When I started this blog, however many moons ago, one of my primary objectives was to highlight all the ways the city of Seattle has been fucked over by underperforming and incompetent sports teams. This was prior to the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl, obviously, and since I was born AFTER the Supersonics won the title in ’79, there had been no real champions in my lifetime (caveat: I was not a Husky fan until I went to the University in 1999). If this blog is remembered for anything, I would hope it’s for my ongoing collection of Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings (see the menu bar at the top of the page; you can sort by professional team, as well as view the master list without all of my rambling commentary on each deal). It is truly my pride and joy. My muse, my flame. I certainly don’t give it the attention it deserves; I should really be updating it more as we run across these shitty deals and after these drafts sink in. But, I try to be fair above all else, and let a deal play out before I deem it a failure.
Today, October 30, 2014, I updated those pages for the first time in over a year. Again, I certainly could have added this one sooner, but with Justin Smoak this week getting picked up by the Toronto Blue Jays, I officially added The Cliff Lee Deal to the annals of Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings.
I feel like, at this point in the post, you should be imagining very prosperous music with lots of horns and drums playing loudly for all to hear.
(also, with less fanfare, I finally got around to adding the Michael Pineda Deal; I’m telling you, this page is like my neglected wife whose nether regions I’ve finally tended to for the first time in ages)
What can you say about Justin Smoak? The term “Of The Future” is bandied about quite a bit around losing baseball clubs. When you’re rebuilding, you’re really looking to solidify your team one position at a time. Once you lock something down, then you can move on to other areas of need. On July 9, 2010, Justin Smoak immediately became the Seattle Mariners’ First Baseman Of The Future. It was a glorious time to be alive, except not really.
After a somewhat successful run in 2009 where the Mariners had a winning record, but fell oh so short of the post-season, we thought we were just a guy or two away from going that extra mile. Cliff Lee, we hoped, was one of those guys. After the abject failure of Erik Bedard in 2008 (who was still on the team, as it stood), Cliff Lee was a certainty. A slam dunk. A Cy Young candidate to go with our other Cy Young Candidate, Felix Hernandez (who, as chances would have it, went on to WIN that Cy Young award that very same year).
Then, of course, Cliff Lee got hurt in Spring Training and missed a month of 2010. By the time he returned, we were effectively out of the race; it wasn’t all his fault, the team was flawed from the start. Nevertheless, by mid-season, we were looking for trading partners to flip our greatest non-Felix asset. There were many suitors, but there could only be one trade.
When you think of The Cliff Lee Deal, you don’t think of the one we made prior to 2010 to GET him. Those guys we gave to the Phillies were losers! Draftees of the prior regime who would go on to do nothing for the teams that acquired them (“teams” being the Mariners, Phillies, and whoever else they would play for). That was, objectively, a GREAT deal by Jackie Z. One of his best, if I may be so bold, sir!
No, the Cliff Lee Deal that we all think about is the one that brought in Justin Smoak, among others. Others being some guy, an alleged date raping reliever, and a AAA starter. Those guys don’t really matter. Yes, the reliever was flipped for John Jaso, a useful bat who also played catcher; but he was never appreciated for what he was, so the Mariners ended up giving him away to the A’s where he has gone on to help them to multiple post-season berths. Jaso begat the return of Mike Morse, who had one injury-filled season with the Mariners before hitting the go-ahead RBI in last night’s Game 7 of the World Series for the San Francisco Giants (he may have done other stuff between those two events, but I don’t care to know what that stuff was).
Justin Smoak was the cheese of The Cliff Lee Deal, and boy did he stink!
Four seasons and change, nearly 2,000 at bats, 158 extra-base hits, a .224/.309/.380 batting line. Good for a whopping 1.3 WAR. No, not per season, but in his entire Mariners career. The only positives he brought to the table were: his low salary figure, and his pretty-good defense (at a position where defense isn’t really a priority).
Our “First Baseman Of The Future” played in 496 games with the Seattle Mariners. He earned $4,065,600 ($2.6 million of that coming in 2014, where he played in all of 80 games en route to losing his job to LoMo), and he was set to earn approximately $3.65 million in 2015 in arbitration if the Mariners opted to retain him (with a buy-out of $150,000).
Again, this is how wacky the salary structure is in Major League Baseball: he was set to get a RAISE for next year, even though he lost his job and played in less than half of the games in 2014 due to injury and ineffectiveness. Only in fucking America …
Luckily, the Mariners realized the error in their ways and cut ties. Even luckier still, the Blue Jays decided to claim him, thereby saving the Mariners $150K.
Do I begrudge the Mariners for giving him all of those chances? No. I lament the deal in the first place. You’d like to get a reasonable player in return for someone of Cliff Lee’s calibre. But, when you’re talking about the Mariners of 2010-2013, you’re talking about teams who were MUCH more than a Justin Smoak away from contending. This team had so many holes to fill. Yes, they could have gone out and blew dozens of millions of dollars to try to bring in a first baseman in free agency, but by the time this team was actually ready to contend, that first baseman likely would’ve been on the downside of his career anyway. Besides, it’s not so easy to just get guys to come here willingly. Safeco Field SUCKS for hitters. Seattle is where you go to watch your career die.
So, we HAD to see what Smoak could do. He’d run into stretches of great competence and we’d always wonder, “Could he keep it up for a full year? Could THIS be the turning point, where it clicks and he starts to get it?” Ultimately: no. He couldn’t keep it up for a full year. This was NOT the turning point. And he never got it. Maybe, with a better stadium situation in Toronto, where it’s easier to hit for extra bases, he can turn his career around. But, it was never going to turn around in Seattle.
Ultimately, we’re all going to remember Justin Smoak as the butt of our jokes and scorn. The few-and-far-between Smoak Bombs. The Smoakamotive. That Mariners commercial where he punched down a tree to make his own bat or something. I’ll always marvel at the sheer volume of Warning Track Fly Balls. I’ll always shake my head and sigh at the number of times I snookered myself into believing he was ready to turn a corner at any moment. Taking any positive as a sign of his potential to break out. I mean, at one time he was a highly-regarded prospect! You don’t reach that status for no reason! In the end, he probably doesn’t have what it takes to hack it, and won’t be long for this league.
For the record, I could seriously see him raking over in Japan if he ever decides to go that way.
Justin Smoak was a failure we won’t soon forget. Hell, he was one of the primary reasons why Jackie Z almost lost his job! He’s definitely #1 in the All Time Jackie Z Worst Personnel Moves list, even above Figgins and Montero if you can believe it. But, in the end, he seemed like a good enough guy who tried his hardest to live up to what we all hoped he’d be. He never struck me as a guy who pouted or was a distraction like some other players I’d rather not point out again. He was legitimately one of the good guys on this team that has underachieved for so long. I won’t go so far as say that he will be missed. I’ll just say that it would’ve been nice if he would’ve lived up to all the hype.
Part of me hopes he turns it around in Toronto. He very well could be one of those Change of Scenery guys, but I highly doubt it. Besides, the rest of me would be quite annoyed if he did turn it around. Because then, he’d be just another ex-Mariner doing it for someone else when he sure as shit couldn’t do it for us.