On Justin Smoak, the value of cost certainty, and salvaging a misguided post

Justin Smoak
Photo credit: Kelley L. Cox-USA TODAY Sports

I really wanted to do a giant Anatomy Of A JaysTalk post on Tuesday. I logged and transcribed the best bits from the call-in show that followed Saturday’s loss to the A’s — because the ones after losses are always the best ones if your aim is to be entertained by the batshit — and wrote a crazy amount of words in response to a few of the calls. I even had a nice little title all mapped out: Anatomy Of A JaysTalk: A Smoaky Saturday In Oakland.

Yet the more I looked at it, and the more I looked at all the dead-end questions I felt I needed to reply to out of sheer formality, and the word count cruising past why-am-I-even-doing-this-to-myself? levels for most readers, and the fact that I seemed incapable of doing anything else until I could get the bloody thing finished, it started to feel like something I just badly needed to crank out and be done with.

But, actually, I’m gonna do ya one better. Because instead instead of posting 5,000 words, far too many of which would be boring placeholders bridging the gap between my serious answer to the first caller’s confusion about the Justin Smoak extension and my stale and phony outrage over caller six’s incredible Scanners.GIF of a suggestion that the Jays should make J.A. Happ and Marcus Stroman setup men and replace them in the rotation with Jesse Chavez and Drew Hutchison, let’s just only do the Smoak thing and then move the hell on.

OK? OK.

And if you still really want to, you can listen to the audio of the whole damn thing — including the last caller, who somehow fucking *agreed* with the Happ-and-Stroman-should-be-relievers guy! — yourself right here.

Caller 1. Mike in Ottawa

Mike is confused by the Smoak deal. “Where does that leave Chris Colabello?” he wonders. More importantly, Mike would like to know if the freshly signed deal was this a message to other impending free agents on the team. Because otherwise the timing seems weird. “You get your priorities first!”

Why Mike has actually hit a solid lead-off single:

While this call is hardly a home run of stupidity blasted into the stratosphere — certainly not compared to some of what’s to follow — it sure gets some of the worst Smoak stuff out of the way nice and early, and fairly painlessly to boot.

First of all, where does this leave Colabello? Uh…needing to prove himself still. So most likely in Buffalo. The team is going to struggle to get Smoak at-bats once Jose Bautista returns, assuming Jose is going to need some time at DH. That makes it hard to see a reason to bring up Colabello, unless it’s as a token of solidarity because of his “questionable” suspension, or maybe to avoid burning an option year. Colabello will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first of four times this winter, so maybe the club squeezes him onto the roster now (at the expense of Ryan Goins, perhaps?) in order to allow themselves the chance to stash him in the minors next season, but honestly, I’m not sure they think he’s important enough for such machinations.

Nor should they. A guy who doesn’t walk enough, strikes out too much, led the big leagues in BABIP by 23 points over the second place batter (min. 350 PA), was a career minor leaguer until he was 31, then tested positive? We’d all love if if the Jays really have managed to turn a waiver claim into a true talent 142 wRC+ hitter, or at least something close to it, but there are all kinds of reasons to believe that Colabello isn’t actually that.

And as for Smoak not being a priority, maybe that’s true. But, for one, who cares? If giving Smoak a tiny raise on the mostly reasonable amount they’re paying him this year has anything impact on the club re-signing Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, then they were never going to re-sign those guys anyway. Doing the deal now isn’t a signal to anyone (what the hell would a $4.125-million AAV contract signal to guys seeking $25- or $30-million?), and it isn’t as though the front office has been derelict in its other duties by putting some resources into getting this done.

For two, I think cost-certainty actually *is* a priority for this club right now. Locking in Smoak may not be the sexiest way to achieve that, but there’s value in a move like this simply in the fact that the club no longer is at risk of paying more for or getting less out of that piece of the roster.

I know that sounds simplistic, but the Jays are not a team — and really no team is — that can afford a pricey upgrade at every spot or a pay raise for every impending free agent who deserves one. As much as we want them to keep all the best parts of this roster together, they can’t do that by completely sacrificing depth.

They may not need to spend the same in 2017 on their lower tier free agents or replacements for them — on Dickey, Cecil, Storen, Chavez, Morales, Floyd, and Smoak — but they can’t spend nothing, either. Getting Smoak at about his 2016 rate is a fine piece of sensible business for a team that really has nothing else on the immediate horizon at 1B/DH, save for the question mark that is Colabello, and that — let’s face it — might not be able to re-sign Edwin Encarnacion, or even a Mark Trumbo to replace him with.

I don’t want Smoak and Colabello to be my 1B/DH combo going forward, and I can’t imagine anybody does, but doesn’t mean locking it in is not still a much better option than letting Smoak test the free agent market and potentially losing both him and Edwin.

Nothing is fucked, dude. Come on, you’re being very un-Dude.