Blue Jays: It’s surprising that Justin Smoak cleared waivers

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 21: Justin Smoak #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after lining out to end the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on August 21, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 21: Justin Smoak #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after lining out to end the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre on August 21, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

It’s not uncommon for teams to put their best players on waivers in August to gauge interest. It is surprising, however, that Justin Smoak went unclaimed.

With a little more than a week left before the August trade deadline is up, the Blue Jays could still be in the market to sell another veteran or two. It’s been reported that Curtis Granderson has cleared waivers, and he’s a strong candidate to get moved this month for a variety of reasons including his abilities as a platoon outfielder, his clubhouse presence, and his relatively cheap cost.

The Blue Jays likely have put several players on waivers that we may never hear about, but one rumour we caught wind of was surprising to me. It’s very common for GMs to test the waiver wire with some of their best players even if they have no intention of moving them, but more often than not that results in at least one team making a claim. Someone like Granderson makes a lot of sense to move, but the same waiver strategy could be used for others that aren’t necessarily on the active trade market.

Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays front office did just that with their first baseman, Justin Smoak, who is in the final year of a two year contract he signed before the 2017 season. Unlike Granderson, the Blue Jays hold a very reasonable contract option on the switch-hitter, and it’s pretty much a no-brainer that they’ll exercise it this winter whether they intend to hang on to him or not.

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It was not surprising to hear that the Blue Jays put him on the waiver wire, but I am pretty shocked that he went unclaimed, at least according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. While the main contenders to acquire a player at this time of the year are the contenders, Smoak is the type of player that could have made sense pretty much anywhere. His contract calls for just six million in 2019, and he’s been productive enough this year to disregard the 2017 season as a fluke.

We saw the value of aging, one-dimensional players take a tremendous hit on the free agent market this past winter, but Smoak barely qualifies for either of those descriptors. At just 31, age shouldn’t be a concern, and again we’re talking about a one year commitment beyond this season, so the risk is next to none. As far as his tool belt, he’s not a speedster and he’s exclusively a first baseman, but he hits well enough for both power and average to be an asset. He entered Wednesday’s game with a .255/.364/.468 slash line with 19 home runs, 61 RBI, and 32 doubles.

And yet, nobody put in a claim on the former first round pick. If we look at the American League Playoff teams, I suppose it makes some sense, but that doesn’t cover the entire league. The playoffs teams in the AL are expected to be Boston, Cleveland, New York, and two of Houston, Oakland, and Seattle. With all due respect to each player at the top of their depth charts, Smoak could arguably be one of the best of the bunch. Do any of Mitch Moreland, Yonder Alonso, Greg Bird, Tyler White/Yuli Gurriel strike you as better than what the South Carolina native brings to the table? Even the power-hitting Matt Olson of the A’s and Ryon Healy of the Mariners don’t offer the overall hitting package.

Granted, Smoak might not have moved the needle enough for any of the above mentioned teams to make a claim, and in some cases there isn’t any salary cap room left. Like I said above though, what about the rest of the teams in the National League, or even the non-contenders?

Often I can be guilty of overvaluing some of the players the Blue Jays have employed over the years, and maybe there’s a bit of that going on here again. Maybe it’s the evolution of the game and the fact that most GM’s think they can find a power hitting first baseman anywhere on the cheap. Whatever it is, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that nobody put a claim in on the Blue Jay slugger.

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Perhaps there will be some decent trade offers sent to Ross Atkins before the month is up anyway, but I would hope it would take a pretty decent return to pry him away, and it would be surprising to see that happen after he went through the waiver wire. Then again, after seeing what the Nationals got for Daniel Murphy, maybe it’s best they hang on to Smoak for next season anyway.