By Brent Stecker
Even with the Mariners’ opening day just a little over two weeks away, the worries about their lineup persist.
Corey Hart signed a one-year deal with the M’s after missing all of 2013. (AP)
The free-agent signing of left-handed Robinson Cano was the splashy addition to Seattle’s offense, but the team wasn’t able to really address the lack of punch from the right side except for the signing of 6-foot-6 outfielder/first baseman Corey Hart. As a result, the Mariners have been rumored for months to be in the market to acquire another big bat, though nothing has materialized.
With time running out before the regular season, it appears Hart is going to be relied upon more than originally expected to help Cano bring life back to the Mariners’ lineup. But the former Milwaukee Brewer and two-time All-Star has a number of question marks surrounding him, especially since the soon-to-be 32-year-old missed the entire 2013 season following knee surgery.
ESPN senior baseball writer Tim Kurkjian joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Brock and Danny” Friday, and he addressed the expectations for Hart if the Mariners don’t add another hitter before opening day.
“Well, he’s crucial,” Kurkjian said. “You talk about the right-handed hitter that they had to add. (If) they don’t, then he is that right-handed hitter, and I’m not sure he’s up to being the lone, main protection for Robinson Cano.”
In his prime, Hart may have been up to the task. In 2010 he set career highs with 31 home runs and 102 RBIs, along with a .283 batting average and .865 OPS. The Mariners would be extremely lucky to get that kind of production out of a player coming off a significant injury that they signed to a discount one-year contract for $6 million, though.
“It’s a tricky spot for Corey Hart — pressure on him, hasn’t played in a year and a half,” Kurkjian said. “(It’s) not an easy game to catch up to when you’ve been away that that long.”
The good news is Hart has looked healthy in spring training, and a healthy Hart can produce at the plate. Whether he can produce enough to turn the Mariners’ into a formidable offense still seems like a long-shot to Kurkjian, however.
“He’s a great athlete and I’m convinced he’s healthy, and when he’s healthy he’s a mid-20s-homer guy who can do some damage,” Kurkjian said. “I think he’ll hit 20 homers, I just don’t think he’s gonna be the guy that people look at and say, ‘Oh, we can pitch to Cano because Corey Hart’s up next.’ “