I honestly cannot believe I am writing this. If you asked me as little as a month ago what I thought about Justin Smoak‘s future, I’d have told you he is done. Officially a bust, and should not get any more second, or fifth, chances.
But, Smoak’s play in September gave me hope again. Now, something similar happened earlier in the year as well when he heated up and won AL Player of the Week. Look how that turned out. However, he was SO GOOD this past month that I think he at least earned the right to battle for the spot. In my opinion though, we should not bring in any significant player to replace him at 1st, at least not now.
First, let’s analyze Smoak’s final month of the season. In 24 games, Smoak put up an astounding .427 wOBA, and 181 wRC+, along with 5 homers and 6 doubles. He only had 7 doubles total for the whole rest of the year. For those of you who don’t know, that 181 wRC+ means that he created 81% more runs than the average player. For reference, Mike Trout led the MLB in that category at 175.
Now obviously Smoak could never sustain anything close to that, but the fact that he was able to do it for a respectable amount of time is encouraging. And for some reason, I am letting one month over shadow the whole rest of his disappointing career.
That being said, Smoak’s resurgence isn’t the only reason I don’t want us to bring in a big name, long term 1st basemen. The more significant reason is because I think that is where Jesus Montero will play long term. To start the year, he and Jaso will most likely share time between catcher and DH. However it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw catching prospect Mike Zunino at some point later in the year. He tore through the minors this year, and made it all the way to AA in about half a season in the minors. When he comes up, assuming Jaso plays how he did this year (or at least better than Smoak), Zunino would catch, with Jaso moving to DH. This would then shift Jesus to 1st, and knock Smoak to the bench.
If we have a big name guy come in to play first, one of Montero or Jaso gets moved to the bench. With Smoak however, he and Jaso would be having a battle for who keeps their job. This ensures that the best player is out there. If we were to go out and spend money/prospects on someone like Justin Morneau, then Jaso could lose playing time depsite hitting well.
The time to go after a 1st basemen would be during or after next season, and only if one of Montero, Jaso or Zunino show that they aren’t worthy of an everyday spot in the lineup, and we feel we need an upgrade.
So what happens if Smoak does finally figure it out, and there becomes one more person than positions? I guess at that point we could consider trading one of them in order to fill a different spot on the team. The chances of that are slim however.
The odds are against Smoak, that’s obvious. He has had many chances to prove himself, and hasn’t been able to do so. But the potential he once had, and the flashes of brilliance we have seen give me hope that maybe he can and will figure it out. But this is it for me. One more shot. If he fails to play well enough (.330 wOBA, 110 wRC+?), then it is time to move on. I no longer expect the .275 average, .350 wOBA, 125 wRC+, 25 home runs that I once did. At this point, I would be very happen if he even came close to that. Let’s hope he surprises me, and figures out whatever it is he needs to figure out.