OAKLAND -- General manager Ross Atkins is adamant that the decision to sign first baseman Justin Smoak does not mean that the Blue Jays have given up on the possibility of bringing back Edwin Encarnacion this offseason.
Toronto made a surprise move on Saturday morning by announcing a two-year deal for Smoak that includes a club option for a third year. Smoak, who was in line to become a free agent at the end of this season, will earn $4.125 million in each of the next two seasons, and the club option in 2019 is valued at $6 million with a $250,000 buyout.
The signing immediately brought into question whether it was an indication that the Blue Jays are on the verge of saying goodbye to Encarnacion at the end of the season, but Atkins insisted that was not the case.
"We do feel like he has the potential to play every day, but it really comes down to alternatives," Atkins said of Smoak. "So, you know, Edwin could be a DH and Justin could be playing regularly at first base, as he was earlier this year. There's a lot of different alternatives there.
"They're on the same team now and could be on the same team moving forward. I just think that there's the potential of Justin being more than the complementary player he has been over the last couple of years."
Toronto has eight players who are eligible for free agency at the end of the season: José Bautista, Michael Saunders, R.A. Dickey, Drew Storen, Jesse Chavez, Brett Cecil, Gavin Floyd and Encarnacion. Smoak originally had been on that list, and with the status of so many players up in the air, Toronto prioritized securing some cost certainty.
Smoak entered play on Saturday hitting .234 with nine home runs and 23 RBIs. He has been a platoon player for most of his time in Toronto, but saw increased playing time earlier in the year when fellow first baseman Chris Colabello received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
Toronto also had to deal with the fact that the free-agent market for hitters this winter is pretty weak. At first base, the list includes players such as Pedro Álvarez, Adam Lind, James Loney, Mitch Moreland, Mike Napoli and Mark Teixeira. The lack of alternatives likely played a role in the Smoak signing, as did the amount of work Toronto will have to get done this winter.
"Absolutely, and that's part of it," Atkins said. "You have to get work done. We have a busy offseason ahead of us because of what you just mentioned. So [we] saw this as an opportunity in a short window to see if there was something there with Justin. As it turned out, we were both really efficient. There was an effort from both parties to work towards something that made sense for the organization and Justin."
The deal from Smoak's perspective is a no-brainer. He might not have received the amount of playing time he hoped for, but for the most part, there have been still plenty of opportunities to get into the lineup. When Toronto approached Smoak's agent over the All-Star break, it did not take long for the deal to come together.
The Blue Jays touched base with Smoak's representatives on Monday. There were a few phone calls over the next several days, and as the All-Star break was wrapping up on Thursday, so too was the extension for Smoak.
"We love it here, my family loves it here, I love it here, we've got a great team, great clubhouse, we're going to be good, I feel like, for a while," Smoak said.
"Talking to my agent and looking at the opportunities, didn't know how many opportunities there were going to be on the East Coast, honestly, and maybe in the American League. We love Toronto, me and my family, we wanted to stay here for as long as we can, and I'm just happy to get something done."