Certainly, that’s not the outcome Seattle hoped for when reacquiring Smith from the Rays as part of the offseason’s Mike Zunino swap. Smith, fresh off a .296/.367/.406 performance and controlled for another four years, was viewed as the hopeful center fielder of the future for the Mariners. That may very well be the case, but it had become increasingly difficult for the organization to look past the fleet-footed 25-year-old’s early struggles in 2019.
Smith has taken 110 plate appearances with the Mariners this year but managed only a .165/.255/.247 batting line in that time. His strikeout rate has skyrocketed from just 18 percent in 2018 to 30 percent in 2019, while his line-drive rate has fallen by nearly 10 percent as well. The drop in liners and hard-hit balls notwithstanding, Smith’s .234 average on balls in play still seems like it should bounce back, particularly given his considerable speed, but the contact issues he’s experiencing are something he’ll try to remedy in a lower-pressure environment in Tacoma.
From a service time perspective, the injury to Smith isn’t likely to change his trajectory. He entered the season with two years, 125 days of MLB service time already under his belt, meaning he need only acquire 47 days of service in 2019 to surpass the three-year mark and remain on track for free agency following the 2022 season. Smith has already acquired nearly that much service time, so he’s essentially a lock to reach three years of service time if he returns to the Majors at any point in 2019 (which seems quite likely). He’ll be arbitration-eligible in each of the next three offseasons.
With Smith in the minors for now, the Mariners can rely on Bishop in center field or slider Mitch Haniger from right field to center. In the latter scenario, Domingo Santana and Jay Bruce could man the outfield corners, with Daniel Vogelbach and Edwin Encarnacion working at first base and at designated hitter.