After rumors that a RHP would join newly signed J.P. Howell, the Blue Jays made it so signing ex-Angel and Cub Joe Smith to a one year deal early Sunday morning.
When the Blue Jays added J.P. Howell on Tuesday, Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the team wasn’t done adding bullpen arms and was looking for a right-handed reliever. In the peak bar hours of early Sunday morning, the Blue Jays ended their search. The team added former Angels closer Joe Smith on a one-year major league deal. Once again, Rosenthal was all over the story.
Source: #BlueJays in agreement with free-agent reliever Joe Smith on one-year, major-league contract.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 5, 2017
While he may have the same name as the Create-a-Player fans start out with in MLB The Show, Smith has been a solid commodity at the MLB level for a decade. The 32-year old has appeared in 639 career games at the major league level, and has a sub-3 career ERA.
No doubt helping get this deal done was the sense of familiarity Smith has with the current front office of the Blue Jays. After hitting the big leagues with the Mets, the side-arm pitcher spent five seasons in Cleveland after being acquired in a three-team deal. Fun fact, that trade also sent Franklin Gutierrez to the Mariners and involved current Blue Jays LF platoon pal Ezequiel Carrera.
The Batavia, Ohio native’s best season came right after he signed a free agent deal with the Angels in 2014. Smith finished 7-2 with 15 saves and a 1.81 ERA, to go with a 8.2 K/9 and a 4.53 K/BB ratio. Smith struggled last season, likely due to the ennui of pitching with a scuffling Anaheim squad. However, he found his groove following a trade to the eventual World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. In 16 games down the stretch, Smith allowed just four earned runs and struck out 15 batters in 14.1 innings.
Much like Howell, Smith is a pitcher who is not going to rely on speed to get batters out as he rarely touches 90 mph on the radar gun. Instead his strength comes in the late movement that his pitches feature. He throws a slider, 4-seamer and sinker that feature fantastic late breaks, as our friends at QOP Baseball detail:
Late Break Component
Slider (Top 1% MLB)
4 Seam (Top 1% MLB)
Sinker (Top 4% MLB)
— MLB Quality of Pitch (@qopbaseball) February 5, 2017
As fellow Jays From the Couch writer Spencer Redmond noted, Smith is also another pitcher who specializes in getting ground ball outs. Given that’s been a primary focus of the Blue Jays bullpen search this off-season, his signing makes sense. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) rate of 4.99 was the highest of his career last season. However, given the defense playing behind him, it’s a number that likely won’t hurt the team.
What also won’t hurt the Blue Jays is the potential cost. Figures have yet to come in on the deal, but it’s rumored to also be in the $3M range Howell signed for. Compared to the one year, $6.5M contract Jerry Blevins signed earlier in the day to return to the Mets, it’s quite possible that the Blue Jays may have gotten two arms for the price of one. For a team that may have jumped the market in signing Kendrys Morales earlier in the off-season, it seems like the Blue Jays have learned their lesson.
In the end, much like Howell, this is a signing that is little-risk, big-reward for the Blue Jays. If Smith can ride an improved infield defense to numbers similar to his 2014 campaign, then the Blue Jays have assembled a formidable bullpen at a fraction of the cost that other teams forced to free agency will have done. Having Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, Joe Biagini, Howell and Smith on the back end looks like a solid group for a team that desperately needed consistency last year. In Smith, a man who has never posted an ERA above 4.00 in his career, the Blue Jays may have it.
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC
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