Thursday, July 12, 2012

Smoak and Mirrors

By Kshell

The Seattle Mariners are struggling once again in the Jack Zduriencik regime which shouldn't come as a shock since they have lost 196 games the last two seasons.  The Mariners struggles have become so bad that I stopped writing or caring about this team. With the second half of the season approaching this is a critical time for the Mariners young core. Now I'll talk about Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero for a later time. For now I'm going to focus on Texas Rangers former top prospect and current Seattle Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak. Smoak who will be 26 years old in December is having for the third straight year in the major leagues a terrible season. Smoak has actually regressed from last season and his having his worst season of his career so far. With Smoak struggling this really puts the rebuilding into question and more importantly for Jack Z his tenure in Seattle could be ending.

So far Smoak's claim to fame was he was the guy traded to the Mariners from the Rangers for Cliff Lee. Now when the Lee deal broke I was out floating the river so one of my writers broke down the trade at the time with this thoughtful piece . At the time everyone loved the trade and I'll admit so did I since the Mariners were acquiring Smoak who was the 13th rated prospect in the majors. The Mariners just grabbed a top tier prospect from a division rival for a rental player. Instead what ended up happening was Cliff Lee helped the Rangers reach their first every World Series in 2010. Lee in the ALDS series win over the Tampa Bay Rays was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA having thrown 16 innings with 21 strikeouts. Then in the ALCS win over the New York Yankees Lee won his game three start going eight shutout innings allowing only two hits with 13 strikeouts. Lee would bolt in the off-season but the Rangers were able to pick up two first round draft picks. The Rangers also became a legitimate franchise with that World Series appearance which allowed them to sign all-star third baseman and former Seattle Mariner Adrian Beltre. That trade actually helped the Rangers more than anyone could have imagined at the time while to date has hurt the Mariners.

Justin Smoak was a highly touted prospect for the Rangers. He was the Rangers first round pick(11th overall) in the 2008 draft out of South Carolina. He was the #23 prospect in the minors in 2009 and #13 in 2010. Smoak was seen as the next Mark Teixeira type who was a switch hitter with great defense. In the minor leagues he was rushed through the system as he only had 773 plate appearances which he hit .283/.401/.458 with 24 HR's and 93 RBI's. In triple A though he has only had 477 PA's where he has hit .253/.379/.414 with 13 HR's and 53 RBI's. In the minors he should decent power with a good eye. Still one had to think if he truly was this great prospect why would the Rangers even risk trading him to a division rival for a rental player? At that time that was something that didn't quite pass the smell test. As we are finding out now with Smoak perhaps he wasn't that good to begin with which is why the Rangers rushed him through the system. By rushing him through the system that enhanced his value as he was drafted in 2008 and was on the major league roster in 2010 having played in 70 games for the Rangers. The Rangers in 2011 used that World Series momentum from 2010 and went back to the World Series, while the Seattle Mariners lost 95 games after losing 101 the previous year.

So far in Smoak's major league career in 1,214 PA's he is hitting .220/.302/.370 for a .672 OPS with 39 HR's(HR/27.5 AB's). He has struck out 265 times(21.8%) and walked 127 times(10.4%). He has a negative 0.9 WAR in three seasons and a negative 2.0 WAR defensively(every year has been negative). To say Smoak has been a disaster would be an understatement. Sure those at Mariners Nation may think he is "slumping" but they are also the laughing joke of the Seattle sports scene. Smoak this year is having his worst season to date in 328 PA's he is hitting .203/.265/.332 for an OPS of .597 which is pathetic. He has 11 home runs(HR/27.3 AB's) with 69 strikeouts(20.4%) and 26 walks(7.9%) on the season. He currently has a negative 0.8 WAR which ranks last among all everyday first baseman. He isn't walking at all like he did in the minor leagues and his power is very average. Plus defensively he is bad as every year in the majors he has been a negative WAR defensively. As time is moving forward it is becoming more and more clear Zduriencik isn't a good general manager. It is becoming even more obvious that Smoak isn't the future either. The sooner the Mariners cut their losses on him and ship him while he still has a little bit of value the better.

The Rangers hustled the Mariners like all good teams do to bad teams. They had the Mariners thinking they were giving up a top prospect for a rental which would hurt their franchise and help the Mariners franchise for a decade. Instead just the opposite happened the Rangers used that trade to land Lee which landed them in the World Series. They then used that momentum to go back to the World Series while the Mariners are on pace to go 67-95 which would be the first this franchise has lost 95 plus games three years in a row since their expansion days when they lost 95 plus their first four years of existence from 1977-1980. Zduriencik was supposed to clean up this mess that Bill Bavasi left him instead he has made this mess even worse. Justin Smoak is the poster boy of why this franchise's hope from 2010 to now has disappeared. Smoak was supposed to be that switch hitting power hitting first baseman that was made for Safeco Field. Instead the Rangers are laughing at the Mariners misery as they are going to win their third straight division title. Yes come to find out Justin Smoak was simply a "Smoak and Mirrors" prospect all along.

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