For the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are seeking to supplement Gaby Sanchez at first base, that has meant Texas’ Mitch Moreland and Ike Davis of the Mets are suddenly looking pretty good. As we’ve discussed before on City of Champions, both of them have their flaws, especially Davis.
But if the Bucs are committed to trading for a first sacker this winter, I would hope they’ve at least taken a glance northwest to Justin Smoak of the Mariners. With Morrison – reportedly the Pirates’ primary target during the Winter Meetings – now in Seattle, perhaps the M’s are getting antsy to make another move.
Smoak, 27, was once considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball as he rose quickly through the Rangers’ system. His big-league performance has been decidedly uneven, as the switch-hitter has alternated between below- and above-average production in his four seasons at the highest level.
Perhaps most encouraging about Smoak is his developing power, at long last. Always hyped as one of the best launchers of the baseball in the minors, he didn’t crack a .400 slugging percentage or 20 homers since last season. I’m willing to forgive some of that because of spacious Safeco Field, his home stadium for the vast majority of his MLB career.
What’s promising from the Pirates’ perspective is that Smoak is better from the left side of the plate, making him an ideal complement for Sanchez, whose splits show the opposite. Although Smoak has hit for a similarly-low average (.229 vs. RHP, .223 vs. LHP) against pitchers of either handedness, he has a 29-point on-base advantage and a 35-point slugging bulge vs. righties.
Since Smoak appears to be figuring things out, the Pirates will likely have to sacrifice either an MLB contributor or a highly-regarded prospect (or both) to acquire him. Smoak is first-year arbitration-eligible, meaning he would be under club control for the next three seasons at a reasonable price.
Could the more lefty-friendly PNC Park give Smoak an added boost? Hard to say, considering the gem on the North Side is still one of the toughest parks in baseball in which to homer. He’s also been a slightly below-par defender, although the sure-handed Sanchez would always be available off the bench in late-game situations.
Compared to whom the Bucs have been linked to recently, Smoak looks downright exciting. The Mariners probably know this, so a potential deal for him could be “painful,” to use a Neal Huntington-ism. Still, he would almost certainly be better than Davis, and I’d bet he’s a step up from Moreland, too.