The return of Justin Smoak from the 15-day disabled list is important on several fronts, both for the present and future of the Seattle Mariners -- as well as for Smoak himself.
This could be the last shot for Smoak to prove that he should be a part of the Mariner's long-term plans, and it's going to take more than the .240 batting average and .344 slugging percentage he had before going on the DL earlier this month for the 26-year-old first baseman to cement his place in the organization.
With no other obvious first baseman of the future -- designated hitter Kendrys Morales was more than adequate there while filling in for Smoak but probably isn't considered an everyday player in the field -- the Mariners need to figure out whether it's a position of need moving forward.
Smoak did himself a favor in his first game back, hitting a solo homer in his first at-bat Tuesday night during the Mariners' 3-2, 10-inning win over the Los Angeles Angels. That kind of power is imperative if Smoak is going to win back the favor of the front office after two-plus seasons of mediocrity.
The more immediate significance of Smoak being back is the domino effect it has on the roster. Morales no longer has to play first base, which means he'll get a chance to rest his sore back while serving in his original role as DH. Michael Morse can also settle in to his natural position, which means aging veterans like Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez can get some time off.
The Mariners invested a lot in Smoak when making him the centerpiece of an in-season trade that sent Cliff Lee to Texas in 2010, and the best-case-scenario for the organization would be for him to begin showing signs of being a middle-of-the-order bat for years to come.
However, that has yet to happen, and as Smoak returns from 2 1/2 weeks on the DL due to a strained oblique, he could be on his ninth life in Seattle. Another 150 at-bats with a low average and little power could leave Smoak on the outside as the Mariners look for new first baseman.