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Blue Jays: Why Justin Smoak could fit beyond his current contract

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 9: Justin Smoak #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays rounds the bases on his two-run home run in the first inning during MLB game action against the Cleveland Indians at Rogers Centre on September 9, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 9: Justin Smoak #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays rounds the bases on his two-run home run in the first inning during MLB game action against the Cleveland Indians at Rogers Centre on September 9, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /
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While many of us expect that the Blue Jays may shop Justin Smoak on the trade market before his deal expires at the end of 2019, he could fit with the team in 2020 and beyond.

Regular season baseball is just eight days away now, and we’re starting to see teams around the league shape up their rosters in advance of Opening Day. The Blue Jays did a little more trimming to their roster on Tuesday, optioning Anthony Alford, Reese McGuire, and others to Triple-A to begin to the 2019 campaign.

There are a lot of young players still in camp, but there is still a contingent of veterans as well. One of the oldest players these days is Justin Smoak, who is hardly at the end of his career at 32, but admitted earlier this offseason that it felt weird to be one of the “old guys” on the team. When you consider that he’s spent the last four seasons surrounded by a lot of veterans that were older and more experienced than him, you can see why the transformation would be a little strange.

Even if Smoak if he might feel a little old, and might not have been born within 10 years of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t have a place with this team beyond the 2019 season though. Many of us expect that he’ll be shopped at this year’s trade deadline, and it’s possible that will happen regardless, as he’s on an expiring contract after the Blue Jays picked up his option this offseason. However, there’s always the possibility that he could return on a new deal next winter, even if he does spend the stretch run of this season in another uniform.

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It’s easy to look at almost any veteran and make an argument that they might not fit with the next generation of this team, but I feel like Smoak could be an exception, at least in the short term. Yes, the Blue Jays have Rowdy Tellez waiting in the wings to take over at first base, but there are a couple of things about that. First, Tellez is no guarantee to stick at the highest level, even if he had a really nice cameo with the Blue Jays last fall. Secondly though, they might be able to fit both of them into their plans going forward anyway.

Let’s fast forward in our heads to the 2020 season and imagine that the Blue Jays have now called up both Guerrero Jr. and Bichette. It could go beyond that too with guys like Alford, or maybe even Cavan Biggio, but the point is the team will have undergone an ever greater push toward youth. In fact, if I were to take a stab at what the Blue Jays’ lineup might look like by May or June of next season, it might look something like the tweet I sent out the other day, and you’ll have to excuse the fact that I punched in 2019 instead of 2020.

Now, this is just my prediction for how things will work out a little more than a year from now, and a lot could change. Kevin Pillar is still technically under contract for the 2020 season, as well as this year, but I just feel like Alford will overtake him by then. It’s also possible that Billy McKinney plays his way into a full-time role this season, or maybe the same happens for Brandon Drury or Devon Travis.

However, just humour me for a moment and have a look at the lineup that I’ve sketched out for you above. Is there anything that stands out to you beyond the “mystery” spot for the designated hitter?

What I was hoping you would notice is that the Blue Jays will be very right-handed heavy with the core of their young stars, as all of Guerrero Jr, Bichette, Alford, Gurriel Jr., Jansen, and Hernandez all hit right-handed. Of the eight hitters listed above only Tellez hits from the left side, which isn’t really a good thing unless you’re facing off against southpaws every day.

A lot could change in a year of course, but a quick glance at next winter’s upcoming free agent’s list doesn’t provide a lot of solutions from the left side either. Of course, there is the switch-hitting Kendrys Morales who will also be a free agent at season’s end, but beyond that the pickings are pretty slim. In fact, unless something crazy happens like the Cubs declining the 14.5 million dollar option on Anthony Rizzo (not gonna happen), then you could make a strong argument that Smoak is the best left-handed hitter of the lot.

The free agent market hasn’t been kind to first base types in recent years, and it’s been even worse to players around Smoak’s age, who will be 33 next offseason. That said, he should have plenty left to contribute and the Blue Jays might be wise to consider him near the top of their list. He could be an excellent mentor and partner for Tellez at first base, provide some pop in the middle of the lineup, and give Montoyo some balance from the left side against right-handed starters.

When you consider that the Blue Jays should have all kinds of budget room to play with, I can’t see why bringing him back next season on a one or two year deal wouldn’t work for both sides. He and his family seem to enjoy Toronto, and from every report I’ve come across he’s been a great teammate. The kids could benefit from having a veteran or two around anyway, and Smoak will have the added benefit of getting to know them this year.

Alford headed back to minor league camp. dark. Next

Add it all up and it makes a lot of sense to me for at least the 2020 season. As more of the talented youngsters arrive from the minor league system the situation could certainly change, but as things stand right now, I could see Justin Smoak in a Blue Jays uniform for more than just the next four months.

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