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Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Smoak out, Travis Shaw in

A couple of days ago, it was announced that Justin Smoak had inked a contract to join the Milwaukee Brewers. Today, the Blue Jays found his replacement, interestingly enough, with a former Brewer in Travis Shaw. So I guess you can sorta view this as a Smoak for Shaw swap.

Though it wasn’t all that surprising to see Smoak not return to the Blue Jays, it’s always sad when an era comes to an end. Four years ago, if I had told you we would be pouring one out for the end of the Justin Smoak era, you wouldn’t have believed me. It feels like yesterday everybody bemoaned the Cleveland Boys tossing him a shocking two-year extension after the 2016 season, but here we are now.

Smoak finishes his Blue Jays career 14th in Blue Jays history in home runs with 117, just ahead of Josh Donaldson and right behind Shawn Green. The strikeout-prone backup first baseman we came to know in 2015 and 2016 ended up being yet another late-bloomer who found their stride in Toronto. Smoak had an All-Star season in 2017, smashing 38 home runs and giving fans something to cheer for as the team tailspined into their rebuild.

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Even when he slowed down, which he did last year to the tune of a .748 OPS, Smoak had already won over the fanbase with his heavy home runs and laid back demeanour. Hopefully, he finds success in Milwaukee.

On the other side comes Travis Shaw. Similar to Smoak, Shaw was also a late-bloomer, though he didn’t have the top prospect pedigree that the departing slugger did. Shaw was drafted by the Red Sox in the ninth round of the 2011 draft and broke into the Majors in 2015 when he slashed .270/.327/.487 line on a non-contending Boston team.

After a decent 2016 season with the Sox, Shaw got shipped to Milwaukee in a deal for reliever Tyler Thornburg. It was with the Brewers he would finally break out into a quality, everyday player. In 2017, Shaw hit 31 homers and produced a .862 OPS. The next year, he smacked 32 homers and posted a .825 OPS.

Last season was a disaster for Shaw. He slashed a miserable .157/.281/.270 line, which was far and away the worst of his career, and ended up getting sent down to Triple-A for half of the season. The poor season resulted in Shaw getting non-tendered and ultimately becoming a free agent for the first time in his career. And here we are now.

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The Jays reportedly inked Shaw to a one-year deal worth $4 million with $675k worth of performance incentives based on plate appearances.

This deal is ultimately taking a low-risk gamble on a player who had a down season last year and hoping for a rebound. That wouldn’t be all that different than bringing back Smoak after his poor 2019 season, but the difference between Shaw and Smoak is positional versatility. While Shaw likely sees a lot of time at first base, he was mostly a third baseman in Milwaukee and he can also play second, too. We know that the Jays value positional versatility, so it isn’t surprising to see them bring in Shaw rather than sticking with Smoak.

Does this mean that the possibility of an Edwin Encarnacion return is dead? I mean, the Jays could still feasibly add Edwin to exclusively be a designated hitter, but given the players they have on their roster (Vlad) who will take up considerable time in the DH slot, it’s hard to imagine that happening now. There’s still a way for it to work, of course, as Edwin could play first while and Shaw could play third while Vlad was the DH, but it just doesn’t seem likely.

So, that’s that! The Justin Smoak era is over and the Travis Shaw era begins. Exciting times!