Justin Smoak Rumors

Quick Hits: Zito, Giants, Cespedes, Stearns

Barry Zito tossed an inning in the Athletics‘ 5-1 loss to the Astros today, marking his first Major League appearance since 2013.  It wasn’t exactly a triumphant return (Zito allowed a hit, a walk and a two-run homer to Colby Rasmus in his one inning) but it still represented a milestone for the veteran southpaw, who worked his way back to the Show after sitting out 2014 and spending most of this season at Oakland’s Triple-A affiliate.  Here’s more from around the game as we begin a new week…

  • David Stearns was involved in all facets of baseball operations as the Astros’ assistant GM, which Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweets was one of the many reasons why the Brewers wanted him as their new general manager.  Stearns’ multi-tasking ability made him the ideal choice as Jeff Luhnow’s lone second-in-command in Houston, as Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle notes that many teams have multiple assistant GMs who oversee different departments.  Stearns’ departure, therefore, leaves the Astros with a big hole to fill.  The Astros have several highly-touted members of the organization who could potentially be promoted to assistant GM, and Drellich notes that promoting from within could help the Astros retain these front office talents before they’re lured away by other clubs.
  • There is some thought in rival front offices that the Giants could bid on Yoenis Cespedes this winter, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (Insider subscription required).  Cespedes would likely be deployed in left, though some time in center field wouldn’t be out of the question if the Giants wanted to keep him playing every day while also finding time for Angel Pagan and Nori Aoki (assuming Aoki is brought back).  It could be a moot point, however, as Olney wonders if Cespedes’ demands for a six-year deal are too rich for the Giants’ liking.
  • From that same piece, a rival executive told Olney “the Giants are the quickest fix” of any of the non-playoff teams.  While San Francisco has some clear needs in the rotation, they have a lot of payroll coming off the books as well as a solid core of proven veterans and controllable younger players.
  • Like most GMs, Alex Anthopoulos uses both analytical and scouting data to inform his decisions, and he gave a bit of insight to Fangraphs’ David Laurila about which methods were used in some recent Blue Jays transactions.  Edwin Encarnacion and Dioner Navarro may have been more inspired by scouting reports, whereas Justin Smoak may have been more of an analytics call.  Both departments endorsed signing Jose Bautista to an extension in February 2011, a contract that has been a major bargain for the Jays.
  • Also from Laurila’s piece, he spoke with Mark Melancon about his development into a star closer with the Pirates after an unsuccessful stint with the Red Sox.  Melancon credits ex-teammate Russell Martin with encouraging him to use his cutter more, and he admitted that he’s satisfied that he was able to prove to his critics in Boston (both within the fanbase and the organization) that he indeed has “the closer mentality.”

Justin Smoak Looking Forward To Fresh Start

Entering his fifth major league season, Justin Smoak knows that he hasn’t accomplished everything that he set out to do when he was regarded as a top prospect.  He also believes, however, that it’s not too late to turn on the jets and fulfill his potential.

I’ve learned a lot over the years. I think I’ve had some good few weeks, a good month here and there, but I haven’t been the player that I know I can be and what a lot of people thought I was going to be, so it’s just about getting better and doing what I can day in and day out,” Smoak told MLBTR after the Blue Jays topped the Rays 3-0 in Dunedin. “I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve learned what works for me and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve just got to make it happen.”

Just four years ago, Smoak was the centerpiece of a trade package that sent ace Cliff Lee to the Rangers.  Smoak didn’t blossom into the fearsome bopper Seattle hoped he’d become, and last October, the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers.  Soon after, they declined Smoak’s $3.65MM option and non-tendered him, but he knew all along that he was still wanted in Toronto.

Yeah, that was the first conversation I had with them. That was already a known.  I knew that was going to happen, and I’m still arbitration-eligible, so I just tried to come to a deal and it ended up being what it is now,” Smoak said, referring to his one-year, $1MM pact.

Late last year, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet learned from Smoak’s agent that he turned down more money elsewhere to sign with the Blue Jays.  Predictably, Smoak cited playing time as a reason for his decision, but not the only one.

Probably more just the opportunity, you know, the opportunity to play and be in this lineup and be in the American League East and some hitter ballparks, that was probably the number one thing for me,” said the 28-year-old.

Toronto could provide a springboard for Smoak to make that money back and then some, but, above all else, he believes the change of scenery will help him get his career back on track.

In Seattle, I had some good times and I learned a lot, but it’ll be a fresh start in Toronto and, hopefully, I’ll get things going here.”

AL Notes: Donaldson, Moss, Markakis, Tigers, Twins, Smoak

Athletics GM Billy Beane firmly rejected the recently-suggested idea that some kind of tension between he and Josh Donaldson played any role in the latter’s recent trade, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports. “It is so absurd to respond further is to give it credibility,” said Beane. We’ll take a closer look at Oakland on today’s podcast, which features beat reporter Jane Lee of MLB.com.

Here’s more from the American League:

  • The Athletics are “going to trade Brandon Moss,” an executive told ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark last night (Twitter link). We heard yesterday that the Indians were making a run at the slugger, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that the pursuit continues today. Of course, as Lee reported last night (via Twitter), there are other teams looking into Moss.
  • Lingering concerns over neck issues may have played a role in the Orioles‘ decision not to top the Braves’ offer to Nick Markakis, Rosenthal reports. Markakis has been quite durable over the last two seasons since being diagnosed with a “small disc herniation,” but of course he has also failed to deliver much pop in that time.
  • Nevertheless, the Orioles did have the second-highest offer on the table to Markakis, per Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs (Twitter link). He hears that Baltimore offered four years and $40MM.
  • The Tigers are receiving strong interest in David Price and Rick Porcello, Rosenthal reports (links to Twitter). What Detroit would ask for in return for these starters remains a mystery, Rosenthal adds. Of course, there are several other big-name, 5+ service time pitchers who could potentially be had, and Rosenthal notes that all are still “in play.” He adds that the primary appeal of such arms is their generally below-market salary and the achievement of a year of exclusive negotiating rights. Implicit, of course, is that teams are interested not only in a reasonable hope of achieving excess value on the contract, but also in doing so without exposure to the massive downside risk of a longer-term deal.
  • The Twins will turn their attention to the pitching staff during the Winter Meetings, reports MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger. When asked what the team’s priority is, GM Terry Ryan left little doubt how he feels: “Pitching is, and I don’t think there’s any question. We’ve had our struggles on the mound, so we’ll continue to look at pitching first.”
  • Justin Smoak left money on the table to join the Blue Jays, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports. Agent Dustin Bledsoe told Nicholson-Smith that his client wanted the chance at everyday playing time at first more than the possibility of increasing his guarantee next year.

Blue Jays Sign Justin Smoak

One day after non-tendering him, the Blue Jays have signed first baseman Justin Smoak to a one-year, $1MM deal, the team announced. Toronto obviously saw an opportunity to achieve some savings, as Smoak was projected by MLBTR and contributor Matt Swartz to take home a $3MM salary through arbitration.

Soon to turn 28, Smoak has generally failed to live up to the high hopes that he brought with him to the big leagues. He has had productive stretches, but ultimately owns a .226/.308/.384 line in just under 2,000 career turns at the plate. Smoak will presumably step into the part-time first base role played previously by Adam Lind.

As Toronto prepares to take a low-cost shot that Smoak can return to his prior trajectory, the team has some additional upside given that it can control Smoak for 2016 if he makes good. And at that point, he will be working from a fairly low starting point, which could make tendering arbitration a less costly proposition.

Blue Jays Non-Tender Mayberry, Smoak, Dirks

The Blue Jays have non-tendered a trio of recently-acquired position players in John Mayberry Jr., Justin Smoak, and Andy Dirks, the club announced.

Each player had been obtained within the last three months or so at minimum cost to Toronto. It would appear that the club was keeping them on hand to create some options, but that it has decided to go in another direction.

As Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca explains, the move certainly sets the table for more action out of Toronto, which now has only three outfielders on its 40-man roster. And that is before addressing the team’s needs in the pen and at second.

The trio will deliver some cost savings back to the Jays, of course. Mayberry ($1.9MM), Smoak ($3MM), and Dirks ($1.6MM) combined for a projected tab of about $6.5MM. That should be enough space for one or two good to very good relief arms, and moving Dioner Navarro‘s salary might create yet more breathing room.

Blue Jays Exercise Thole Option, Decline Three Others

The Blue Jays have announced that they’ve exercised their option on catcher Josh Thole and declined their options on first baseman Justin Smoak and righties Brandon Morrow and Dustin McGowan. Smoak is still eligible for arbitration and will remain in the organization. Ben Nicholson-Smith of SportsNet.ca was the first to report on Smoak’s status (via Twitter), while Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish was first on McGowan.

Thole will make $1.75MM next season after hitting .248/.320/.278 in 150 plate appearances last season. He’ll continue to serve as the Jays’ catcher when knuckleballer R.A. Dickey is pitching.

The Jays will pay the newly acquired Smoak a $150K buyout rather than picking up his $3.65MM option. They’ll gamble that he’ll make less in arbitration. With Adam Lind headed to Milwaukee, the lefty now has a clearer path to a role with the Jays in 2015.

Morrow will receive a $1MM buyout on his $10MM option after missing much of the season due to a finger injury. He still throws hard, however, and his intriguing track record (including an excellent 9.4 K/9 in a career mostly spent as a starter) will make him a free agent to watch. McGowan, who posted a 4.17 ERA in 82 innings split between the rotation and the bullpen last year, will receive a $500K buyout rather than a $4MM option.

Blue Jays Claim Justin Smoak

The Mariners announced that the Blue Jays have claimed first baseman Justin Smoak off waivers.

The waiver claim brings to an end what has to be characterized as a disappointing tenure in Seattle for Smoak, who four years ago was the centerpiece of a trade package that sent ace Cliff Lee from the M’s to the Rangers. Smoak, who turns 28 years old in December, showed flashes of promise in his time with Seattle, but he was unable to consistently string together stretches of productivity and never showed the power that Seattle hoped to be acquiring in that deal. In 1943 plate appearances with the Mariners, Smoak batted .226/.308/.384 with 66 homers.

Smoak avoided arbitration with the Mariners last season by agreeing to a one-year, $2.6375MM deal that contained a $3.65MM club option with a $150K buyout. Should that option be declined, Smoak will be eligible for arbitration. It seems likely then, that Toronto will decline the switch-hitting Smoak’s option and work out a smaller payday for his second trip through the arb process. The Blue Jays can control Smoak through the 2016 season if he turns it around following a change of scenery.

The somewhat surprising transaction further calls into question the future of Adam Lind with the Blue Jays. Toronto is reportedly receiving trade interest in Lind, whose club option for the 2015 season is valued at $7.5MM. Toronto now has another option to pair with Edwin Encarnacion in the first base/DH mix should the team move on from Lind. While Smoak clearly comes with less offensive certainty than Lind, he’ll come at less than half the price of Lind, giving the Blue Jays further resources for the offseason and arguably greater upside at the dish in 2015.

Mariners Notes: Payroll, Roster Analysis

Here’s the latest out of Seattle.

  • The Mariners increased attendance by about 300,000 fans in 2014, and that means there is extra money to spend, writes Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times. We learned earlier today that fellow Times writer Geoff Baker believes payroll needs to expand in 2015. GM Jack Zduriencik and team president Kevin Mather have each publicly stated payroll will grow. Divish poses Victor Martinez as an obvious target for the soft-hitting M’s.
  • The News Tribune’s Bob Dutton evaluated the Mariner’s 40 man roster with an eye on 2015. Of interest, Dutton wonders where Erasmo Ramirez fits on the roster. The righty will be out of options and doesn’t appear to have a place in the rotation or bullpen. Ramirez had an ugly 5.26 ERA with poor peripherals. One positive sign is a 10.8% swinging strike rate, which suggests better command and control could reveal a useful asset. This is my speculation, but he seems like a good reclamation project for a club like the Cubs.
  • Justin Smoak is another change of scenery candidate according to Dutton. The switch hitter struggled to a .202/.275/.339 line in 276 plate appearances. Smoak has a $3.25MM club option for 2015 with a $15k buyout. However, if the club declines the option, he will instead enter his second year of arbitration. He’s a potential non-tender candidate if a trade is not worked out.. Other internal first base options like Logan Morrison and Jesus Montero seem to have a better chance to help the club. I wonder if the Brewers would give Smoak a look? Their offense friendly stadium could be a good fit for him.

AL Notes: Donaldson, Tomas, Red Sox, Cabrera, Smoak

In this morning’s Insider-only blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney writes that he feels a Josh Donaldson trade is likely for the Athletics this offseason. Billy Beane has shown a willingness to trade players at their peak value, Olney writes (citing the Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill trades, among others), and Donaldson’s salary will begin to rise quickly now that he’s hit arbitration. Olney looks at the rest of Oakland’s roster and notes that no other trade candidate has value as high as Donaldson’s, so while Jeff Samardzija would be an attractive chip, Donaldson could help Beane usher in his next roster reconstruction.

Some more news from the American League…

  • The Red Sox won’t hold a private workout for Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas, reports Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. The team did attend his showcase in the Dominican Republic and they’re intrigued by his power, but the team’s glut of outfielders and concerns over Tomas’ strikeout rate in Cuba have tempered their interest.
  • Tim Britton of the Providence Journal points to the Pirates’ success in reviving the careers of Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett and points to some similar buy-low candidates that the Red Sox could try for on the free agent market. Of course, as he notes, the Sox are expected to pursue Jon Lester and James Shields, so his suggestions of Justin Masterson, Brandon McCarthy and Ervin Santana are intended to be secondary targets.
  • Miguel Cabrera turned down his share of the team’s postseason bonus when the time came to sign the paperwork, reports Paul White of USA Today. Cabrera refused to sign, instead stating that he “just wants the ring.” As White points out, Cabrera could be turning down as much as $300K (though that figure pales in comparison to his salary), and that money could be reallocated to other players as well as Tigers staff such as clubhouse personnel, traveling secretaries, etc.
  • Justin Smoak‘s contract to avoid arbitration last year contained a rare club option, and Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times writes that it’s a virtual lock that the Mariners will buy out his $3.65MM option for $150K and non-tender the first baseman. Smoak, the centerpiece of an ill-fated Cliff Lee trade with the Rangers, hit just .202/.275/.339 and has failed to establish himself as a regular in four seasons with Seattle.
  • Also from Divish’s piece, GM Jack Zduriencik called the decision to pick up Hisashi Iwakuma‘s $7MM option a “no-brainer,” which certainly isn’t surprising.

Quick Hits: Schierholtz, Diaz, Smoak, McGrady

In an interesting piece for Sports Illustrated, Richard Deitsch posed a range questions to a group of five outstanding baseball writers — Jay Jaffe of SI.com, La Velle Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, Joel Sherman of the New York Post, and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle — who represent different aspects of the baseball media sphere. Here are some more links from the day:

  • Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz could be had via trade, reports Jon Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter). The "progress" of Ryan Kalish makes that a possibility, says Morosi. Schierholtz is owed $5MM this year before qualifying for free agency. As Moroso mentions, the Tigers are a club that could hypothetically be interested in Schierholtz given the injury to Andy Dirks.
  • The Cardinals introduced new infielder Aledmys Diaz today, as the Associated Press reports (via the Boston Herald). Though the Cuban was brought in for a relatively meager $8MM guarantee over four years, Cards GM John Mozeliak says that the team is "very confident that [Diaz] can be an offensive middle infielder, especially a shortstop." Mozeliak said the club would exercise patience with its new addition, who has not played competitively for some time.
  • Though the Mariners' additions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison over the offseason raised some questions about incumbent first baseman Justin Smoak, manager Lloyd McClendon says that Smoak will remain the starter, MLB.com's John Schlegel reports. It seemed more recently that things were headed in that direction, but McClendon's statements today would make a trade of Smoak a surprise at this point. "Will other guys play first? Yeah," McClendon said, "But Smoak is my first baseman."
  • The independent Suger Land Skeeters have invited former NBA star Tracy McGrady to their spring camp, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLBDailyDish.com. At 34, McGrady is working to build up arm strength and develop an off-speed offering.