The Seattle Mariners avoided arbitration with first baseman Justin Smoak on Saturday, agreeing to a deal that could be worth over $8 million over the next two seasons. While Smoak has been largely disappointing during his time with Seattle, the team is giving him one last chance to prove himself in 2014 if he hopes to be the M’s long-term answer at first. Can he finally catch on and prove he’s the right man for the job?
Smoak signed a deal that gives him $2.6 million this season with a chance for much more through incentives and escalators. The team has a $3.65 million option for 2015 with a $150,000 buyout. The first baseman can guarantee the 2015 option with his play in 2014 if he has 525 plate appearances, finishes in the top 15 of the MVP voting, gets selected to the All-Star game, or wins a Silver Slugger Award. The contract puts the pressure on Smoak to deliver or get cut loose.
There have been flashes of Smoak’s ability from time to time which have helped the team justify continuing to turn to him year after year. The 27-year-old is coming off a career-best 20 home runs in 2013 but hit just .238 for the year. He had a surge of production after a sting on the disabled list in June, raising his average to .274 in early August before spiraling over the final six weeks of the season.
Seattle has added pressure on Smoak to produce early with the offseason acquisitions of Logan Morrison and Corey Hart. If he doesn’t produce with his early opportunities, the M’s won’t hesitate to turn first base over to one of the newcomers to try and add some pop from that spot in the lineup. If Seattle finds one of the other options at first to be a better offensive option, they won’t hesitate to sit Smoak, trade him during the season, or simply buy him out this offseason.
The time for Smoak to rely on his potential as a power bat at first base is over. Now, he has to start delivering on the promise that he keeps flashing and become a consistent producer in the lineup. If he can’t, then his time in Seattle will likely come to an end in 2014.