While the 2017 season has been one of the most disappointing in Toronto Blue Jays history, there has been one unexpected yet pleasant surprise: The All-Star campaign that veteran Justin Smoak has put together. He's among the league leaders in home runs, RBI, batting average, OPS and WAR. Smoak went from a bench player/Edwin Encarnacion's backup at first base to one of the game's best sluggers in less than a calendar year.
The Blue Jays gave Smoak a two-year extension last year, not knowing it was going to become one of the best bargain deals in baseball. But if Smoak keeps this star-like play going, he's going to cash himself a big paycheck in 2020 -- when he's eligible for free agency.
Though at least a dozen teams will want his services, only a handful of them actually make sense for Smoak. On the flip side, there are seven teams that don't make sense for him at all. Let's take a look at eight teams he should consider and seven teams he shouldn't.
15 Sign: Minnesota Twins
The Twins have taken plenty of strides in 2017. Up until a huge slump over the past two weeks, Minnesota was right in the AL Central race. Nonetheless, the Twins have plenty of young talent and figure to be competitive well before the 2020 season arrives. With Max Kepler and Byron Buxton in the fold, Minnesota will soon be contending for championships.
And the payroll flexibility will be there, as overpaid and aging veteran Joe Mauer will be a free agent after the 2018 season. That means the Twins have money to spend for a first baseman in 2020, and Smoak would be an excellent addition.
He'll surely want to sign for big money with a team that can fight for championships, and the Twins will be there. This is an excellent fit, should the Twins and Smoak be able to reach a deal.
14 Don't Sign: Detroit Tigers
For starters, the Tigers already have a first baseman in Miguel Cabrera -- who's been the best hitter of the decade. But the 34-year-old is likely to be shopped this offseason as the Tigers prepare for a tear-it-all-down rebuild. That means Cabrera probably won't be Detroit's first baseman by 2020. That probably means the Tigers won't be good and will be in the midst of rebuilding with plenty of youth.
Which means the Tigers will not be competitive, nor will they be in position to pay a 33-year-old Smoak what he's worth. Smoak isn't going to have any interest in joining a team that won't have many marquee names on its roster (Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmerman and Victor Martinez will surely be gone by then). So stay away from the Tigers, Mr. Smoak.
13 Sign: Tampa Bay Rays
With one of baseball's most stacked farm systems, the Tampa Bay Rays figure to be a long-term competitor by the year 2020. And was one of baseball's most budget-conscious teams, the Rays should have plenty of leftover cash to spend. That could be used on Smoak, who could provide them with a much-needed power bat.
The Rays have been rumoured to relocate, due to porous attendance and a lack of overall interest of baseball in Tampa. So over the next few years, management may feel the need to get aggressive and start trying to win again.
Signing Smoak would be a terrific move for the Rays. With his good defence at first base and extreme power hitting ability, Smoak could be one of the final pieces Tampa needs to compete for championships. It would be a very worthwhile move for both parties.
12 Don't Sign: Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds owe star first baseman Joey Votto a TON of money through 2024. According to Spotrac.com, Votto has a base salary of $25 million from 2018-24, which means the Reds really don't have a choice but to hold onto the Canadian star for the long-term.
Cincinnati is just beginning a lengthy rebuilding process, so they won't be competitive by 2020. And there's zero reason to believe the budget-conservative Reds will pony up a lot of money for Smoak -- even if they find a way to move out Votto's lucrative contract.
If Smoak went to the NL, he also would have to be a full-time first baseman and wouldn't be used as a DH. There aren't any incentives for Smoak to head over to Cincinnati, so don't get your hopes up, Reds fans.
11 Sign: Kansas City Royals
The Royals are sure to lose first baseman Eric Hosmer in free agency this year. They're also set to lose stars Mike Moustakas, Jason Vargas and Lorenzo Cain, which means they'll have a ton of payroll flexibility over the next few seasons.
Kansas City isn't known for handing out big contracts to star players, but perhaps a 33-year-old Smoak will feel enticed to join the 2015 World Series champions. The Royals have a great fan base, a hitter-friendly ballpark and have found many ways to build a competitive team the "moneyball" way.
Smoak will be 33 in 2020 (as mentioned earlier), and isn't likely to command such a huge amount of cash by then. If the Royals can get him on a three-year deal worth around $30 million, then this would be a big win for the franchise.
10 Don't Sign: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox undoubtedly have the best farm system in baseball, and with Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and others in the fold, it may not be that long until they start taking the majors by storm. However, the White Sox and Smoak are not a good fit for one specific reason.
That reason? The White Sox already have a star-like first baseman in Jose Abreu, a 30-year-old who's batting .298 for his career. Abreu is good for 30 home runs and 100 RBI as a season, so Chicago has no need to take on Smoak. They should look to ensure Abreu is part of their long-term future, and not bother spending a ton of cash on Smoak.
At the end of the day, Smoak and the White Sox aren't a good fit. It's that simple.
9 Sign: Texas Rangers
The Rangers have experienced a rough year in 2017, but there is enough young talent on the roster and in the farm system to ensure they get back to beating a contender for a few more years.
Texas and Smoak are a great fit for many reasons. The Rangers have no problem spending big cash, and playing in Texas would mean that Smoak doesn't lose a whole lot of dough in taxes. For another, the Rangers have no long-term answer at first base, with veteran Mike Napoli possibly being out of the majors by 2020.
The Rangers have always tried to field a lineup full of power hitting, and Smoak would be a great addition for them. It wouldn't be the least bit surprising if they handed him the most money, too.
8 Don't Sign: Chicago Cubs
Unfortunately for Smoak, the Chicago Cubs already own one of the league's top first basemen in Anthony Rizzo, who's under a long-term contract through 2021. So if the Cubs came to Smoak with an offer, it would be to primarily play on the bench -- and we all know that's unlikely to happen.
Though the Cubs have a great young core in Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, nobody really knows just how great they'll be in 2020. Virtually their entire rotation of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey will probably be gone by then. The Cubs don't have any big-named prospects to come up and shore out the rotation, either.
So it's somewhat likely the Cubs aren't the juggernaut in 2020 that we know today. And again, there's no proper fit for Smoak on the roster. Joining Chicago may sound intriguing to Smoak, but he would be much better off to sign elsewhere.
7 Sign: Cleveland Indians
Hey, the Indians already signed Edwin Encarnacion away from the Toronto Blue Jays, so why not do it with Smoak? Cleveland has a long-term championship window, with the likes of Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez forming one of baseball's best teams.
As attendance continues to grow, the cash-strapped Indians figure to have more financial flexibility over time. That means they could pony up the cash to sign Smoak, who would add yet another power bat in that lineup.
Cleveland also doesn't have a long-term fit at first base, as Carlos Santana is likely to price himself out of town as a free agent this winter. Smoak would join a Cleveland team that's ready to compete for many championships, so they truly offer him a lot if he wants to go there.
6 Don't Sign: Los Angeles Dodgers
As is the case with the Cubs, the Los Angeles Dodgers are already set at first base and have no need for Smoak. And if they were to sign him, he obviously would have to accept only a part-time role. Also, with the Dodgers already carrying a ridiculous payroll (approximately $256 million, per Spotrac.com), they don't have a reason to hand Smoak the big money he will command.
The Dodgers already have a veteran star at first base in Adrian Gonzalez, who's currently on the DL. In Gonzalez's place is breakout star Cody Bellinger, who's tearing up the majors with 30 home runs in his rookie season.
With a huge payroll and more than enough depth at first base, the idea of the Dodgers chasing Smoak just doesn't make any sense. He's better off going to a team that can offer him the money where he can be a full-time first baseman.
5 Sign: Boston Red Sox
This would be a horrible scenario for the Blue Jays, if the already dangerous Red Sox somehow stole Smoak away from them. The Red Sox already took manager John Farrell and star pitcher David Price from the Blue Jays, so why not add Smoak to that list now?
Boston has a great young core of players in Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rafael Devers. They also have veteran pitching stars Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, making Boston a powerhouse in the A.L.
But with a now-depleted farm system, the Red Sox need a long-term first baseman. Veteran Mitch Moreland isn't getting it done, so Boston will have to look for one in free agency over the next few years. And it's the Red Sox, so they could easily outbid every other team for Smoak. If he wants money and the chance to win, then Smoak should consider signing in Beantown.
4 Don't Sign: Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks have bounced back nicely in 2017 and are basically ensured a playoff spot in 2017. With one of baseball's best rotations, bullpens and lineups, Arizona has morphed into one of the top teams in all of baseball.
But if Smoak is thinking about going to Arizona, he better think again. The Diamondbacks already own arguably the top first baseman in the league, Mr. Paul Goldschmidt. He's only under contract through 2019, but a long-term extension is surely in place for Goldschmidt to remain a D-Back for life.
And because there's no DH rule in the National League, Smoak simply doesn't fit with the Diamondbacks. There's no reason for him or Arizona to have interest in the other. So if he's dreaming about playing in the warm weather, Smoak will have to look at other options.
3 Sign: New York Yankees
The Yankees have one of baseball's best young cores, obviously highlighted by Aaron Judge, catcher Gary Sanchez and breakout star Luis Severino. The Yankees also have one of baseball's top farm systems, but none of their elite prospects are first basemen. Right now, manager Joe Girardi is experiencing with different players all over.
Matt Holliday, Garrett Cooper and Ji-man Choi have all tried it out, but it hasn't worked for the Yankees. They figure to be a long-term competitor for many years, and 2020 could open up the door for them to sign Smoak.
Obviously, so many stars throughout history have joined the Yankees. They throw the most money around, and they have a winning tradition like no other team. If they really want Smoak, they can have probably get him with ease. This would be a perfect marriage, on paper at least.
2 Don't Sign: Washington Nationals
You see, it's entirely possible the Nationals aren't a powerhouse in the NL by 2020. Bryce Harper is all but a sure-thing to leave after 2018, as he'll likely get a $300 million-plus contract from a team not named the Nationals. Ace pitcher Max Scherzer will be 36, and other standouts like Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth will be gone by then.
But the Nationals already have a star first baseman in Ryan Zimmerman, who's not a free agent until 2021. Zimmerman will be right there at first in the nation's capital until his contract expires. Furthermore, it's unlikely Smoak will want to join a team if they don't have a long-term competitive outlook.
If there's one team that just doesn't fit Smoak in any way, it's definitely the Nationals. They don't need him, they have Zimmerman and they won't offer him the best chance at winning a championship.
1 Sign: Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays owe it to their fans to re-sign Justin Smoak. They let David Price and Edwin Encarnacion go. They're probably not keeping Josh Donaldson beyond 2018, either. So yeah, it's only fair that they do the fans a favor and actually keep one of their franchise stars.
Smoak has absolutely embraced his time in Toronto, becoming a great clubhouse presence while obviously being one of the few bright spots in a horrible 2017 season. He's hit 31 homers with 74 RBI, is hitting a .304 and has posted .984 OPS (as of this writing).
The Blue Jays turned Smoak from a bench player into a superstar. They're lucky to have Smoak under contract for two more seasons, but they sure as heck better be ready to pony up the big dollars for him. Toronto is the best fit for Smoak, and he'd undoubtedly be happy to commit his long-ferm future to the team that made him.