The Toronto Blue Jays are suddenly an exciting offensive team. Full of young stars that have the potential to carry a team into eventually winning more games than they lose, but beyond the Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio trio, there appears to be a newly found hole in the future infield.
Rowdy Tellez was destined for that position and slotted in there over last winter, but to say his 2019 has been disappointing could be an understatement. Through the last month of the 2018 season, he provided an excellent story with some powerful home runs and what seemed like an unending slugging streak.
But as he was given more responsibility this season, his .222/.281/.421 slash line through a total of 324 plate appearances makes one wonder if he’s really the player that could be in that position long-term when everything is put together for a contending team.
He found a resurgence in Triple-A Buffalo midseason, hitting for an astronomical 186 wRC+ and 1.138 OPS in 109 PA, but his production returned to what it was before he was optioned down to the minors. Since his return on August 14th, Tellez has a .592 OPS — it is only 10 games of hitting, but his hot streak in Buffalo appeared to stay south of the border.
Expectations might have been too high after he was able to shock every Blue Jays fan last September, being able to produce a 151 wRC+ and 0.5 WAR in less than 100 plate appearances was a pleasant surprise, but now with a larger sample size of what Tellez is at a major-league level, they might be better keeping him in a limited role.
When it comes to who will primarily play first base for the 2020 Blue Jays, it’s still an unanswered question as the current season is coming to a close.
With recent talks of actually spending some money this winter, a 1B/DH is on the predictive wishlist for the front office. But compared to who could be available this winter, are the Blue Jays just better off retaining Smoak and keeping the status quo?
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On the surface, the answer could be a simple “no” based on the other possible options and how they have produced this season. But considering that these are really the only option — other than a 37-year-old David Freese — there could be a market for a serviceable first baseman for teams that want to spend a little bit more.
Where Toronto has the leverage is the familiarity with Smoak and how they might be able to extend him at a cheaper price if he wants to stay here. It all depends, but to improve the position just slightly, based on this year’s performances, and hypothetically pay much more than they should have to, seems counteractive for a young team.
If the team wants to contend for a wild card next year — and they honestly have the bats to do just that — there will need to be more investment in pitching than acquiring a similar positional player to what they already have.
There’s not a ton of options beyond Smoak and if they roll into next year with an identical infield to the second half of this season, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Other areas of the team need to be addressed with a higher priority and keeping a veteran around that’s been here during those other contending seasons could help.
Unless he wants a lengthy contract, this would also still correlate with the timeline that management wants to follow. If they’re eyeing a 2021 or 2022 season where they can really make an impact, then a short-term deal spanning just a couple years to keep Smoak would only bring positive production throughout the deal.
All of this is hypothetical right now and depends on what the player wants, but considering what we’ve seen from Tellez this season and how Smoak has been able to still be productive at his age, it just makes sense to keep him around for a little while longer.