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Why Giants’ Smoak signing could be bad news for Sandoval

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Justin Smoak
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The Giants have repeatedly struck gold by adding veterans and minor league players virtually for free and giving them a chance. Their latest addition probably won't have to wait long for an opportunity. 

The Giants on Wednesday signed veteran slugger Justin Smoak to a minor league deal and sent him to their alternate site in Sacramento. Smoak had been designated for assignment and then released by the Milwaukee Brewers, so he hasn't played in a game for a week. 

You don't sign a veteran 17 games before the end of the season so he can play in a bunch of simulated games with teenagers, so Smoak should be with the big league club soon. Manager Gabe Kapler said he had a nice conversation with the 33-year-old and relayed that Smoak is "feeling good and excited to be contributing to the organization."

"I've been following him for some time. Over the last couple of years he's done a really nice job of seeing pitches and working walks and hitting for power, particularly from the left side," Kapler said. "I think you go back a couple of years and he had some monster years in Toronto. He's just been very, very consistent at seeing pitches, making good decisions, and hitting home runs and driving the baseball."

That last sentence is, in a nutshell, what the Giants have done right at the plate this season. But Smoak's addition would lead to a departure, and it could be a big name who ends up getting cut loose.

 

Smoak has played more than 1,100 career games at first base with 70 more as a DH, and he's not able to slot in anywhere else. The Giants have Brandon Belt putting up MVP numbers and Wilmer Flores is best suited to play first base when he's not the DH. Darin Ruf also is a natural first baseman, although he has been able to handle left field. 

Smoak, then, seems to fit only as a left-handed-hitting designated hitter, and the Giants already have one of those on their roster. Pablo Sandoval has made 11 starts at DH, five at first -- four of which came when Belt was on the injured list -- and just two at third, both this week when Evan Longoria had a sore glute. Sandoval has a .278 on-base percentage and is slugging .268 with one home run.

Smoak had his own struggles in Milwaukee, hitting just .186 with a .262 OBP. But he did homer five times, all from the left side of the plate. If the Giants are looking for more production out of their left-handed-hitting DH roster slot, there's no doubt that Smoak, also a switch-hitter, has been slightly better than Sandoval this season, and last year he hit 19 homers against right-handed pitchers with a .347 on-base percentage. 

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Sandoval did damage against righties last year, too, which is why the Giants brought him back and have stuck with him through a six-week slump. But they're in a playoff race, and it appears they might have found a small upgrade for a very specific role. 

"I think at this time of year all 30 clubs are looking for additive pieces, particularly clubs that are in the playoff hunt," Kapler said. "Everybody is looking for power, everybody is looking for left-handed power. It's always nice to have depth and on-base skills. Yeah, those are profiles that we respect and that we value."