Justin Smoak Returning

Dave · June 18, 2013 at 9:35 am · Filed Under Mariners 

It’s been rumored to happen for several days, but according to Ryan Divish, the Mariners are activating Justin Smoak from the DL and sending Alex Liddi back to Tacoma. Smoak didn’t exactly light the world on fire in Tacoma, but he’s apparently healthy enough that the team feels comfortable bringing him back.

The only question now is what that move means for the line-up. In Smoak’s absence, Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales have been sharing the 1B/DH jobs, which is where they both belong. Morse hasn’t played the outfield since May 28th, as his leg issues have kept him from being able to run, and Morales’ back started giving him problems after he played first base 14 times in 16 games, and he hasn’t touched the field since.

If the Mariners want to stick Smoak back into the line-up, they basically have two options: put Morse back in the outfield or create a 1B/DH platoon that gives all three of them regular days off. Realistically, they should probably do the latter.

Despite the team’s glaring lack of outfielders, Morse just isn’t physically capable of playing the OF at an acceptable Major League level. For his career, he has a -17 UZR in over 2,200 innings, and running at half speed, he’d be even worse. While playing the outfield, Michael Morse provides no value to the team, as his defense more than offsets any contributions he makes at the plate. He’s okay at first base, since doesn’t have to move around as much there, so limiting him to 1B/DH duties is more likely to keep him healthy and maximize his value.

Not that Jason Bay, Endy Chavez, or Raul Ibanez provide any value in the outfield either — or even the recent version of Michael Saunders, though at least he still has talent — but none of those three are going to have any trade value at the deadline. The Mariners could probably give Ibanez to a contender who wanted a left-handed bat off the bench if they wanted, but you’re not getting anything in return for him. Playing those three regularly is a problem from a winning games perspective, but you’re not actively tanking potential trade value.

With Morse, though, sticking him in the OF and giving his legs a chance to tighten up again might actually take away from the team’s chances of moving him for something in order to salvage some value from the debacle of a trade that brought him back in the first place. If the Mariners just tell him that he’s a first baseman who will get some DH at-bats too, they have a shot at keeping him healthy through the end of July, and might be able to convince an offensively challenged contender that he could fit into their needs for the stretch run. You’re not going to get a king’s ransom for Morse either, but there’s a better chance for teams to put in positive scouting reports on the guy while watching him play first base and hitting some homers than butcher balls in the outfield and missing time because his legs are hurting him.

Smoak isn’t good enough to be an everyday player anyway, and Morales’ health problems mean that scheduled days off aren’t the worst thing in the world for him. Toss in Morse’s leg issues, and the best bet here is probably for a 1B/DH rotation, giving all three a chance to play both spots but not asking any of them to be everyday players.

And then, in July, the Mariners can ship Morse off to a contender and play Smoak everyday the rest of the year if they want to give him a final push to see what he do as a full time player. For the next six weeks, though, a job share is probably in order, because the idea of Michael Morse as an outfielder just didn’t work.


84 Responses to “Justin Smoak Returning”

  1. stevemotivateir on June 18th, 2013 6:09 pm


    That raises another question(s)… why haven’t they told him to just forget hitting right handed? Is he even worse trying to hit LHP as a LHB?

  2. MrZDevotee on June 18th, 2013 6:12 pm

    John Jaso is a wonderful complimentary piece on a winning team. He’s a platoon catcher with poor defense.

    Calling Jaso our “best hitter” always strikes me the same as calling Miguel Olivo our “Jose Bautista” for leading the team with 19 homeruns.

    Or to be more graphic… The fact that you have a swim team mostly made up of armless guys doesn’t mean Jaso (by virtue of having two good arms) is a great swimmer.

    Or how ’bout, being the one anorexic out of 25 who weighs over 100 lbs usually doesn’t mean you get elevated to the level of being called “the fat one”.

    Bad trade- sure. “Our Best Hitter” to describe John Jaso is borderline hyperbole in my mind. Is it true, sure. Is it misleading, yep.

  3. stevemotivateir on June 18th, 2013 6:17 pm

    ^You realize he had a higher WAR than any other position player on the team last year, right?

    The fact that Wedge didn’t use him as often has he should have, doesn’t mean he was less of a player.

  4. MrZDevotee on June 18th, 2013 6:18 pm

    That’s a really interesting point… Does it take switch hitters longer to develop? ie, 1500 PA from EACH side to see what you have?

    Never thought of it that way, but being ambidextrous myself (I eat/write left handed, plays sports primarily right handed, but was a switch hitter in baseball)– I had two very different approaches from the two sides of the plate– I had a better average from the left side of the plate, but more power from the right.

    I was essentially two very different hitters up there. Not that Smoak necessarily is, just that it’s an interesting question.

  5. MrZDevotee on June 18th, 2013 6:23 pm

    Yes I know he had the highest WAR, but he was still a lightweight (using that “anorexic” theme). And Wedge didn’t use him more because in other types of situations he would have sucked, and his numbers would have shown it. He couldn’t hit pitching from the other side of the mound. Absolutely awful. Same reason he wss pinch hit for AGAINST the Mariners in the late innings the other day. Not many “best hitters on the team” get pinch hit for in high leverage situations.

    John Jaso is not a great hitter in an everyday, every-handed pitcher world. (Neither is Michael Morse, mind you.) That’s my only point. He’s not a “best hitter” on any team other than the Mariners circa 2010-2012. Calling him the “best hitter” only points out the absurd awfulness of the recent Mariners offense.

    He’s a really yummy side dish– he’s not the item you ask for by name off the menu.

  6. stevemotivateir on June 18th, 2013 6:32 pm

    On the 2012 Mariners, he was. Which you’re now agreeing with? And it’s worth noting as a lefty, he faces RHP, which covers the majority of starters. That’s not insignificant, especially for a catcher, since catchers generally need a little more rest anyway.

    We’ve been through the small sample size argument vs. lefties. No way to know now (for 2012), but he sat-out considerably, especially early on, versus right handers as well. That’s not his fault. And he still produced despite the limitations.

    Calling him the best hitter was accurate. And losing him for Morse was a significant price to pay. Especially when you look at the catching situation and what it’s led to this year.

  7. SonOfZavaras on June 18th, 2013 6:33 pm

    John Jaso is hereby re-named “Yummy Side Dish We Used To Have”.

  8. MrZDevotee on June 18th, 2013 6:47 pm

    When he wouldn’t have been the starter this season? And Morse was?

    We’re not looking at a vacuum. Jaso would not have been the starting catcher in Seattle, and we got an everyday (wishful thinking aside) starter back for him, who hits for average and power the past few seasons.

    As much as folks will argue the season has played out exactly as they knew it would. We didn’t know that. The idea was Montero would miraculously become a catcher and find his swing. Jaso would play a couple days a week.

    Jaso went to a team where he got to enjoy a larger role, which is awesome for him. But it doesn’t change who he would have been on the 2013 Mariners. A 2-day a week catcher and pinch hitter.

    And he’s not doing well for the A’s against Lefties either– .222/.263/.222

    I have nothing against John Jaso. Like the guy. Wish he was here, so the quagmire that was the past week’s catching fiasco didn’t have to happen.

    But let’s be honest about who he is as a player. That’s all I’m saying. If the Mariners were a real baseball team, no one would be concerned about whether Jaso was still on the roster or not, or who we got for trading him.

  9. MrZDevotee on June 18th, 2013 6:50 pm

    Exactly. When my favorite restaurant changes their garlic mashed potatoes recipe, I’m sad. But if the garlic mashed potatoes are the best thing on that menu, I’m finding another favorite restaurant- like Le Rangers!

    (Hell no, but funny…)

  10. stevemotivateir on June 18th, 2013 7:30 pm

    You think Jaso wouldn’t have been the starter after they sidelined Montero?

    Even if he wasn’t, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be. You’re really missing the point. He was a valuable piece, even if he was used strictly in a platoon. This team didn’t have a lot of valuable pieces, especially on offense. And Morse as an everyday player, especially as an outfielder, was certainly a questionable move that really hasn’t worked out.

    But while you’re looking at numbers, take a peak at what Jaso’s done with RISP this season.

  11. stevemotivateir on June 18th, 2013 7:47 pm

    By the way, back on the subject of small sample sizes with Jaso vs. lefties, he has 20 PA’s against them this season.

    Morse has 149 PA’s vs. RHP and sports a batting line of .226/.289/.387. He’s played in 54 games this season. Jaso’s played 53.

    So, what kind of dish is Morse? Soup?

  12. stevemotivateir on June 18th, 2013 7:57 pm

    Eh, let me be a little more clear. Morse, given his health history, really didn’t profile as an everyday player, especially in the outfield. At least I didn’t think so. I’m not surprised at all that he’s missed so many games already, though the HBP was kind of a freak thing.

    What still makes me cringe about that trade, is the fact that Jaso went to a division rival under team control for a couple more years.

    Insult to injury. Or in-salt to injury. Something that can’t be sprinkled on a side dish, or used for soup.

  13. sawsatch on June 18th, 2013 8:01 pm

    The failure is a lot larger than John Jaso, or Morse, or Montero. Young, old, veteran, rookie, they all disappoint. (ok Seager isn’t disappointing, but the expectations weren’t high either).
    When was the last time we had a hitter with BA over 300 besides Ichiro (and that isn’t even recent history)?

  14. seasick on June 18th, 2013 9:38 pm

    I don’t know why anybody throws us fastballs at all.

  15. djw on June 18th, 2013 9:40 pm

    “Our Best Hitter” to describe John Jaso is borderline hyperbole in my mind. Is it true, sure. Is it misleading, yep.

    I am legitimately flummoxed as to how a statement can be simultaneously true and misleading.

  16. djw on June 18th, 2013 9:44 pm

    If the Mariners were a real baseball team, no one would be concerned about whether Jaso was still on the roster or not, or who we got for trading him.

    This is nonsense. John Jaso is a quality baseball player. “Real” teams shouldn’t piss them away any more than the Mariners should.

  17. SonOfZavaras on June 18th, 2013 10:30 pm

    Damn! Three double-play balls and a couple of punch-outs.

    Brutal night for Hamilton.

    And I grin.

    Because he doesn’t wear Mariner colors.

  18. SonOfZavaras on June 18th, 2013 10:33 pm

    Okay…I’m predicting. Franklin double. Seager base hit. Franklin scores.

    And Capps comes in and gets the save with a lights-out 10th.

    Who’s with me??

  19. SonOfZavaras on June 18th, 2013 10:34 pm

    Nuts. Okay, “Night Moves”. Knock YOURSELF in.

  20. SonOfZavaras on June 18th, 2013 10:42 pm

    ….and Seager says “Forget the dinger. I like that guy’s original idea better.”

  21. SonOfZavaras on June 18th, 2013 10:44 pm

    Okay, Medina. It’s a good night for a first save.

  22. MrZDevotee on June 19th, 2013 10:08 am

    Again, I not against John Jaso and for Michael Morse. That’s the EXACT sort of simplification I’m fighting against here.

  23. MrZDevotee on June 19th, 2013 10:09 am

    You must know nothing about America if you’re flummoxed by the idea that true things can be misleading…

    See: anything out of the mouth of Democrats
    See: anything out of the mouth of Republicans
    See: the spin of America’s role in the world
    See: ad infinitum

  24. Don Money on June 19th, 2013 10:09 am

    Nice game for Smoak in his return. Three hard hit balls in four PA’s and some slick glove work. All of the arguments used against Smoak could also have been applied to Chris Davis. I just don’t understand how impatient and short sighted some folks are.

  25. djw on June 19th, 2013 10:21 am

    What is misleading about the claim that Jaso was the Mariners’ best hitter in 2012? I don’t understand. It’s a simple, straightforward, factual, accurate claim.

    (I suppose I was thinking about these kinds of narrower, specific factual claims. Of course you can construct a misleading narrative without lying.)

  26. MrZDevotee on June 19th, 2013 10:26 am

    So, basically I’m being argued with that it’s flummoxing to want/expect to be able to have a catcher who can actually play defense, and throw out baserunners, AND also approach what Jaso offers at the plate from both sides of the plate?

    THAT’s a valuable piece too. That’s what I want.

    Nothing against John Jaso. I’d rather have somebody besides either Jaso or Morse in their respective roles on this team, if we’re talking theoretics. In the imaginary world, which is what we’re talking about (because Jaso wouldn’t have been the starting catcher in Seattle this year– even AFTER Montero’s demotion, I would guess), I leap a little further than wishing we still had John Jaso as our catcher. AND wishing more than Morse/Bay/Ibanez in everyday outfielder roles (which is never what I thought they would be).

  27. MrZDevotee on June 19th, 2013 10:34 am

    It goes back to when people would say “But Olivo hit the most homeruns”… That was a factual statement that was misleading about his value.

    John Jaso is not a very good catcher. That’s where I get stuck on his value. Period.

    I would love John Jaso as a backup catcher/situational pinch hitter. But that’s not what we’re talking about. And I’m suggesting those are easier to replace than a power hitting DH/1B type. Jaso was not irreplaceable, while Morse provided something the lineup didn’t have and tried to add (in Hamilton *phew, lucked out there* and Upton).

    Did we do a horrible job replacing what Jaso represents on a Mariners roster? Absolutely. Awful awful. Would he have been better? Yes. But I don’t regret losing him, really.

    That’s all I’m attempting to say. (But obviously I’m not getting my point across very well– or I am, and don’t realize my own ignorance.)

  28. MrZDevotee on June 19th, 2013 10:44 am

    To sum up as simply as I can… (And NOT solely aimed at Steve’s comment, but others who’ve said the same thing)

    “I can’t believe we gave up our best hitter” simplifies Jaso’s usefulness to the one quality he had that was positive.

    Nobody says “I can’t believe we gave up our best guy at throwing out baserunners” about Olivo.

    There are other factors necessary to determine the guy’s worth.

    To ONLY use “best hitter” in assessing his value is to be misleading, and maybe that wasn’t Steve’s point, but it has been multiple times here.

    “His offense doesn’t offset what you punt on the defensive side” is a great way to desribe what Morse represents…

    But to me it’s equally effective at describing what Jaso represents.

  29. stevemotivateir on June 19th, 2013 11:09 am


    You’re arguing in circles! I understood your point and your reasoning, I just don’t agree with it.

    Jaso wasn’t a great catcher. Better than Montero, but not somebody who was going to hold Zunino back from an eventual starting job. But that doesn’t mean his catching didn’t offer anything. He still would have been a step-up from Shoppach (factoring everything in as a complete player) and certainly capable of keeping the seat warm for 2013. Point is, he’s good enough.

    It really seems like you’re undermining his value as a hitter. If/when the time came to shift him to a backing role for Zunino, he could also DH or possibly even play first. It’s not like he would have to be kept as the starting catcher to stick around. And again, as a lefty, even in a platooned role, he offers a lot. Look at what he did with us with runners on. Look at what he’s done for Oakland with runners on. He didn’t earn respect for a .276 BA. He earned it because he came through a LOT when the team needed him to. He was an outstanding situational hitter and he still is. His line with RISP for us was .378/.486/.682 with 40 RBI’s in 100 PA’s. For Oakland, it’s currently .366/.449/.488 with 17 RBI’s in 50 PA’s.

    He’s on pace to net around 500 PA’s for the A’s. That hardly suggests he’s a side dish. To suggest his defense offsets his offensive value is ridiculous. And that’s factored into his WAR, which again, led the team last year.

    He wasn’t just our best hitter. He was (is) a great hitter. And he plays the toughest defensive position around replacement level, which happened to be better than any other option we had. And you can’t say he wouldn’t have been the starter. You don’t know that. The fact that Wedge quit on Montero so fast and had no problem ditching Shoppach, says a lot.

    There was value in what Jaso offered apart from the hitting. But if you really wanna argue defense, try to make a case for Morse as an outfielder.

  30. stevemotivateir on June 19th, 2013 11:20 am

    And the comparison with Olivo’s ability to throw runners out, or hit HR’s, is apples and oranges. You’re talking about much smaller equations that are important, but not equal in value. His defensive WAR last year was 0.2. Jaso’s was -0.3. Big deal. The offensive production makes everything lopsided.

  31. djw on June 19th, 2013 3:47 pm

    I’m being argued with that it’s flummoxing to want/expect to be able to have a catcher who can actually play defense, and throw out baserunners, AND also approach what Jaso offers at the plate from both sides of the plate?
    THAT’s a valuable piece too. That’s what I want.

    If Jaso were traded for that, no one would have complained. What you describe would be a better, more valuable player than John Jaso. This has *nothing* to do with the validity of the claim that Jaso wast he Mariner’s best hitter in 2012. It’s a complete non-sequitur; changing the subject. There was never any reason to think “best hitter on the team” is synonymous with “player without flaws.” Calling him the best hitter on the team means he’s the best hitter on the team: nothing more, nothing less.

    It’s also a replication of one of the man you honor in your handle’s greatests flaws–a focus on what players don’t do well instead of what they can and do do well.

    Jaso was not irreplaceable, while Morse provided something the lineup didn’t have and tried to add

    “Not irreplaceable” is a meaningless phrase as far as I can tell. But in general, this is a terrible way to think about player’s value. Jaso is more valuable to a team’s offense than Morse, because OBP is more valuable than SLG. Jaso’s offensive contribution isn’t worth less than Morse’s because Morse is “harder to replace”. That’s not relevant to the question of their offensive value. (And honestly, ‘crappy outfielders who hit home runs and give back whatever value those home runs provide with their grotesque glovework’ apparently aren’t that hard to find, as the Mariners found two more of them no one else wanted in Ibanez and Bay.) Jaso was a much better hitter last year. (This year, they have essentially identical offensive value, due to Jaso’s loss of power). Jaso may not be a good catcher, but his ability to passably play the position far exceeds Morse’s ability to passably play his, giving him considerably more value than Morse. Consider Jaso’s lower age, cheaper cost, and more years of team control, and this is one of the most obviously, straightforwardly indefensible GM decisions I’ve ever seen.

  32. djw on June 19th, 2013 3:58 pm

    “His offense doesn’t offset what you punt on the defensive side” is a great way to desribe what Morse represents…
    But to me it’s equally effective at describing what Jaso represents.

    There used to a be an occasionally enforced comment rule around here–one that I dearly miss–that went something like this: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

    You seem be to be claiming you’ve accomplished two things here. First, you’re claiming to have figured out how to both a) measure and b) weight the value of catcher defense. And they weight you’re assigning it would have to be considerably greater than most existing theories of the relative importance of catcher defense. As Dave pointed out this off-season, the gap between the best and worst catcher defense is, according to the best research we’ve got available right now, probably between -1 WAR and +1 WAR. Jaso’s statistics also suggest he’s probably not at the bottom of that. But in order to make the claim you make here, you must make an implied claim that you you know better–Jaso is worse than our statistical evaluations suggest, and the range is larger than we thought.

    I’m fascinated to see how you achieved this knowledge. Please enlighten the rest of us!

  33. eponymous coward on June 19th, 2013 4:44 pm

    So, the argument is that Morse > Jaso because DINGERS!!11!!!!!

    All righty then.

    So, the 2013 Mariners = great success, going from last year’s 149 dingers to a 2013 projection (over 162 games) of 175 dingers. Gosh, look at all the dingers we added!

    Of course, we’re projecting out to 567 runs instead of last year’s 619… but hey, DINGERS11!!!!11!

  34. djw on June 19th, 2013 7:44 pm

    The 2013 Mariners should have at least one positive virtue: killing of the “dingers !!!11!!!1!” nonsense (which is central to the argument that Morse is worth bothering with) once and for all. The 2013 M’s are 10th in Home Runs, 24th in OBP, and 26th in runs scored.

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