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What to Make of the Blue Jays Claiming Justin Smoak

It didn’t take very long for the Blue Jays to make their first waiver claim of the offseason, did it?

In a somewhat surprising move, the Toronto Blue Jays claimed Justin Smoak off waivers from the Seattle Mariners yesterday. I say surprising because the roster currently has a glut of first basemen and DH’s; acquiring Smoak just adds another to the heap.

It’s difficult to say whether this move is just the first in a chain of events to come, but the timing of it might indicate that’s the case. Is it just a waiver claim or is it part of something much larger?



All we can do is speculate, and since there’s ample time to speculate during the offseason, I’ll do exactly that.

Justin Smoak’s career is kind of symbolic for how highly-touted prospects can break your heart. He was selected 11th overall in the 2008 draft by the Texas Rangers and at the time, Smoak was widely regarded as the prize piece in the Cliff Lee trade of 2010.

During the past four seasons, it was a slow and steady decline for Justin Smoak. If I had to liken Smoak’s career path to someone from the Blue Jays, it would be J.P. Arencibia.

Both guys were given ample rope as starting position players, and both guys effectively ran themselves into the ground during their time with their respective organizations. That’s some fault of the players, but also the management for continuing to parade them out there every day.

For those looking for some semblance of good news in the Blue Jays’ latest acquisition, unfortunately not even Lookout Landing can provide a ringing endorsement for Smoak.

“Smoak ends his Mariner career as one of the worst first basemen in baseball over the past 25 years, relative to the massive amount of rope he was given.”

In that respect, I can’t really think of any positives in this claim by the Blue Jays, other than the fact that they might be trying to save some cash. Moving one of their existing first baseman and bringing in Justin Smoak would certainly accomplish that goal.

Even though Paul Beeston has remained adamant that the Blue Jays’ payroll will increase in 2015, this move is indicative of a team trying to save money.

Earlier this week, Joel Sherman reported a trade involving Adam Lind could be the first big move of the offseason. It may just be a coincidence that the Blue Jays claimed Justin Smoak a day later, but there’s the possibility something is in the works.

If trading Lind and making Smoak the everyday first baseman is simply a cost-cutting measure, then it works. Lind has a $7.5 million dollar club option for 2015, and Smoak has a $3.65 million dollar option. However, the Blue Jays could very well just decline the option and go to arbitration, where he’s likely make less.



Of course, the quality of hitter between Lind and Smoak isn’t even close. Both are less than admirable hitters against lefties, but Adam Lind has been one of the best hitters against righties the past few seasons. Smoak has been mediocre at best.

Alex Anthopoulos is notorious for picking up players off the waiver wire who are out of options, and Justin Smoak is no different. So if there was any inclination Smoak might just be minor league depth at first base, that theory goes out the window.

So at minimum, that would make Justin Smoak a bench player. Aside from his ability to hit the odd home run, I can’t really think of what he brings to the Blue Jays that they don’t already have in droves.

There is a remote possibility that someone in the Blue Jays organization feels they can sprinkle some of their magic pixie dust on Justin Smoak and hope he develops into the next Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion.

Be that as it may, it’s hardly the kind of experiment that should take place on a team who’s vying for a playoff spot in 2015.

There’s also a chance moving from a pitcher-friendly park to a hitter-friendly park proves beneficial for Justin Smoak, but I can’t imagine the bump would be so great that it suddenly vaults him into an everyday first baseman’s job on the roster.

In a vacuum, claiming Justin Smoak doesn’t really make
sense. As a precursor for a potential Adam Lind trade, it makes sense,
but it’s not a deal that moves the needle for a team that’s trying to
make the playoffs.

Image courtesy of Joe Nicholson/USA Today

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez “mine” incident. He’ll also retell the story of Game 5 of the ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

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