Justin Smoak- Credit: DaveMe Images

Should the Blue Jays Bring Back Justin Smoak Next Season?

The Toronto Blue Jays will have to make a decision on whether to bring Justin Smoak back to play first base and he might be the best choice

 

 

 

 

The other day Jamie Campbell and Joe Siddall discussed an interesting topic on Blue Jays Central. The duo posed the question of if the Blue Jays should bring back Justin Smoak next year. They referenced several budding players who could fill the playing time, but none really stand out for me. There’s Rowdy Tellez, Brandon Drury, Billy McKinney, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Guerrero at first base is an entirely other conversation in itself, so let’s pretend he’s not part of this equation. Well, to answer this question we first need to provide some context on Smoak.

 

Many were very critical when the front office gave Smoak a two-year extension with an option for a third back in 2016 and rightfully so. The switch-hitting first basemen and former first-round pick signed with the Blue Jays in 2014 and was primarily used in rotation with Chris Colabello and Edwin Encarnacion in 2015. He got starts at first and came off the bench as a defensive replacement and pinch hitter mostly against RHP batting .226/.299/.470 overall.

 

Smoak was at least tolerable in 2015 and then oh my god his 2016 season was one to forget. He batted .217/.314/.391 with a 32.8 K% and relatively even batted ball luck. So, what on Earth earned him an extension worth 16.25 million dollars? Well, he was in the top 8% of average exit velocity that year, so it wasn’t a blind bet that Smoak would improve and improve he sure did. The contract went from being one of the worsts and most questionable deals around the league to one of the biggest bargains in less than a year.

 

All-star first baseman. Who would have thought? (…well the front office, obviously) Smoak’s 2017 season was something to marvel at and if the rest of the team around him could have held up, he would have been a big part in a third straight playoff appearance. Smoak was also in the top 6% of batters in Barrel percentage according to baseball savant. But he tailed off towards the end of the year.

 

But this wouldn’t just be a one-off for the new fan favorite. He’s lived up to his full potential and out produced the dollar amount on the contract by quite a bit. From 2017 until now Smoak has batted .246/.353/.475 in 1672 PA, good enough for a 122 wRC+. So, with that context in mind, let us get back to our original question. Should the Blue Jays bring Justin Smoak back for the 2020 season?

 

Yes. A theme for the 2019 season so far has been the hunt for consistency. Many players on the roster lack consistency. Which includes all of the players listed above as possible in-house replacements for Smoak. Why let one of the most consistent hitters in the Jays’ lineup walk for nothing when there isn’t a clear successor? Smoak is in the middle of his worst season throughout his three-year contract but has been on the receiving end of some bad luck. He has a .230 BABIP and an xwOBA of .380 opposed to his actual wOBA of .338. His xwOBA of .380 ranks in the top 10% in baseball according to baseball savant.

 

We saw Jesus Aguilar dealt at the deadline to the Tampa Bay for RHP Jacob Faria. So, there definitely could have been a market for Smoak, but he’s still a Blue Jay, why?. Seems kinda odd that a team in the middle of a rebuild would hold onto Smoak just for him to walk for nothing a few months later. Unless there were plans to hold onto the 32-year-old, of course.

 

The offensive production is clearly still there for Smoak. He isn’t anything spectacular defensively, but having him at first base is nice insurance for the young players in the infield. Something that the Blue Jays lack is offensive depth and protection for their young stars. I’ve even thought about the possibility of maybe adding a bat to that mix through free agency, never mind losing Smoak. Also, it’s always nice to have the versatility that switch hitters bring to your lineup.

 

Ultimately, I hope that the Blue Jays do bring Smoak back for the 2020 season. I’d like to see one of Drury, McKinney, or Tellez displace him through their play. Not because they’re Charlie Montoyo’s only options. The market for First Basemen/Designated hitters has soft the last few seasons and the Blue Jays will have money to spend this offseason. So, the dollar amount shouldn’t be the deciding factor in this decision at all. But I guess time will tell and until then happy trails Blue Jays fans. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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