The Toronto Blue Jays signed 1B Justin Smoak to a two-year, $8.25 million contract extension with a 2019 club option on Saturday
Justin Smoak’s two-year contract extension with the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday came as a surprise, for the most part, due to the timing.
Smoak exited the recent All-Star break batting .160 since the beginning of June and holds a strikeout rate of 31.7% this year, a career high including all major and minor league seasons. The hulking switch-hitter quickly thanked the Blue Jays with a solo home run, his 10th of the year, in the top of the ninth on Saturday, but an in-season extension with Smoak was widely unexpected.
Currently earning $3.9 million in his final year of arbitration, Smoak will see a raise to $4.125 annually over the next two seasons (with a $6 million club option in 2019 that has the potential to reach $8 million based on plate appearances).
Considering the minimal raise, any suggestion that this signals a substantial shift in organizational philosophy is overblown. Ideally for the Blue Jays, Smoak will continue to occupy a similar role that he has since arriving in Toronto. Whether that role comes alongside Edwin Encarnacion, Rowdy Tellez, or an external addition remains to be seen, but this is not a case of Smoak tripling his salary to become the everyday number two hitter.
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This extension also has minimal impact, if any, on Encarnacion’s pending free agency. The same goes for Jose Bautista. Despite the temptation to run free with a buzz-worthy narrative here, Smoak’s extension could very well exist within a bubble that impacts him, and only him.
There is, however, a smaller and more realistic takeaway from the extension on the organizational side. Mainly: the elimination of unknown variables.
Justin Smoak brings a low batting average, 10-to-20 home runs, and a valuable defensive profile at first base (though defensive metrics do not love Smoak nearly as much as the eyeball test does). He currently holds a 0.1 fWAR in 2016 and has peaked at 0.7 fWAR.
That statistical production, if a team plays their cards right, can be found on the waiver wire for a minimum salary. The operative word here, of course, is “if”.
By extending Smoak, the Blue Jays are eliminating the “if” in this specific situation, because despite his streaky nature and the weaknesses in his game, Smoak represents the type of player that may hold a greater value to this front office regime than the past one: a known commodity that secures the floor of Toronto’s 25-man roster depth. This is especially relevant when considering the significant number of Blue Jays entering free agency next year.
Previously, Alex Anthopoulos churned through a high number of waiver-wire finds at the bottom of the Blue Jays roster. The 2016 team has been forced to do that in some small cases, as all teams do, but locking up a player like Smoak at premium dollars (for the type of player he is) represents a slight shift away from those unknown variables.
Would a 2017 waiver-wire first-baseman give the Blue Jays an OPS of .725 to .775? Perhaps, but Smoak is a more certain bet and is now certified in-house. Furthermore, in situations such as this, it is crucial to remember that the Blue Jays front office, trainers, coaches, and analytics department understand Smoak’s value and all factors involved on a level that nobody outside of their meeting rooms do.