Atlanta Braves made the first big move of the MLB offseason, landing former San Francisco Giants closer Will Smith on a three-year, $39 million deal. There is a $13 million club option attached for the 2023 campaign.
As reported by Ken Rosenthal, Will Smith’s agent, Jeff Berry of CAA, used the qualifying offer as leverage over interested teams, aiming to avoid a stand-off like Craig Kimbrel suffered last winter. Berry insisted that Smith would accept the one-year qualifying offer from San Francisco if he didn’t have a deal sorted by the time the offer expired. Atlanta, desperate to add to their bullpen, moved quickly to get their guy.
Smith was named in the All-Star team for the first time in his career in 2019. The Giants resisted the urge to trade him, instead pushing for a wildcard berth in Bruce Bochy‘s final season. The alternative was this scenario, which sees the Giants receive a draft pick after Competitive Balance Round B.
A Georgia native, Smith gets to return home and receives the long-term security that is so rare in Major League Baseball. The Braves land one of the best relievers in the sport to join fellow former Giant Mark Melancon and Luke Jackson at the back of their bullpen. The Melancon move, although the results were mixed, was another example of Atlanta using their payroll flexibility to address a need. Josh Donaldson‘s one-year contract last offseason was much the same.
Riding an unhittable slider, Smith was outright elite in 2019. The lefty ranked in the 91st percentile in expected weighted on-base average and only Kirby Yates, Aroldis Chapman and Roberto Osuna finished the year with more saves.
Considering some contracts handed out to relievers in recent years (the Melancon one, ironically, being a clear example), Smith looks a bargain at three years and $39 million. Giving the Braves a left-hander at the back of ‘pen, he’s a huge upgrade on anything they’ve had and should make Brian Snitker‘s life a lot easier.
It would have been easy to call Berry’s bluff. Maybe Smith spends another year in north California. Maybe the Braves are forced to trade for a reliever or settle for an inferior arm in free agency.
These deals are why teams want financial flexibility. This was a great way for Atlanta to use their spare budget, and get ahead of the market.