A comparable first baseman to Justin Smoak in 2018, Tampa Bay’s C.J. Cron was designated for assignment as a result of a harsh roster crunch. This designation, while not directly impactful on the Blue Jays and their roster, doesn’t bode well for Justin Smoak and his trade value.
C.J. Cron, who spent the 2018 season with the surprisingly cohesive Tampa Bay Rays, is the perfect definition of a reclamation project. After struggling to a slash line of .248/.305/.437 with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017, he was traded to the Tampa in a minor February trade.
This season, however, he greatly improved his stock, slashing a solid .253/.323/.493 with 30 home runs, 74 RBI and 28 doubles in 140 games. Despite this, though, he was designated for assignment by the Rays on November 20. Shockingly, a player who put up a WAR of 2.0 was DFA’d.
He was, in all fairness, eligible for arbitration, so his salary, which in 2018 was a modest $2.3 million, would have likely gone up quite a bit. Still, Cron didn’t necessarily deserve to be DFA’d.
For the Blue Jays, this move represents a stark disappointment in the way of the trade value of Justin Smoak, potentially their greatest major league trade chip this winter. While there’s been no confirmation from the front office that Smoak is on the block, many have cited his consistent performance, as well as his cost-effective contract, as prime factors that could make him valuable trade bait.
Unfortunately, Cron and Smoak are strikingly similar in terms of their statistics. As Andrew Stoeten of the Athletic pointed out on Twitter this past week, Cron’s slash line is remarkably comparable to that of Smoak, who remains under contract.
Stoeten raises an excellent point. If Cron, who wasn’t considered valuable enough to remain on the 40-man roster, hit 30 homers and had a decent slash line, what does that mean for Smoak, who hit five fewer homers and put up an arguably comparable numbers?
Of course, this doesn’t take into account the defensive skill that Smoak brings to the table. A 2018 AL Gold Glove finalist, Smoak has long been considered a dependable defender at first. Cron, on the other hand, has never been one to excel with the glove. Although a first baseman’s defence isn’t often considered a prime part of his value, it’s important to take into account.
Still, Cron’s designation isn’t at all good for the Blue Jays. It’s unknown whether they were actively trying to trade Smoak, but this move should silence almost all speculation. This, of course, doesn’t absolutely mean Smoak won’t get traded, but if he does, the return could be saddening for Blue Jays fans. This’ll surely be a situation to watch this winter.