Former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak is reportedly closing in on a deal with the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan for the 2021 season.
Acquired from the Seattle Mariners via waivers in the offseason of 2014, Justin Smoak was one of the longest tenured players on the Toronto Blue Jays before he departed via free agency during the 2019/2020 off-season. Smoak would find a rollercoaster of success with the Blue Jays, slashing .237/.338/.459 over 684 games with 117 home runs and 321 RBI’s. He would represent the organization at the All-Star game in 2017, his best statistical season with the Jays.
The Goose Creek, South Carolina native would sign a 1 year, $5 million dollar deal with the Milwaukee Brewers and would have a rough season, slashing .186/.262/.381 with 5 home runs, 15 RBI’s, and a .642 OPS. He would eventually be designated for assignment by the Brewers in early September and sign with the San Francisco Giants. He would see limited action before the season came to an end.
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Once again a free agent this offseason, the switch hitting first baseman has decided to take his talents overseas and is set to sign with the Yomiuri Giants of the Nippon Professional Baseball, Japan’s top baseball program. The deal is rumoured to be guaranteed at somewhere between $6-$7 million.
While Smoak did not have a particularly great 2020 season, a year in the NPB could do wonders for the former first round selection. Numerous veteran players have spent some time in Japan and revitalized their career after a few seasons overseas like Dayan Viciedo and Nori Aoki (although he did begin his career in the NPB). Some players even went to Japan for a year or two and returned to the MLB to have successful careers like Cecil Fielder and Canadian Matt Stairs.
A fan favourite with the Blue Jays, everyone saw the writing was on the wall and the organization was heading towards a rebuild and was not going to resign him last off-season. Some were wondering if the Blue Jays would bring him back as a veteran presence in the locker room, as many younger players boasted about his leadership ability in the locker room. That would not be the case, and Smoak would move on to the Brewers.
One wonders if the shortened season is to blame for his poor 2020 campaign, but Smoak was a bit of a streaky hitter in the box, some years being great (2017) and some years being rough to watch (2016).
Here’s hoping for success across the pond for you Smoaky. Maybe we will see you in the future.