Rangers sign veteran closer Will Smith to 1-year deal
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Rangers made major upgrades to their starting rotation this offseason. Saturday, they turned their attention to the bullpen.
Veteran closer Will Smith signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract to join the Rangers, reuniting with manager Bruce Bochy in a move both see as a win-win.
“I like old school managers,” said Smith, who spent 2018 and 2019 with Bochy and the Giants.
“I’m kind of an older guy now. I get the computer stuff these days, but it’s refreshing to have a guy who trusts his gut sometimes. Sometimes it doesn’t go his way, but he can live with it and he answers the questions of why he didn’t do it.”
Rangers relief roles remain fluid, but it is hardly a stretch to imagine Smith pitching in high-leverage situations. Bochy gave Smith his first shot as a full-time closer in 2018, and Smith saved a then-career-high 34 games for the Giants in 2019. Roles could be more defined in two weeks, Bochy said.
“I think you see a guy who is going to be used late in the game in situations,” Bochy said. “He’s set up. He’s closed. Left-hander with good stuff. He gives you a great option in different roles.
“He’s a guy who is not afraid to be put into any situation. He wants to be there. He wants to be the guy out there, trust me. He wants to be the guy who is trying to help this team win a ballgame. That’s his mindset. We’re fortunate to have been able to bring him into camp. It’s a great sign.”
“If they want me to, why not?” said Smith, who threw a bullpen session Saturday morning.
José Leclerc appeared to be the top closer candidate entering camp after going 0-3 with seven saves and a 2.83 ERA following his June return from Tommy John surgery. Joe Barlow, another closer candidate, had 13 saves last season.
Leclerc experienced neck tightness earlier this week that caused him to cancel plans to play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, but Bochy said the neck issue had no bearing on the decision to sign Smith.
Smith, 33, blossomed as a closer under Bochy, recording 14 saves after moving to the ninth-inning role in June 2018. Smith followed that with his 34-save season in San Francisco before signing a three-year, $39 million contract with Atlanta as a free agent.
He had a career-high 37 saves for Atlanta in 2021 and closed a Major League-high 60 games. Smith was 2-0 with six saves in 11 appearances in the playoffs, including two saves in the World Series victory over Houston. He split last season with Atlanta and Houston, combining for five saves and a 3.97 ERA in 65 appearances.
“We have talked about Will for a while,” Bochy said. “I think it was a great job by [general manager Chris Young] being able to sign him. He’s a guy who has done a lot of great things in the game.
“I know the person. He’s a great teammate. He’s going to help this bullpen. We’re fortunate to have been able to bring him into camp. He’s a winner. You have to take the ball from him.”
Smith, 31-34 with 91 saves and a 3.59 ERA in 10 Major League seasons, said his experience as a setup man for Francisco Rodriguez in Milwaukee in 2014-15 helped whet his desire for late-game action.
“The ninth inning can be a little crazy sometimes,” Smith said. “I got lucky as a young guy, setting up for Francisco Rodriguez in Milwaukee. I’d have conversations with him every night, of how our innings went. Why we did this. Why we did that. I don’t know if I’ve always thought along those lines, just because he was always in my back pocket talking about it. But I enjoy doing it.”
Smith has been on two consecutive World Series-winning teams, and he said his brief view of the Rangers last season was encouraging.
“You could tell they had something brewing here, something going on,” Smith said. “They looked like they got along and meshed well together, which I think is a huge key to winning. You have to enjoy being around each other. Hopefully I can keep that streak going.”