Aside from the disappointment of never winning, I think players genuinely like playing for the San Diego Padres. It's not the team, not the owners, not even the ballpark. Playing in San Diego means you get to spend a large chunk of your summer living in San Diego. And that's hard to beat. So, when Seth Smith received his contract extension, it was not surprising to hear him say he wanted to stay in San Diego despite the fact that he may have been able to land on a contender if he was traded.
Now that San Diego is tied to Smith for an additional two years, the expectation was that he would regress toward his career averages. Surely he couldn't keep up the production level he had up to the point of his extension, right? Smith has been a career utility man, so the idea of him being a team's everyday starter and putting up the same numbers he had in the first half of this season just didn't seem plausible. However, that's what San Diego is banking on.
Well, that's what they were banking on. Now, they have a real GM in place as opposed to the interim operation that managed the Smith extension after Josh Brynes was fired. Perhaps A.J. Preller will look to move Smith in the offseason. Or maybe he won't. Smith has kept his production up since the extension was signed.
It would be easy for a player to settle in and get comfortable when they have guaranteed money coming and a team to play for beyond the current season. Comfort often leads to complacency, and complacency leads to poor performance on the diamond. So far, Smith has been able to avoid that comfort and complacency.
Prior to Smith signing the extension, he was hitting .278/.384/.489 with eight home runs. His wRC+ was an impressive 157, meaning he was 57% better than average in terms of weighted runs created. At the time, Smith's BABIP was .317, which was slightly above his career average of .306. Smith was clearly the best player on the Padres roster at the time of the extension. He was building himself into a fan favorite. Heck, he probably should have been an All-Star. BUT, we all knew this production was coming to an end, right?
So far, Smith has maintained his production, and depending on the metric you use for the analysis, he has actually exceeded his first-half production levels. In the small-sample-size time frame since July 2nd, Smith is hitting .310/.381/.486. His wRC+ is slightly below his pre-extension number, but is sitting at a healthy 143. In the 97 plate appearances since Smith signed his extension, he has managed to increase his BABIP to .343. Smith has also added three home runs since his extension.
So, what does it all mean? It probably doesn't mean much. Smith's increased BABIP is concerning. He has used that to help maintain many of his other peripheral numbers. Had he maintained those other peripheral numbers with a similar BABIP to what he had before the extension, it would have been easier to trust Smith's production going forward. However, at this point, the season is winding down. Maintaining at least some representation of his numbers so far will be far less difficult over the last month and a half of the season than it would be for the entire second half.
Smith's continued production bodes well for San Diego's options this offseason. While the previous regime promised Smith he would not be traded, we know that front offices break their promises from time to time. If Preller believes the team can get a return that sets them up long term, a trade would not be shocking. In fact, we don't know the details of the promise made to Smith when he signed his extension. It could have been as simple as a promise not to trade him during this season. If that's the case, it probably goes from possible to likely that San Diego trades Smith this winter.
Smith has been a very nice player for San Diego, but as many have pointed out before me, keeping him long term on a club that's not ready to compete doesn't make much sense. San Diego could use him to help rebuild the club going forward. Considering how bad the Padres have been (despite somehow only being 10 games under .500), a complete overhaul is probably necessary. Those types of changes are going to require some hard decisions.
At 31 years old, Smith is not likely to be a part of San Diego's long-term future no matter how well he performs going forward. However, it's nice to see him continue his pre-extension production levels. From his perspective, it could mean getting traded to a contender still. From the Padres perspective, it could mean a return that helps the club become competitive again. In the end, though, Smith's production with the Padres has little impact on the team's future outside of trade possibilities.
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Justin Hunter is a contributing writer to Beyond the Box Score. He is also the co-author of the upcoming book, The Guide to Launching a Profitable Sports Blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @the5_5hole.