Blue Jays year in review: 1B Justin Smoak
Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak was a quietly intelligent piece of roster work by general manager Alex Anthopoulos last offseason. After non-tendering Smoak, the Blue Jays were able to re-sign the former top prospect for a flat rate of $1 million, which was below his projected arbitration number at the time. Given the departure of Adam Lind, he represented a low-cost shot in the dark.
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Anthopoulos indicated that the scouting and analytics departments believed Smoak was due for a jump in his game, one which would be aided by the friendly confines of the Rogers Centre. His glove would also be welcome as part of an organizational shift towards a more defensively focused unit including the additions of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson.
Smoak would eventually move into a swinging timeshare with unexpected contributor Chris Colabello, but finish the season with a comfortable 328 plate appearances. The switch-hitter would post 18 home runs with a career-high 59 RBI in 2015, cranking out a slash line of .229 / .299 / .470. That was good for another career-high in OPS at .768, but as it always has been with Smoak in his still-young career, inconsistencies and empty at-bats plagued him.
Everything becomes a little easier to digest with Smoak with you give his salary consideration. Anthopoulos went to the well on minor league free agents and waiver claims as much as anyone, and contributors like Smoak are the reason why. While a 0.6 WAR is not a roster-altering move, Smoak filled a need for decent value on the dollar.
In the field, Smoak posted career-highs in RZR (.842) and UZR (2.2). Smoak wouldn’t be able to survive on a quality roster at the MLB level as a strict DH, so it’s good he brings something with the glove. If his offensive statistics were stretched over a full-season workload, while many metrics would remain underwhelming, Smoak would push into the deep 20s in home runs and easily surpass 80+ RBI.
Toronto’s ALCS loss to the Kansas City Royals showed how useful a more contact-heavy approach could be, and in Smoak, you’re not getting that. His .299 OBP was torpedoed by a career-high 26.2 K%. We can also question how sustainable the home run numbers are, as his HR/FB ratio of 25.4% is nearly double his career average of 13.2%.
Don’t expect any sweeping changes to the Blue Jays offense this offseason. Besides, why would they? But if any tinkering is done, I’d expect it to be a subtle shift away from the all-or-nothing bat types. I profiled Canadian 1B Justin Morneau as a potential option, and while he comes with some risks of his own, he at least represents the style of hitter that Toronto may choose to seek out over someone like Smoak.
Smoak is projected by MLBTR to earn an arbitration salary of $2 million entering 2016, and along with Ben Revere (projected $6.7 million), he could be a candidate for a non-tender. While $2 million for Smoak’s bat is not horrifying by any means, the great need for pitching on this roster could force the Jays and Mark Shapiro to squeeze in other places. If the Jays can replace Smoak’s production in the 1B/DH picture with a veteran minimum or minor league contract, that’s some added money in the bank for a bullpen arm of 6th-8th depth starter.