Brewers more likely to land first baseman in trade
Loney latest candidate off the market; Francisco an option if club stays in-house
MILWAUKEE -- The market for first basemen continued to tighten for the Brewers on Friday, when Corey Hart and Logan Morrison were introduced as the newest Mariners and James Loney reportedly agreed to a three-year deal to return to the Rays.
Loney, a good defender coming off his best season at the plate, was widely considered the top free-agent first baseman and received the three-year commitment, as first reported by ESPN's Buster Olney, that he had been seeking from the start. The Brewers had talks with Loney's representatives on Wednesday, but were not willing to go beyond two years.
Loney's agreement was reported just after Hart and Morrison were introduced in a news conference in Seattle; Morrison acquired in a trade with the Marlins and Hart via free agency. Hart had been the Brewers' top target this offseason, but could not turn down an offer from the Mariners that guarantees $6 million and could top out at $13 million with incentives, about double the Brewers' best offer.
"They made a stronger financial offer than Milwaukee," Hart said. "We probably had 8-10 offers out there and I don't know if they were at the top, but wherever they fit, that wasn't the reason. It was more like we felt led to come here by other things and this felt like the best place for us to be happy."
Hart characterized it as a family decision and said he and wife, Kristina, prayed about it. The Mariners are led by a familiar face in general manager Jack Zduriencik, who as Brewers amateur scouting director, drafted Hart in 2000. They are managed by Lloyd McClendon, whom Hart said he previously admired. The Mariners, like the Brewers, hold Spring Training near Hart's west Phoenix home.
And unlike the Brewers, they offer the chance to serve as designated hitter once or twice a week, a chance to rest the surgically repaired knees that prevented Hart from playing at all in 2013, the final season of his Brewers contract.
"A lot of people wrote me off because I missed a year, but it wasn't like I came off a bad year," Hart said. "I was a good player that just missed time because I had an injury. I'm anxious to get out there just to prove these guys right. Lloyd and Jack are behind me and they know I might need all of Spring Training just to get as many at-bats as I can to feel comfortable because I missed so much, but once I get out there, I can't wait to prove these guys right."
In Milwaukee, meanwhile, the search continues. With Loney off the market, the Brewers are more likely to acquire a first baseman via trade, and while the options are not limited to the Mets, the fact that Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin and New York GM Sandy Alderson met multiple times during the Winter Meetings says that that the sides see the opportunity for a fit. The Mets have Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy, all of whom can play first base, and all of whom have appeared in trade rumors. The Mets proposed a swap of Davis for right-hander Tyler Thornburg this week, but the Brewers turned it down. Manager Ron Roenicke told reporters that Thornburg has the inside track on Milwaukee's No. 5 starter job.
Among the numerous other first basemen potentially available in trades are Mike Carp of the Red Sox, Adam Dunn of the White Sox, Mitch Moreland of the Rangers and Justin Smoak of the Mariners. Smoak set career highs in on-base percentage and slugging percentage last season but now finds himself part of a crowded field in Seattle, where Hart and Morrison are both coming back from knee injuries and expected to move around first base, left field and DH.
If the Brewers are unable to find a deal to their liking, the top option is Juan Francisco, who struggled with the defensive adjustment to first base following a June trade from Atlanta, while batting .221/.300/.433 for Milwaukee. The Brewers' last two Minor League Players of the Year have been first basemen, but club officials would rather see Hunter Morris and Jason Rogers begin next season at Triple-A Nashville.
The Brewers still want to settle first base before addressing an inexperienced bullpen.