When the Toronto Blue Jays claimed Justin Smoak on waivers way back in 2014, it was uncertain whether the former first-round selection’s career could be turned around.
Five years after he first joined the team, Justin Smoak is now the longest-tenured Blue Jay and one of the last remaining pieces from the 2015 playoff run. He has experienced both successes, and failures in his time in Toronto, but the 32-year-old first baseman has managed to stay the course while so many of his former teammates have left town.
Smoak had trade rumors swirling around him for the better part of this season while playing on an expiring contract, but the Blue Jays front office were unable to secure any return for the switch-hitting first baseman before the trade deadline passed. It may be due to the fact that Smoak has regressed in 2019 batting .212 over 344 at-bats this season. There are glimmers of hope in Smoak’s 2019 numbers, as he is projected to strike out less and walk more this season than any time in his career, and he has shown that he still has power taking opposing pitchers deep 19 times.
Yet, even with his increased plate discipline, it’s hard to imagine Justin Smoak playing in Toronto next season for a variety of reasons.
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First, there is Rowdy Tellez, the Blue Jays other power-hitting first baseman. Rowdy needs the reps and at-bats that Smoak would get to give management an idea of whether or not he is truly the first baseman of the future. His return to Toronto from Buffalo has already cut into Smoak’s playing time, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the team carries both players for the bulk of a season. Their profiles are just too similar.
Then there is the issue of Smoak’s trade value on the open market – or lack thereof. Ross Atkins failed to extract any value for Justin Smoak this year, so there is no reason to think that they could do any better next year if he were signed on a short contract. We saw Blue Jays management unable to land anything for Freddy Galvis who was having a career year offensively, showing just how much-opposing teams are unwilling to deal prospects for fringe rentals. Blue Jays management should instead focus on signing players that would bring back a return.
Then there is the often discussed possibility that the Blue Jays try to transition Vlad Guerrero Jr to first base. Many have Guerrero Jr pegged as the Blue Jays first baseman of the future already, and his 14 errors at third in 2019 don’t help his case for staying there. Signing Smoak to anything more than a 1-year deal makes even less sense until they see what they have in Vlad Guerrero Jr next season.
Sadly, it seems like the Blue Jays could decide to part ways with fan favourite Justin Smoak at the end of this season. Still, Justin has come a long way from the player who arrived in Toronto labeled a “Draft Bust”. In Toronto, Smoak was finally able to live up to his potential and become one of the more productive Blue Jays players of the last 10 years.