The Blue Jays’ Puzzling Contract Extension for Justin Smoak

Of all the players to sign to a two-year contract extension on the Blue Jays roster, Justin Smoak would be one of the unlikeliest.

Although he’s a decent defender at first base and a switch-hitting first baseman with pop, Justin Smoak isn’t exactly high on the Blue Jays’ priority list. Well, evidently not. His two-year/$8.25 million dollar deal (with club option) now ensures Smoak will be with the Blue Jays for the foreseeable future.

“Why?” is the question which many are asking about this puzzling contract extension. Why re-sign a guy like Smoak who’s been a replacement-level player thus far in 2016?


Do Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays front office staff value Smoak’s defense that much that the club needed to give that kind guaranteed money to Smoak? To his credit, he has a great glove, but is it really worth more than $4 million dollars a season?

In the grand scheme of things, Justin Smoak’s contract is peanuts compared to other deals on the Blue Jays’ payroll. It’s not the dollar amount I take issue with; it’s the fact that Justin Smoak has a guaranteed roster spot for the next two seasons, when he’s done very little this year to earn that roster spot.

Given, the first base free agent class this offseason is very thin. But at the very least, you’d think either Chris Colabello or someone from the minor leagues could fill the void at first base for at least the 2017 season. I’m not sure why the Jays deemed it necessary to lock themselves into Justin Smoak for two more years.

There is the possibility that the Jays are merely trying to get ahead of the market and sign Smoak now before they have to pay an exorbitant amount for a first baseman this offseason.

At this point, Justin Smoak has been relegated as a left-handed platoon partner and late-game defensive replacement. Unless an injury takes place, I don’t see any reason for that to change this year, as well as 2017 and 2018.

$4.125 million annually might seem like a lot for one-half of a first baseman, but in 2018 when salaries are even higher for first baseman, that dollar amount for Smoak might not look as bad.

If we’re going by FanGraphs dollar value, Justin Smoak posted 0.6 WAR last season, which was worth $4.19 million dollars. In 83 games this season, Smoak has posted 0.2 WAR, which has been worth $1.3 million dollars. In that respect, the money for Smoak isn’t all that egriegous, as the cost per win is steadily increasing.

That is of course assuming that Justin Smoak hasn’t been designated for assignment by then, because he seemed dangerously close to being non-tendered this offseason.

Which is why I have difficulty grasping how a player can go from nearly being left off the roster to receiving a two-year contract extension with a club opti0n.


I very much doubt this Smoak deal has anything to do with the future of Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion. These things are completely unrelated, and in no way does Smoak’s contract signal the end of the line for Edwin or Jose.

In addition to “why?”, I wonder “why now?” to ink Justin Smoak to a new deal. I suppose if he and his agent were ready to sign now for a reasonable amount, there’s no need to draw out the process any further. But I’d much rather wait until season’s end to have a full body of Smoak’s work rather than gamble mid-way through the season.

Teams aren’t exactly tripping over themselves to acquire the services of Justin Smoak, a predominantly glove-first first baseman at a position which replacement-level players are a dime a dozen. So why the need to extend this one in particular?

Ultimately, Justin Smoak’s new contract hardly moves the needle in the way of payroll commitment for the Jays, as it does the overall impact on the roster. But boy, did this deal seem unnecessary.

Ian Hunter

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 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.

10 thoughts on “The Blue Jays’ Puzzling Contract Extension for Justin Smoak

  • July 17, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    Puzzling to you, maybe. Not to anyone from Cleveland. Get used to this kind of first baseman as long as Mark Shapiro is running your team.

    I had to deal with this incompetent for 15 years; I nearly did a breakdance when I heard he was leaving. His inability to understand the defensive spectrum– that certain positions need to produce offense– is just one of his myriad flaws.

    If you want to read about him, come on over. The “website” will take you to a post that concludes with the following paragraph:

    “I’m sure there will be people who, when Toronto goes to 84 wins next year and then 77 in 2017, say that Anthopoulis screwed Shapiro by trading young pitching. But most other people, watching players comparable to Casey Kotchman, Jack Hannahan and Gavin Floyd being deployed, will divine the truth.”

    That was supposed to be a joke– not a prediction.

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  • July 17, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    you seem to act like he has zero offense. you know how many AL 1B has 10+ HR? 9 and most of them make a lot more than 4 mil. chris davis has 22 HR in 50% more ab’s. that works out to 15 for smoak. are you willing to pay davis 30 mil and 7 years for just a few more HR’s? you seem to act like these players are readily available. they’re not. logan morrison is making 4.2 mil. he also has 10HR in far more ab’s. adam lind is making 8 mil for just 13 HR and a .230 BA. you want him?

    In your article you might want to suggest who you think is a better option out there for the same price. I don’t see any. And yes teams would be clamouring for a power hitting 1B at that price. The jays would have gotten nothing for him if he left. Now they have some trade value. And compared to last year he is having an off year so there is upside as well.

    • July 17, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      Compared to last year he is down, sure. But over 7 yrs and almost 2800 career big league plate appearances he has hit .225/.310/.394. So he his hitting above his career norm.

      Does anyone think that the years on the other side of 30 for this guy will improve? He’s already hitting better than he ever has and thats not saying much.

    • July 17, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      That’s the thing, there really aren’t any better options out there. But Smoak’s playing time at 1B has dwindled, with Encarnacion getting the lion’s share of the starts over there. He has some pop, but Smoak is incredibly prone to dry spells and he’s a very streaky hitter. I’m cool with him as a platoon guy, but if he’s over at 1B starting 120 or 130 games, then that scares me a little bit.

      • July 17, 2016 at 4:07 pm

        you are sort of contradicting yourself. you don’t like smoak but there are no better options out there? which one is it? 80% of the league is RHP so why would that scare you? he ops’s .789 vs RHP with 9 HR in only 157 ab’s. I’ll take that any day.

        • July 17, 2016 at 4:29 pm

          No better options in the way of free agents – a trade could always be made though, and I wonder if someone like Tellez could eventually step in at 1B. The Jays could certainly do worse thank Smoak, but I’d like to hope they could do much better at that position.

  • July 17, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Frankly, I don’t think Smoak’s defence is all that great to even label him with monikers like “glove-first first baseman”, or “he has a great glove”

    • July 17, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      I was just thinking this morning that it’s very difficult to quantify defense at first base. I suppose the requirements to be a league-average defender at 1B are much lower than other positions. But I’ll agree that Smoak isn’t quite Gold Glove calibre, but I’d take his glove over Encarnacion or perhaps even Colabello’s.

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