Up against a deadline to either accept or refuse San Francisco’s qualifying offer, free agent reliever Will Smith signed a three-year, $40 million pact with the Atlanta Braves. Smith’s deal with Atlanta will pay him $13 million in each of the next three seasons, with the Braves retaining a club option for either a fourth season at $13 million or a $1 million buyout.
Now two seasons into his return from Tommy John surgery, Smith’s 2.66 ERA and 2.71 FIP to along with 3.2 WAR in 118 and a third innings in 2018-2019 firmly established him as the best free agent reliever available this winter. While on paper Aroldis Chapman electing to stay with the Yankees could have established a better negotiating environment for Smith, teams just aren’t in love with closers the way they were 10 or 15 years ago. Being in the next tier of relievers down from his fellow left-hander, and with the loss of a draft pick attached, Smith was unlikely to do much better; his deal exceeds Kiley McDaniel’s three year and $36 million estimate as part of our Top 50 Free Agents list, as well as the crowd’s median projection of three years and $30 million.
The Braves entered 2019 as a serious contender, but one with a bullpen problem. In our 2019 Positional Power Rankings, Atlanta’s pen ranked 18th in baseball. The team’s relief issues never reached the same level of notoriety as those of their division rivals in DC, but Atlanta’s corps was 20th in baseball in WAR over the first half of the season, prompting them to trade prospects Joey Wentz and Kolby Allard for Shane Greene and Chris Martin, respectively. Also acquired at the deadline was another member of the Giants’ bullpen, Mark Melancon.
With Greene, Melancon, and Luke Jackson all returning in 2020, the addition of Smith gives the Braves a deeper group than when they started the 2019 season. It would make sense for Smith to get first dibs on save opportunities, but if fellow lefty Sean Newcomb is given a chance to start in 2020, the team may very well decide they’re better served leaving Smith in a more flexible role that allows him to be used tactically against left-handed hitters.
The loss of Smith, when added to the plethora of relievers traded in July, leaves the Giants with a rather thin bullpen. However, that team has 99 more pressing problems than holding late-inning leads to worry about. We’ll have more on the Smith signing up on the site soon.
Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.