According to various sources, the Blue Jays have agreed to a two year extension with 1B/DH Justin Smoak that takes him off the free agent market this winter and guarantees him at least $8.5-million over the 2017-2018 seasons.
Justin Smoak gets $4.125 in each of the next two years. #BlueJays— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) July 16, 2016
In addition, there's a team option for the 2019 season with a floor of $6-million, which can increase to as much as $8-million based on Smoak's plate appearances in 2018-19. The option comes with a $250,000 buyout which takes the total guarantee to the $8.5-million.
That the Jays chose to extend Smoak, 29, is interesting to say the least, considering that the former top prospect is only hitting .234/.333/.402 with 9 home runs and a 32% strikeout rate in 246 plate appearances in 2016. When first acquired, he seemed like an intriguing breakout candidate going from a division of mostly power suppressing parks to a division of mostly power-friendly parks, but in year and a half in with Toronto, his overall line is just .229/.314/.441 with 27 home runs in 574 PA, which on an adjusted basis is almost an exactly league average line (below average for the position). The power is real, but so are the strikeouts.
This level is guarantee is certainly not going to cripple the Blue Jays the Blue Jays payroll structure regardless of what Smoak does, and in the very unlikely event that he does figure it out this year or in his age-30 season, they'd potentially have a nice bargain on their hands. After all, it was only a full year after being acquired that Jose Bautista started to put things together, so it wouldn't be completely unprecedented.
More significantly, it commits a roster spot over the near term. In fact, the extension is probably most interesting and telling for what it implies about other players than what it really says about Smoak. First and foremost are the free-agent-to-be trio of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Michael Saunders. Though only Encarnacion occupies the same positions right now, any extension of Bautista or Saunders would have to be premised upon a transition to first base or base in the near to medium term. That they're locking up Smoak now potentially suggests that they're not optimistic about retaining more than one of those three, if any.
Then there's Chris Colabello, eligible to return in one week from his suspension. For the remainder of the year, his playing time and Smoak's playing time is a zero sum game. Beyond this year, it depends on what happens with the above free agents, but investing in Smoak would not seem to bode well for his future.
Finally, there's Rowdy Tellez, who has been mashing in New Hampshire for the last two months, pushing his season line to .291/.391/.498 (and .316/.421/.566 against righties, with little production against lefties). There remain skeptics (for example, Keith Law) about whether that will ultimately translate to the big leagues, but if one believes in him he would probably be ready for a major league opportunity as early as later this year or next. This does throw a minor roadblock in front of him and his path, and may be a signal about how the the front office evaluates and projects him. Though ultimately, if he continues banging down the door, it's not a prohibitive roadblock and he'll force himself into the picture.
Smoak was originally acquired by the Blue Jays on October 28, 2014 off waivers from the Mariners, at which point he had a two years of arbitration eligibility and control remaining. He also had $3.65-million option for 2015 with a $150,000 buyout, which the Jays ultimately declined a couple days later before non-tendering him on December 2nd but re-signing him as a free agent the next day for $1-million (all in cost of $1,170,000 including the option buyout and waiver claim cost). They agreed to terms this past December on a $3.9-million contract for 2016.
Smoak was originally drafted 11th overall by the Texas Rangers in the 2008 draft out of the University of South Carolina, and traded in July 2010 to the Mariners in the Cliff Lee deal a few months after making his debut. At that point, he was considered one of the top prospects in baseball, ranked 13th overall entering 2010 by Baseball America and 17th overall by Baseball Prospectus.