The Milwaukee Brewers thought they might have a bargain when they signed first baseman Justin Smoak to a one-year deal with a team option this winter. A $5MM guarantee would be a bargain deal for a productive first baseman, and Smoak had been exactly that in the past. The 33-year-old was a 10-year big-leaguer worth 3.0 rWAR in 2017 and 2.0 rWAR in 2018. He struggled in 2019 to a triple slash of .208/.342/.406 with 22 home runs across 500 plate appearances – but the numbers weren’t so far off the previous two years, and there was cause for optimism.
Solid peripherals likely kept Smoak employed, as if you looked at his career 11.6 BB%, 23.6 K%, and .190 ISO, there ’s potential for a potent bat there. Even during a down 2019 season, he logged a 15.8 BB%, 21.2 K%, and .198 ISO. Add in a below-average .223 BABIP and it’s easy to see why the Brewers gambled on him. The BABIP didn’t bounce back, however, and the walk and strikeout rates both went the wrong way.
Maybe the thinking wasn’t misguided, but the results simply didn’t pan out as hoped. The Brewers released Smoak today after he passed through waivers, per MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy (via Twitter). He was DFA’ed on September 3rd when the Brewers put in a claim for Daniel Vogelbach.
Vogelbach’s struggles were at least equal to Smoak’s this season, but whether the Brewers see something in Vogelbach or have simply seen enough of Smoak, Smoak’s tenure in Milwaukee is now over. In 126 plate appearances, Smoak hit just .186/.262/.381 with a handful of home runs. Smoak’s major-league career may not yet be over, but he’ll likely need to accept a minor-league contract to keep going.
The 11th overall draft choice of the 2008 draft, Smoak played for the Rangers, Mariners, Blue Jays, and Brewers across 11 seasons. For his career, he owns a triple slash of .229/.322/.419 with 196 home runs.