If finding unique ways to say that “team x is interested in player y,” consider Jon Heyman an artist. His latest pièce de résistance is that the Indians are one of several teams “looking at” Justin Smoak. Whatever exactly that means is up for interpretation.
Indians are among teams looking at Justin Smoak— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 30, 2019
Do you know what this means in a real, tangible way? Did the Indians just look him up on FanGraphs and call Jon to let him know? I sure don’t know, but either way if the Indians are at all interested in Justin Smoak, I’m here for it.
Smoak is what you could call a post post-hype prospect/player. He was once thought to be the next Mike Teixeira as a slick-fielding, switch-hitting first baseman, and he headlined a deal to pry Cliff Lee away from the Seattle Mariners in 2010. He completely flopped in Seattle, as an unconscionable number of batters did in the early ‘10s, and departed for Toronto in free agency. After a pair of seasons where he didn’t look much better than he ever did stateside, Smoak took off in the summer of 2017 and has his best season ever. He slashed .270/.355/.529 that season, good for a 133 wRC+ and 3.6 fWAR (with defense that further proved he was definitely not the next Mark Teixeira). He also mashed 38 home runs and had a career-low 20.1% strikeout rate.
Smoak’s 2018 season wasn’t a massive drop-off, but he only homered 25 times and slashed .242/.350/.457 for a 121 wRC+. So far in 2019 he’s right along those lines, but showing further decline with a .215/.357/.427 slash. His power is dwindling, as you might expect from a 32-year-old, but where he’s looking better than ever in his plate approach. His walk rate has ballooned to 16.7% in 2019, and he’s striking out at another career-best clip of 19.8%.
Statcast also pegs Justin Smoak as a prime candidate to have a little positive regression. His wOBA on the season sits at .342, but with his 38.1% hard-hit rate and optimal launch angle, he has an expected wOBA of .388 — in the top 7% of the league.
He’s only a rental for the rest of the season and has no defensive value, but if the Indians want to push Jake Bauers to the outfield full-time, or just let him catch is breath in Triple-A, Smoak is a pretty solid candidate to be the Tribe’s full-time DH here on out. And considering the weak deal the Blue Jays accepted for their ace, Marcus Stroman, there’s a chance the Indians could out-right fleece them in a deal. We’ll see.