First base ‘my job to lose,’ Smoak claims

Fresh off new contract, Justin Smoak confident he’ll see more time at first than recent acquisitions

Staff writerFebruary 17, 2014 

Athletics Mariners Baseball

Seattle Mariners' Justin Smoak avoided an arbitration hearing Saturday by reaching agreement with the Mariners on a one-year deal that includes a club option for 2015.

JOHN FROSCHAUER — ASSOCIATED PRESS

PEORIA, Ariz. — First baseman Justin Smoak, armed with a new contract, shrugged off the looming competition from two of the Seattle Mariners’ key offseason acquisitions.

Smoak, 27, said he was excited by the moves to sign free agent Corey Hart and acquire Logan Morrison in a trade with the Miami Marlins — even though both are tentatively ticketed for at least some time at first base.

“I feel like it’s somewhat my job to lose,” Smoak said. “It’s always good to have more bats. After losing guys like (Kendrys) Morales and (Raul) Ibañez, you’ve added a couple of more (bats).

“I’m ready to get this thing going.”

Smoak avoided arbitration Saturday by reaching agreement on a one-year deal that includes a club option and vesting clause for 2015.

The contract, which is loaded with performance bonuses, calls for a $2,637,500 salary this season with a club option for 2015 at $3.65 million with a $150,000 buyout.

That $3.65 million for 2015 becomes guaranteed if Smoak gets 525 plate appearances or if he is selected as an All-Star, wins the Most Valuable Player award or is a Silver Slugger recipient.

“It’s pretty interesting going through that whole process thing,” said Smoak, who was eligible for arbitration for the first time.

“But I think both sides were pretty excited to get something done, and we were able to do that. I’m excited to get it done now and focus on baseball.”

Manager Lloyd McClendon wants that focus to include some changes in Smoak’s approach at the plate when the Mariners begin full-squad workouts Tuesday at the Peoria Sports Complex.

“One of the things we’re going to try to impress upon him is to be a good hitter, not a home-run hitter,” McClendon said. “What that entails is using the whole field, driving balls to the gaps and being a good two-strike hitter.

“And when they make a mistake, you hit it out of the ballpark. But if your mind-set is you’ve got to go up there and hit a home run, you’re not going to be much of a hitter.”

Smoak batted .238 last season in 131 games with a career-best 20 homers but just 50 RBIs. He then requested $3.25 million in arbitration, while the Mariners countered at $2,025,000.

Saturday’s agreement prevented the two sides from going to a binding arbitration hearing, which would have chosen one of the two submitted figures.

The Mariners have not had a case go to a hearing since 2003 with pitcher Freddy Garcia.

The abundance of performance bonuses in Smoak’s deal could boost the two-year value to about $8.29 million and suggest a willingness by the club to pay for performance — and Smoak’s willingness to bet on his potential.

“There’s a lot of potential there,” McClendon said. “He continues to improve and get better, but we’ve got to push those RBIs up and be a more productive hitter.”

And is Smoak right? Is first base his job to lose?

How do Hart and Morrison fit into the picture?

“He’s going to play first base and DH a little bit,” McClendon said. “One thing I know is the manager doesn’t make out the lineup.

“You go out and go 3-for-4, hit a home run and drive in four runs … somehow, your name is in the lineup the next day. Your performance will dictate what the lineup is.”

bob.dutton@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners

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