There is an obvious ground swell, or at least groan, about Justin Smoak from the fans. Their gripe is not without reason. But to those that ask, “why don’t the Jays just release him?” the answer is not so simple.
Firstly, Rowdy is not ready. As Kevin Barker astutely noted on Tuesday’s Jeff Blair show, Rowdy Tellez has a tendency for opposite field power, which is obviously not a bad thing, but if you’re not able to hit pull side homers, especially as a projected lefty power bat, you’re not ready for the show. Barker followed that up though by saying essentially that the issue was nothing that couldn’t be corrected on the farm after a campaign, or less.
It is becoming almost a fait accompli that Justin Smoak is nothing more than a place filler at first for Tellez, in the fans’ eyes. And maybe he is, but it does beg the question then of the millions of dollars the club has already committed to Smoak. Having to eat that would be a very difficult task for thrifty owner Rogers’ Corporation and it’s stake holders.
Now the other possibility, as slim as it might seem to some, is that Smoak rakes, or at the very least plays to his “upside” that he came with when acquired from the Mariners in the off season leading up to 2015, the same time (at least same off season) the Jays also acquired Michael Saunders from Seattle.
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Personally, I was excited at the possibility of both former Mariners contributing substantially to the club. Especially Saunders, because our only real major league level option we had at that time in left was Andy Dirks if I recall correctly.
It didn’t work out as planned, with Saunders sitting out all of ‘15 due to getting a spike caught on a sprinkler in the grass at the Jays’ Spring complex in Dunedin, and Smoak not getting a lot of playing time due to Chris Colabello’s strong play, and of course steady Eddie’s unwavering presence.
Jumping ahead two years, at least the Jays have Steve Pearce, even though he did end Wednesday’s game against the Orioles by hitting into a 6-4-3 double play. As some would have it, he’s your answer at first base. That kind of thinking, however, seriously overlooks the defensive concession the team would have to make.
At 5’11 Pearce’s wingspan is nowhere near what Smoak provides at 6’4. And with those human highlight reels comprising the left side of the infield, I would, by far, want Smoak providing the target across the diamond. Also, consider the domino effect: significantly cutting into our outfield depth with Pearce at first base. Especially these days, with Ezequiel Carrera’s ankles sustaining obvious trauma as he was rounding second on Wednesday night.
So there really is no simple answer. Other possible “solutions” are giving Dalton Pompey a shot in left, once he clears concussion protocol or more likely bringing up Chris Coghlan from Buffalo. My hunch will be that the team will stand pat with Smoak, barring him hitting at or below the Mendoza line for a significant clip.
That would be the only way, because as it stands, it seems likely that ownership would simply find it too unpalatable to eat over $4 million per year, as per their 2 year pact signed with Smoak last year during the season – that coupled with however much they’re on the hook for on Upton’s contract (I’ve been hearing $1 million or $5 million).
Either way, unless Smoak hits like he’s shown flashes of throughout his career and exercises more plate discipline, it’ll be a net loss for the club, the fan, ownership and the accompanying ire of the shareholders.
Personally I think Smoak, with some sustained playing time, will show his true value on both sides of the ball. Stashed away at the back of that lineup, the Jays should be just fine with him, barring a bad year from some of our core.