The Brewers have reached a one-year deal with first baseman Justin Smoak, according to multiple reports Thursday morning. The former Blue Jay will receive $4 million for the 2020 season with a club option worth $5.5 million. The option comes with a $1 million buyout, guaranteeing Smoak will at least $5 million from his new deal.
Milwaukee opened the 2019 season with an infield of Jesús Aguilar, Mike Moustakas, Travis Shaw, and Orlando Arcia. Of that quartet, three are no longer in the organization. The fourth, Arcia, now seems ticketed for a utility role after failing, for the second straight season, to show any progress from his 2017 campaign. Milwaukee’s new middle infield of Keston Hiura (called up midseason) and Luis Urías (acquired from the Padres) are expected to anchor the key defensive positions for a decade, but the Brewers do not have equivalent talent ready to take over at first or third. Brice Turang and possibly Lucas Erceg may shake up the infield in coming seasons, but neither will help in 2020.
The signing of Eric Sogard took care of third base, but first base looked like a depth chart problem with Eric Thames’s 2020 option declined, and the team seemingly non-committal about the oft-threatened plan to move Ryan Braun there. Milwaukee recently signed Ryon Healy, but Healy is an underwhelming option as a starter and a better fit as a Wes Helms 1B/3B righty pinch-hitter role player. Smoak is coming off a weak .208/.342/.406 season, but with a wRC+ of 133 and 121 in the two season prior, he can serve as a stopgap with possible upside. Smoak’s a switch-hitter who does most of his damage as a lefty, and Miller Park is a good home for lefty sluggers, so it’s plausible to think he could have a bounce-back season and fill first for a year or two while the Brewers search for something better.
Sadly, this probably closes the book on a reunion with the always entertaining Thames. Even with an extra roster spot to play with, Smoak’s skillset likely has too much overlap with the burly first baseman, and if the Brewers go with a six-man bench, a defensive-minded outfielder is probably a better idea than carrying a spare lefty-hitting first baseman.
Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.
Justin Smoak can be quite productive when healthy, but what does this mean for Ryan Braun?
Platoon him with Yelich!
Would this actually work? Possibly make a DH platoon when in AL parks, and use Braun as a pinch-hitter for pitchers? They’ll figure something out.
Derek Jeter, here we come!