Posted on November 14, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Atlanta Braves mean business this offseason. The club has already made several notable moves, both to bring back key players and free up money. On Thursday, they made another move in hopes of improving their bullpen by signing left-handed reliever Will Smith. The sides have agreed to a three-year deal worth $39 million with a $13 million option or $1 million buyout for the 2023 season that will presumably make Smith Atlanta’s new closer.
In addition to committing roughly $40 million to sign Smith, the Braves will have to forfeit a draft pick. The San Francisco Giants made Smith a $17.8 million qualifying offer after the season, which Smith essentially rejected by signing with the Braves. According to reports, Smith’s representatives told teams interested in his services that he would accept San Francisco’s qualifying offer if he didn’t sign by today’s 4 p.m. deadline to accept or reject the offer. That helped expedite the proceedings and land Smith in Atlanta.
Signing with the Braves will be a homecoming of sorts for Smith, who grew up about 40 miles south of downtown Atlanta. As a big leaguer, Smith has been a little bit of a journeyman, spending time with the Royals, Brewers, and Giants. However, the southpaw has been effective pitcher everywhere he’s been, owning a career ERA of 3.53.
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Things picked up for Smith over the past two seasons after he missed the entire 2017 season because of Tommy John surgery. In 2018, he returned from the surgery in early May and pitched to a 2.55 ERA while saving 14 games. He became San Francisco’s full-time closer this past season, racking up 34 saves in 38 opportunities while going 6-0 with a 2.73 ERA. The Giants entertained the possibility of trading him during the summer but ultimately held onto him and will get an extra draft pick after he signed elsewhere after getting a qualifying offer.
A full-time closer is exactly what the Braves were missing in 2019. Atlanta had 11 different pitchers record a save this past season, including five who had more than one. Luke Jackson led the way with 18 saves, although Mark Melancon became the primary closer later in the season after being acquired in a trade with the Giants. Early reports indicate that Melancon will continue to be Atlanta’s closer, making Smith the primary setup man. However, Smith is undoubtedly an option if Melancon struggles in that role.
Oddly enough, Smith and Melancon will be back in the same bullpen together after spending 2018 and the first part of 2019 in San Francisco’s bullpen. The Giants signed Melancon to be their closer and Smith was ultimately put into that role because Melancon lost the job. Once again, it will be Smith helping to set up for Melancon, although it wouldn’t be a shock to see them switch roles again after Smith’s success as a closer this past season.
The Braves also have Jackson and Shane Greene to serve as setup men, giving them at least four relievers at the back end of their bullpen who have experience working as a closer. On paper, that could give the Braves one of the best bullpens in the National League, especially when you add to the mix some of Atlanta’s young pitchers who started to come along the second half of the season.
At first glance, signing Smith is a slam dunk for the Braves. With the draft pick attached to him, the price to sign him was high but not outrageous. More importantly, the Braves now boast a bullpen with at least half its members having experience as a closer, which is ideal for a team that will begin 2020 with championship aspirations.