The Seattle Mariners are rumored to be interested in an upgrade at first base. Justin Smoak continues to struggle and as he enters his age-27 season, Smoak looks more and more like a bust and less like the top prospect they received from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Cliff Lee. The Mariners extended a qualifying offer to free agent Kendrys Morales and are rumored to be interested in Mike Napoli. However, Morales might be more a DH at this point and Napoli is likely to stay with the Boston Red Sox which could leave the Mariners out in the cold once again.
There is one candidate, however, that is starting to get playing time at first base after struggling at catcher last year and that is Jesus Montero. Montero, acquired from the New York Yankees for Michael Pineda, was one of the top prospects in baseball. However, he has struggled mightily since arriving in Seattle. He did post a respectable .260/.298/.386 line in his first season with 15 home runs, 62 RBI, 20 doubles and 46 runs scored. Last year, however, Montero was awful and hit just .208/.264/.327 with just five extra base hits which included three homers, nine RBI and just six runs scored.
Montero has been playing winter ball in Venezuela and has been getting some time in at first base. In Venezuela, Montero, who will turn 24 this month, is hitting .306/.342/.403 with four doubles, one home run and 11 RBI in 72 at-bats. Hardly eye-popping numbers and it is a tiny sample size but it is a marked improvement over his performance this season. More importantly, Montero has been getting in some games at first base and hasn’t looked terrible so far.
The Mariners would love to see Montero finally live up to his potential. He is still young enough to do just that and the Mariners are clearly hoping they can plug him into their lineup somewhere. That somewhere could be catcher, first base or DH but his moving to first base in the Venezuelan League is a clear indication that the Mariners don’t think his future is behind the plate.
If the Mariners fail to bring in a free agent like Napoli and lose Morales they are faced with Justin Smoak being the primary first baseman and Smoak has done nothing to warrant any confidence. That isn’t to say he won’t finally put it all together like Chris Davis, but the Mariners are right in looking for other options, even if it is just in case the worst case scenario occurs.
Throwing Montero into the mix at first is the right move. Getting him out from behind the plate and allowing him to concentrate on hitting more than learning to be a big league catcher is probably the best thing for him. The Mariners might be interested in bringing in a free agent but they might just have their slugging first baseman already on the roster. It will be interesting to see how Montero responds in spring training and where he ultimately fits in.