Earlier today, the Blue Jays made the somewhat surprising decision to extend first baseman Justin Smoak through 2018, with an option for 2019. Via MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm, Jays GM Ross Atkins this afternoon explained the rationale behind the move.
Edwin Encarnacion is due to become eligible for free agency after the season, provoking speculation that the Jays extended Smoak because they don’t believe they’ll be able to retain Encarnacion. Atkins denies that’s the case.
“Edwin could be a DH and Justin could be playing regularly at first base, as he was earlier this year. There’s a lot of different alternatives there,” says Atkins. “They’re on the same team now and could be on the same team moving forward.”
Atkins says the move had more to do with the possibility the 29-year-old Smoak could further develop. “[T]here’s the potential of Justin being more than the complementary player he has been over the last couple of years,” he argues.
This offseason, in addition to Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, R.A. Dickey, Drew Storen and Jesse Chavez, among others, can all become free agents, creating a difficult situation for the Blue Jays that will be exacerbated by a relatively thin free agent market. So, Atkins suggests, retaining Smoak helps ease the transition from this year’s team to next.
“Absolutely, and that’s part of it,” Atkins says. “So [we] saw this as an opportunity in a short window to see if there was something there with Justin.”