The Toronto Blue Jays need a lefty bat. Their lineup is heavily right handed. Chris Davis is a left handed bat with lots of power. Because these truths exist, there will undoubtedly be some sort of link this offseason until Davis signs somewhere. As flimsy as these “links” will be, the Blue Jays certainly could benefit from being the team to sign him. But, with other needs that may end up costing a pretty penny, does it make sense for the Blue Jays to look internally for this lefty presence? Can Justin Smoak be a poor man’s Chris Davis?
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The Blue Jays only have so much money to work with. Despite there being the notion from Steve Simmons that they have a bunch of money they didn’t expect to have, we’re also hearing that payroll may actually go down. These mixed messages combine to create a financial mystery. The truth is, we’re not sure just how much money the club has to address its needs. What is even less clear is just how they plan to use the money they do have.
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Chris Davis certainly represents a big upgrade from the left side of the plate. His 47 HR and 117 RBI from last season sure would look nice. Since 2012, he’s clubbed 169 bombs. There is no denying his power. His .300 ISO form last year sure would benefit from hitting at Rogers Centre. We all have seen just how much he enjoys hitting there. This piece is not to argue against the value Davis brings. You can’t. In fact, Mat Germain already outlined why the Blue Jays should sign him.
But, here’s the thing: There are potentially more expensive holes to fill than a lefty bat at first base. Starting pitching could eat up a large portion of whatever amount of money there is. The club has already picked up options on R.A. Dickey, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. It will have to set aside money for those arbitration cases like Josh Donaldson. So maybe they need a cheaper option than Davis. Enter Justin Smoak.
On its face, this idea seems silly. There is no way Smoak can give you the kind of production that Davis can. But, hear me out. Last season, Smoak hit 18 HR and 59 RBI in 328 plate appearances. Davis put his numbers up in 670 PA. If Smoak had twice as many appearances, what kind of damage could he have done? But, Smoak strikes out too much! Well, it’s true. He does strike out a lot, 26.2% of the time last year. But, Davis whiffed an eye popping 31% of the time. Off the top, this doesn’t seem to be quite the step down.
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But, it is. Smoak is not Davis. His 2015 BB% is lower (8.8% to 12.5%), his 2015 ISO is lower (.243 to .300), his 2015 OBP is not even close (.299 to .361). He put up a wRC+ of 107 to Davis’ 147. I’m not here to try and pretend that Smoak will give you what Davis would. But, if the Blue Jays need a lefty power bat and don’t have the $144M over 6 yrs that MLBTR suggests Davis will command, then perhaps Smoak can be the discounted alternative.
In Smoak, the Blue Jays have a switch hitter who can be asked to hit from the left side. If they are worried about his ability to hit left handed pitching, they can do as they did in 2015 and limit his time in that situation. He collected zero plate appearances versus lefty pitching. Now, Davis can hit left handed pitching as evidenced by his .268 mark in 2015. But, as an everyday 1B who hits from the left side, Smoak might just fit what the Blue Jays are looking for. If they’re truly looking at Davis, they might as well look at Smoak.
Smoak provides great defense at 1B. He was worth 4 DRS and put up a UZR/150 of 4.6. Davis was worth 4 DRS and a UZR/150 of 5.7. SO, going with Smoak doesn’t really cost them much on the defensive side of things. He would certainly provide less production than Davis at the plate. Between the two, Smoak is certainly not the guy you’d prefer to have. But, at a time of financial uncertainty, preferences don’t really matter.
Smoak provides a portion of what Davis does. But, he provides it at a fraction of the cost. And in the 2015/16 offseason, that may be the deciding factor. Running Justin Smoak out there everyday might be an idea that makes Blue Jays fans cringe. Running Chris Davis out there is an idea right out of our dreams. This offseason, though, reality might trump dreams.