Astros re-sign Joe Smith on 2-year deal

December 17th, 2019

HOUSTON -- The Astros filled one of their many open bullpen spots with someone they know well, and who played a large role in the club reaching the World Series in 2019.

The Astros re-signed right-handed side-armer Joe Smith on Monday, agreeing to a two-year deal worth a reported $8 million.

This is Smith's second straight free-agent contract with Houston. He pitched the last two seasons for the Astros after signing a two-year, $15 million deal as a free agent entering 2018.

"We're going to be good," Smith said. "We’ve got, obviously, our lineup, but I think our bullpen is going to be really solid, and we're solid defensively. Starting pitching, we still have Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke and are still going to be a really good team."

Smith, 35, joins a bullpen that has openings, but also has a solid core consisting of Ryan Pressly, Roberto Osuna, Josh James, Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski. After spending the first half of last season rehabbing from surgery on his left Achilles, Smith returned to post a 1.80 ERA over 28 appearances, striking out 22 over 25 innings. Over two seasons with the Astros, he compiled a 3.06 ERA over 84 outings, with 68 strikeouts across 70 2/3 innings.

Smith made 10 appearances in the postseason in '19, recording a 3.12 ERA. Eight of his outings were scoreless.

Although the decision to return to Houston was mostly baseball-related, there is a twist attached to this Smith-Astros reunion. Smith’s comfort level in Houston extends beyond the Astros organization, in that the relationships he and his wife, TV sports reporter Allie LaForce, have made in the medical community weighed heavily into the decision as well.

They're in the process of starting a family, but that journey will involve a lot more planning than it would under less complicated circumstances.

The couple’s foundation,, aims to improve the quality of life for those affected by Huntington’s disease by contributing financial, emotional and mental support while trying to find a cure. Smith's mother, Lee, has Huntington's disease, a fatal neurological disorder with no cure. Lee inherited it from her mother, who died from it in 2012. There's a 50-50 chance Smith has the disease as well, which means there's the same chance his children will carry it.

Huntington's disease causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It deteriorates a person's physical and mental abilities during their prime working years, between 30 and 50 years old. Smith's mother was diagnosed in 2012, and four years ago went into a nursing home at 59 years old.

Smith and LaForce have a relationship with doctors in Houston who have been involved in their process to start a family. That weighed heavily in their decision to return to the Astros.

“We have a couple of doctors down here that have been really involved throughout the whole process, not only with us going through it but with helping with advice and different things,” Smith said. "And through the foundation process that we didn’t have before since meeting the people two years ago and how they’ve come into our lives, we went from working together to being friends. With us going through this to make a family, it makes everything so much easier with all the doctor’s appointments and things like that. On top of it, I still get to play for a really good baseball team.”

In the spring, La Force revealed that the couple’s first try at pre-implantation genetic diagnosis-in vitro fertilization didn't work out, but said on Monday that two frozen embryos have passed the genetic testing, meaning they’re HD-free, and she’s hoping to become pregnant next year.

“Just being able to be in Houston and use the same doctor that knows my body and knows our whole story and not having to go to a whole new city where you have to learn the doctors and build relationships, that’s already done here,” she said. “The doctor that did my egg retrieval and helped me create these HD-free embryos, she’ll be able do the transfer and be with us during this pregnancy journey, which is just awesome.”

The process can cost as much as $30,000 to $40,000 per attempt, which Smith and LaForce can afford. Their foundation is funding 24 couples in their efforts to have HD-free children, and 20 more have applied, LaForce said. The pair have raised more than $1 million through their foundation and CureMD to help families with the cost of the PGD-IVF tests.

“The goal is fund everybody, so we’re working on that,” she said.