Smoak will face first-base competition at camp
If signed, Swisher could split time; Carp among those in mix for job
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One of the questions facing the Mariners this offseason is whether they'd bring in a veteran competitor for Justin Smoak at first base. Once Mike Napoli signed with the Red Sox, that removed the primary challenger.
If Seattle signs free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher, he could split time at first base. If not, manager Eric Wedge said there'll still be competition for Smoak when Spring Training opens in February.
But Wedge is also confident that Smoak, who turned 26 on Wednesday, is ready to pick up where he left off at the end of last season, when he batted .341 with five home runs over the last 27 games after a disappointing first five months.
"We want to make sure we have options there," Wedge said. "But just know that we are expecting, and I feel strongly, that Mr. Smoak is going to get it done."
Wedge noted that catcher John Jaso worked at first base a little last season and Jesus Montero played around a bit there during batting practices.
"In Spring Training, we'll dabble with both those guys," he said. "We wanted to have options. Even [Kyle] Seager played there a couple of times."
The club also has other internal options. Mike Carp had an injury-plagued 2012, but the team went 11-6 in a midseason stretch when he was healthy and hitting well while starting at first base when Smoak was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma.
Carp wound up hurting himself again when he strained a groin muscle stretching for a throw, finishing the season on the bench when Smoak emerged from his season-long slump.
"Smoak has something to prove, but we're confident he'll come back and accept the challenge," said general manager Jack Zduriencik. "I hope that's the case and I'm certainly pulling for him to do that. That said, if you're Mike Carp sitting home in California, you're saying, 'Don't forget about me, either.' Two years ago, he did a pretty good job. I think he has to be discussed in any of these issues."
Alex Liddi, 24, also fell off the radar after hitting just .224 in 38 early-season games and then being sent to Tacoma. But Zduriencik noted that European players sometimes develop later because of their limited playing time growing up, and the Italian native will compete at first and third base.
"He might be a late bloomer," said Zduriencik. "We'll see what happens in Spring Training. That's another guy to throw in the mix and see what happens. We haven't forgotten about him."