Even-keeled Smoak keeps moving along
Rookie first baseman reacts to Lee trade that sends him Seattle
ARLINGTON -- First baseman Justin Smoak said he wasn't really sure what was happening when he was called into his manager's office Friday."I was hitting in the cage and third-base coach Dave Anderson came and got me to come into [Rangers manager Ron Washington's] office," Smoak said. "I sat down and talked with him and [general manager Jon Daniels] and that's when they told me.
"I knew it was either getting sent down, because I haven't been doing very well. I knew it was either that or I was going somewhere."Smoak was told he had been traded to the Mariners, along with three other players, in exchange for lefty ace Cliff Lee and righty Mark Lowe, after playing in only 70 games for the Rangers in his rookie season. "It's tough, being new to this business and everything that comes with it," Smoak said. "You get on the team and feel like you should be here for a while. All of the sudden, things change overnight. It's part of it and it's something I've learned quick." Drafted by the Rangers with their first-round pick in 2008, Smoak hit .209 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 235 at-bats after being called up in April to replace Chris Davis. Just a few months later, he was traded for one of baseball's top pitchers.
"It says a lot. He's a great pitcher and they really wanted to take this team to the next level here," Smoak said. "Doing that does it. It's just one of those things that's part of it. The only thing you can do is look forward."Daniels said Smoak handled the news well, despite how surprising it may have been. "He handled it about as professionally and maturely as he could," Daniels said. "He's going across the aisle, so to speak, in the [American League West] division. I expect him to have a good career and we're going to have to find ways to get him out. He kind of caught his breath, contacted his family, and I'd probably expect him to be in their lineup tomorrow." Shortstop Elvis Andrus made sure to tell him how he got through his own experience of being traded, when the Braves sent him in a monster deal for former Ranger Mark Teixeira. "I was in low A at that moment, but it's the same," Andrus said. "You always want to play with the team that signed you, but you've got to realize that this is a business. You've got to be in the right time and the right moment. Another team is going to give you the opportunity to go out and play." Despite his short stay in Arlington, Smoak made plenty of friends. Most notable was pitcher Tommy Hunter, who competed against Smoak as a pitcher at Alabama while Smoak attended the University of South Carolina. "Nothing's going to faze him. That's one of my boys," Hunter said. "That was one of my roommates in Spring Training. We all stick together and we've got a little group here. But we'll see him." Hunter believes Smoak's easygoing personality helped make the news easier. "I said, 'Hey dude, there's a great place to eat in Seattle that I love to go to down on the pier,'" Hunter said with a laugh. "That's what he is. He's a down to earth guy. I'm sorry to see him go, but you've got to wish him the best. He's going to be very successful. He's going to drop bombs. That's what he does." Despite his low-key persona, other Rangers thought he was still taken by surprise. "I think he was a little bit surprised, to be honest with you," pitcher C.J. Wilson said. "Nobody ever thinks they're going to get traded unless they're in Cliff Lee's situation, when you're being talked about every day. Even he understands there is nothing he can do." But the Rangers know Smoak's future is bright with the Mariners. "When you're the player traded, it's never easy," Wilson said. "I can't imagine it is. I think he was a little confused by it. I'm sure he'll succeed, he's a good player." Added third baseman Michael Young: "We're going to miss Smoakie, he's a great kid with huge potential. Seattle's getting a great first baseman." But Hunter knows that the recent news won't shake Smoak for long. "He could go up there, strike out five times like he did in Milwaukee [on June 13], and come out the next day and you wouldn't even know it," Hunter said. "That's the kind of guy he is. Nothing fazes him. He's going to make the best of everything that comes to him. That's why he's such a good guy, such a good person and such a good player." But Smoak and the Rangers will meet again soon. The Mariners, a divisional rival in the AL West, play the Rangers nine more times this season. "It's good to compete against these guys that you came up with and played with," Smoak said. "It's going to be a lot of fun."
Chris Cox is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.