The Toronto Blue Jays claimed first baseman Justin Smoak off of waivers in a move that adds depth at first base entering the off-season.
Smoak hit 20 home runs for the Seattle Mariners in 2013 but his numbers dropped off this past season, when he batted .202/.275/.339 with seven home runs in 276 plate appearances. The 27-year-old switch-hitter also spent 56 games at triple-A, where he batted .337/.422/.502 in 249 plate appearances.
The claim, which was announced by the Blue Jays Tuesday, gives Toronto another option behind Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind at first base. The Blue Jays are expected to exercise Lind’s $7.5 million 2015 option following the World Series, but they could consider trading Lind, in which case Smoak would offer depth.
Smoak, the 11th overall selection of the Texas Rangers in the 2008 draft, hit at least 15 home runs each year from 2011-13. He has had more success batting from the left side, as his career line of .224/.318/.391 against right-handed pitching shows. However, he has yet to live up to his billing as a top prospect, as his lifetime OPS of .689 shows (94 OPS+).
Seattle’s Safeco Field has traditionally suppressed offence, so it’s no surprise that Smoak has hit better on the road (.728 career OPS) than at home (.648 OPS).
Smoak’s contract includes a 2015 option valued at $3.65 million. If the Blue Jays decline the option in favour of a $150,000 buyout, they could still go to arbitration with Smoak, who earned $2.6375 million in 2014 and will remain under team control through 2016. Should the Blue Jays decline the option, they’d be looking at a 2015 arbitration salary in the $3 million range, according to MLB Trade Rumors. That figure would not be fully guaranteed until midway through spring training, however.
Smoak is out of options, meaning he’d have to be exposed to waivers again before being sent to the minor leagues.
The Blue Jays relied on Dan Johnson to provide first base depth in 2014, but he is now a free agent. Danny Valencia and John Mayberry Jr. are among the other Blue Jays with recent experience at first base.