Smith could be a key contributor to the turnaround GM Jerry Dipoto is eyeing over the next few seasons. Last year, Smith had an American League-high 10 triples and added 40 stolen bases, good for third in MLB.
With 2019 having officially been dubbed the “step back” year for the Mariners, you could understand why fans might have trouble getting pumped up for the season. But at Thursday’s media luncheon, M’s manager Scott Servais said that by mid-May people will have plenty to root for.
A few minutes later, Mallex Smith came to the podium. And anyone watching him learned that there’s someone to root for already.
If there was an MVP of Thursday’s press conference, which included general manager Jerry Dipoto, director of player development Andy McKay and prospects Justus Sheffield and J.P. Crawford, it was Smith. The recently acquired outfielder blended charisma with wit while endearing himself to his new city.
Obviously, his most important contributions will be the ones on the field, where he produced a respectable 3.5 Wins Above Replacement last season. But it’s always nice to have a guy who can be entertaining in the clubhouse as well.
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What was your reaction to being traded to the Mariners? Smith was asked.
“Initial thought — Jerry’s gonna flip me again,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Smith has been a Mariner. In 2017, he was traded to Seattle from the Braves but then dealt to the Rays 77 minutes later.
His response when asked about it last year?
“Some of the best 77 minutes of my life. It was awesome. It was electric. I’m still getting fan mail from the Mariners fans about all the work I put in over there.”
The guy’s gonna be fun. And if he continues to play like he did last season, he could be a key contributor to the turnaround Dipoto is eyeing over the next few seasons.
Last year, in his first full season, Smith had an American League-high 10 triples and added 40 stolen bases, good for third in MLB. He also had an OPS of .773, which was the third best among Rays who played at least 90 games.
Do the stat geeks project him to be as good next season as he was the last one? Not quite. But they also don’t have a whole lot to go on.
The upside to a guy like Smith is that he’s under club control for the next four years. He probably won’t be part of anything special this season, but he could be in the ones to come.
The best part for him? People will actually be watching. That didn’t happen in Tampa Bay, which ranked 29th in attendance last year.
“I don’t know about these guys, but I’m gonna enjoy having fans in the stands,” Smith said. “I’m gonna be excited for that.”
If you’re looking for some side entertainment in what will almost certainly be a down year for the M’s, keep track of the stolen-base race between Smith and Dee Gordon. Gordon had 30 stolen bases last season but has led the National League three times with totals of 64, 60 and 58.
So who wins a footrace between the two?
“I don’t know,” Smith said. “But it would be a quick race.”
Smith’s most memorable press-conference moment Thursday came when he was asked about Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez. Given that Smith is only 25, the radio host posing the question said that he probably thinks of those two the way older people think of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.
That wasn’t quite true. Smith admits he didn’t pay much attention to Martinez, whose 18-year career ended when Mallex was 11. But he did have Griffey posters on his wall, just as he does today.
As for the prospect of meeting the Hall of Famers?
“I’m definitely excited to see one of those T-Rexes, if not both of them at the same time,” Smith said.
The host followed up.
“Did you just call Edgar and Griffey dinosaurs?”
“T-Rexes to be exact” Smith answered.
It’s not clear if Smith was referring to their age or their might, but it got a laugh regardless. I suspect he’ll provide a lot more of those.
A club always wants a guy who can play, but it’s a nice bonus when he can play around, too.
Correction: A previous version of this column said Smith was first acquired by the Mariners last season.