Here’s a rather surprising note, with less than 24 hours until the July 31 trade deadline: According to MLB Network‘s Jon Heyman, the Phillies have checked in on Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak. Earlier in the day, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet reported that “interest in Smoak was picking up.”
Smoak, 32, has nearly 200 career home runs, and while he’s hitting just .215 this season, his .220 batting average on balls in play despite an increase in hard contact in 2019 suggests he’s due for some positive regression. That he’s drawing interest – and Heyman says he’s likely to be dealt – isn’t shocking. And the more you think about it, the Phillies interest in him probably shouldn’t be either.
When the Phillies acquired Jay Bruce in early June, their plan was for him to be a left-handed power bat off the bench. That plan was quickly erased when Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL later that week, forcing Bruce to get the bulk of the at-bats in left field. Bruce is currently on the injured list with an oblique injury, he’ll likely get a fair amount of starts again. Some days, he’ll start, pushing Adam Haseley to the bench. Other days, Bruce will start in left, Haseley in center field and Scott Kingery can play third base.
Either way, the hole that general manager Matt Klentak thought he had filled with the acquisition of Bruce – a left-handed power bat off the bench – still exists. Nick Williams is hitting just .160 this season, so Smoak (who is a switch-hitter) would be a noticeable upgrade late in the season, where one swing off the bench can make or break a season. The Phillies also still have five games remaining in American League parks will they will need a DH. Smoak could DH, or he could play first base in those games and Rhys Hoskins could shift to DH.
This interest shouldn’t be taken as a sign that the Phillies are considering using Rhys Hoskins in left field at any point the rest of the season. Hoskins worked very hard to adjust to left field last season, but it didn’t work and all parties agreed that it was best for Hoskins to move back to first base permanently.
Ironically, Smoak is connected to one of the most popular Phillies of the last 25 years – Cliff Lee. In July of 2010, Smoak, just 23 at the time, headlined the return that the Seattle Mariners received from the Texas Rangers for Lee. The Phillies had traded Lee to the Mariners prior to the season, and after Lee pitched the Rangers to their first World Series appearance in 2010, he returned to the Phillies on a five-year free-agent contract.
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