short seasons. Four years later it appears that fellow acquisitions from that three-team deal, Jason Vargas and Franklin Gutierrez, will indelibly leave a deeper mark on Seattle baseball than the oft injured Carp. Don’t be so quick to judge.
Just one season removed from appearing in 145 games, a career high, Carp appeared on the disabled list three times during the 2012 season; serving two stints with right shoulder injuries and one trip with a strained groin. He would appear in just 96 games, batting .213 with the Seattle Mariners. Sandwiched between his second and third trips to the disabled list was a bright spot, hitting .308 in 15 games started, looking like the balanced, healthy hitter he was acquired to become.
His injury shortened 2012 season should be taken with a grain of salt in regards to summing up the package he offers on the baseball diamond. He posted a breakout 2011 campaign that may surprise even dedicated Seattle followers.
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Vinnie Catricala was named Seattle’s ‘Player of the Year’ for 2011 as he mashed through High Desert (A+) and Jackson (AA) on his way to becoming a Top-10 prospect within the Mariners system. The numbers Carp posted received as little as a whisper in comparison, with his name lightly mentioned as a viable solution to the Mariners consistently anemic offense entering the 2012 season. His 2011 numbers ranked him Top-5 in OPS (1.067), SLG (.657), wOBA (.449), and wRC+ (159), between both the Pacific Coast League and the International League (Triple-A), on his way to becoming the only player to hit at least 20 home runs in less than 70 games played in either league.
His numbers over four seasons with Seattle are not compatible with his ceiling, shown in 2011, collecting a 125 OPS+ through 313 plate appearances with the Mariners. It might sound odd to refer to a 26-year-old alongside the term ceiling, but have a look for yourself.
There are players, such as Mike Trout, who defy baseball standards. These talents are truly ‘once in a lifetime’ when compared to the overall number of players who don baseball uniforms professionally around the world. There is a long-standing belief that baseball player’s peak between the ages 0f 27-30. This standard has been reached through statistical analysis of the production that each age group omits across baseball. Seattle, while not reaping many of the benefits as of late, has been a prime example of this adage in recent seasons.
Former Seattle Mariners Triple-A mainstay Bryan LaHair spent seven seasons in the organization before being set free and signing with the Chicago Cubs during the 2010 off-season. Despite recording just 219 Major League plate appearances prior to 2012, the 29-year-old first baseman collected 66 hits in the first-half on his way to a .883 OPS and a National League All-Star nomination.
Former Tacoma Rainiers teammate of LaHair, Mike Morse, has generated trade rumors of his own this off-season due to his recent baseball success. Morse had not played 100 games in a Major League season prior to 2011, appearing in 237 games over parts of six seasons. The 29-year-old third baseman would finish 19th overall in National League MVP voting for the 2012 season, slugging 31 home runs and driving in 95 runs. His slash line statistics (.303/.360/.550/.910) were all career highs for seasons with over 40 games served.
Former Top-50 prospect Michael Saunders spent five long seasons dazzling minor league crowds with his defense, speed, and fluid ability to cover the baseball field before debuting for Seattle in 2009. Despite producing in the minor leagues, his bat stayed quiet on a Major League level until 2012. The 25-year-old Canadian outfielder would finish one home run shy of posting a 20-20 season (19/21) on his way to batting .247; or 52 points better than his career batting average, over parts of three big league seasons.
The mentality surrounding Carp is that he could become the next name to make an appearance on the list above. While Seattle has been quiet of Carp’s recent success; Major League Baseball has taken notice. “He’s an interesting name,” said an NL scout. “He’s been buried on that roster in a big ballpark, and if you take him out of there, he may break out. He’s someone you’d take a chance on.” It was a similar mentality that led the Washington Nationals to acquire Morse and the Chicago Cubs to offer LaHair a contract.
With the Royals likely moving away from trading Billy Butler, the Mariners missing out on Mike Napoli, and the lack of remaining ‘power’ free-agents; one has to believe Carp has a serious shot of opening 2013 in Seattle, a scenario that some thought was unlikely moving into the off-season. Due in part to his lack of flexibility in regards to roster management.
It’s no surprise that at 26-years-old Carp is void of minor league options. As a member of the team’s 40-man roster this means that if Seattle chooses to demote the first baseman, it can only be via waivers. This would undoubtedly end with the organization receiving no compensation for the talented slugger; who if healthy, is highly unlikely to spend more than a handful of days on waivers. Which leaves us with one, big, unanswered question.
Where does the first baseman fit into Seattle’s offense, and more importantly, their defense in 2013?
He doesn’t fill the Seattle Mariners need for a full-time plus corner outfielder. He doesn’t project to beat out teammate Justin Smoak as opening-day first baseman entering the 2013 season. But he does project to serve time at both positions, and if healthy, should deliver Seattle the offensive boon he showed he can provide in 2011.
While Carp has shown the ability to field first base; he hasn’t shown he can field the outfield corners in a consistent manner. It’s unlikely he will be worth positive defensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) as a corner outfielder, but neither was Manny Ramirez, who was worth negative 22.5 dWAR over his career. It never became a concern of his game until his bat went cold, I’d expect the same with Carp during his career. With an outfield platoon consisting of the aforementioned Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, and Casper Wells, you will likely be asking Carp to get on his horse to cover ground very rarely.
Classified as a line drive hitter, averaging 21% of balls in play over four Major League seasons, Carp stands to benefit from the shrinking dimensions of Safeco Field as much as anyone. If plugged into the top five spots in the lineup full-time, Carp joins teammates Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak as viable 30+ HR options for Seattle. Think it’s highly unlikely?
Of the coming challenges ahead, Carp said, "I know I'm going to come back. I know I can hit. I always have and hopefully I always will for a long time.
Ask John Jaso and Saunders how the management mentality ‘if they hit, they stay’ relates to baseball in Seattle. Carp controls his own destiny in 2013, not the other way around, don’t count him out as a difference maker in 2013.
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