ATLANTA -- While re-signing Josh Donaldson or acquiring another power hitter might be the Braves’ most pressing need this winter, they have spent the early stage of this offseason focusing on their bullpen, which grew stronger on Thursday with the addition of All-Star closer Will Smith.
The Braves signed Smith, 30, to a three-year, $40 million deal that includes a $13 million option ($1 million buyout) for 2023. This move comes less than a week after another former All-Star reliever Darren O’Day was re-signed to provide the bullpen some middle-inning stability.
Smith converted 34 of 38 save opportunities for the Giants this past year and earned his first All-Star selection. The 30-year-old left-hander posted a 2.76 ERA over 65 1/3 innings (63 appearances) and limited opponents to a .196 batting average.
Instead of accepting the Giants’ qualifying offer, Smith took advantage of this multiyear deal that will afford him to pitch for his hometown team. The veteran grew up in Newnan, Ga., which is approximately 40 miles southwest of SunTrust Park. Because Smith received a qualifying offer, the Braves’ cost of signing him will include their second-highest selection in the 2020 MLB Draft and $500,000 from their international bonus pool.
Per MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal, Smith’s agent Jeff Berry of CAA used the qualifying offer (one year, $17.8 million) as leverage. He told teams his client would accept the offer if he were not signed by Thursday.
Instead of committing to using Smith as their closer, the Braves for now are saying Mark Melancon remains targeted for that role. But we saw how quickly these plans can change after Atlanta acquired Melancon, Shane Greene and Chris Martin before this year’s Trade Deadline.
On the day these three relievers joined the team, Braves manager Brian Snitker said Greene would close, Martin would be the primary setup man and Melancon would be used in the sixth and seventh innings. Less than a week later, Melancon was given the closer’s role he capably handled after experiencing a couple rough outings in early August.
Regardless of who fills the closer’s role, the Braves certainly have reason to feel good about the quality depth that now exists within their bullpen. Smith, Melancon, O’Day and Greene are former All-Stars who are all coming off a successful season. The presence of these veterans will allow Luke Jackson and some of the organization’s other young relievers to fill roles more suitable than the ones they were pressed into this past season.
This move provides indication the Braves might be willing to spend a little more freely this offseason. Re-signing Donaldson would require a salary of approximately $25 million. If the former MVP does not return to Atlanta, there will still be a definite need to add a proven power bat and a desire to upgrade the rotation with a front-line starter.
Even with this in mind, the Braves have already committed a combined $29 million to Melancon and Smith for next season. Greene will cost approximately $6 million if he is tendered a contract and brought back for what would be his final arbitration-eligible season. But general manager Alex Anthopoulos has shown the value he places on filling his bullpen with quality arms.