Jays From the Couch looks ahead to the July 31st MLB Trade Deadline wondering how much value Justin Smoak has as a Blue Jays trade chip.
The Toronto Blue Jays will enter this July 31st Trade Deadline in a much different position than last year. There will not be a lot of prospect capital, particularly in the upper levels of the minor leagues from which to draw. It is for this reason the club may look to offer up some of their big league roster in potential deals. The trick is finding one whose removal does not create a giant hole in the roster.
One of those candidates could very well be Justin Smoak. He presents a switch hitting, power bat with solid defensive play at first base. This could be an appealing piece in a mid-summer move.
Smoak is probably the better defender the Blue Jays have at 1st base. In 507.1 innings, he’s committed just 2 errors. He is a big target over there and can handle the glove. Now, Frangraphs suggests that his defense has been worse this year than last: -5 DRS, UZR/150: -3.8. It is a good bet that he’ll be right around there for the whole season. While those numbers won’t exactly have other teams lining up for his services, they certainly won’t be able to use his glove against him. He very well could be an upgrade over what some teams are running out there.
The Blue Jays will be fine losing his glove with Edwin Encarnacion able to play the position well enough. Also, if the club can pull off a deal for an outfielder and manage to convince Jose Bautista to put the team first, they will create another 1B/DH partner for Edwin. This duo will more than fill in adequately should Smoak be shipped off.
Don’t underestimate teams searching for some pop in their lineup. Smoak can provide that. Last season, we saw what regular playing time does for him. In 132 games, he hit 18 HR with an ISO of .243. 14 of his HR came from batting right handed, but his ISO marks against either handed pitcher were very nice. This year, in 81 games (half a season), he has 9 home runs. The power seems to be down a bit this year as his ISO is at .170. A positive difference we’re seeing is that Smoak is getting on base far better than he did last year (.326 OBP). That is thanks to large number of walks early on in the season. However, it doesn’t show any more patience. He’s striking out more (31.8%) than he ever has.
Smoak will be a free agent at the end of this season. Should a team be enticed by his power (and remember his pretty good 2015) they would be picking up a rental player themselves. This is where it gets tricky. Generally, teams looking to “sell” at the deadline are looking to get better for the long term; they don’t want to take on rentals. Heck, they may not even want to pay the remainder of his 2016 salary of $3.9M. This is where creativity will have to come into play. Perhaps, the Blue Jays could eat that salary if the return is that valuable. Or, if the mystery club is looking to cut ties with a player of similar salary and situation, they could be convinced to take on Smoak.
If the Blue Jays are going to use Justin Smoak as a trade chip, they are going to have to work hard to convince other teams that he is not the fallen prospect they think he is. The image of Smoak is likely that he has lots of power and a decent glove, but that’s about it. Many teams likely don’t think that he can put it all together to be more than a bench bat. This is a dangerous view of any player entering the Trade Deadline. You want teams viewing your players favorably. For the Blue Jays, having Smoak is kind of redundant. They can certainly keep him, but if he can help bring in another piece that would be more useful, then they have to consider it.
The problem is that Smoak, by himself, may not be a guy that teams target. He may not be enough to get a significant return for the Blue Jays. He won’t be a conversation starter. But, he certainly could be used as a “major league ready” add on piece to facilitate a deal for players that are conversation starters.
There will be those who say that they love Justin Smoak. I’m one of them. But, at a time period where teams are trying to adjust their rosters to give them a boost toward the postseason, all names have to be considered. None of this is to suggest that the Blue Jays must move Smoak. Instead, it is to say that he is a player who, due to the current roster, the Blue Jays can afford to deal should a team be drawn by his power and defense. And, if they can look past all of his other flaws. Otherwise, the Blue Jays can keep him if they feel he can help them win. Being a ‘Trade Chip’ doesn’t mean you are going to net your team a healthy return. It just means that you are expendable and could help your team win in a different way.
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.