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Smith joins Braves: 'Wanted to come to a winner'

@matthewhleach
November 19, 2019

ATLANTA -- It didn’t take the Braves long to determine that free-agent lefty reliever Will Smith would make for an excellent fit in their bullpen. That’s because they had already done their due diligence on trade target Smith. Now the question is how to deploy Smith, and it appears the

ATLANTA -- It didn’t take the Braves long to determine that free-agent lefty reliever Will Smith would make for an excellent fit in their bullpen. That’s because they had already done their due diligence on trade target Smith.

Now the question is how to deploy Smith, and it appears the Braves may get a bit creative in that regard.

Atlanta unveiled the first major signing of the 2019-20 Hot Stove season on Tuesday when it formally introduced Smith, a hometown boy who agreed to a three-year, $40 million contract Thursday. General manager Alex Anthopoulos and his front office had taken a long look at Smith back in July, when the Braves made three trades to bolster their bullpen before the Trade Deadline.

In fact, the Braves did end up doing a deal with Smith’s former team -- the Giants -- but instead acquired Mark Melancon. Now they have Smith, 30, and have added a potent left-handed option to a relief corps that has been significantly remade since early last summer.

“We obviously had interest in Will as I would have expected a lot of clubs would,” Anthopoulos said. “One of the best relievers in the game… We knew that if we had an opportunity again to try to acquire him, we were going to try. So we’re just grateful that we were able to come to terms and that he wanted to come here.”

Things came together quickly for both parties. Smith wanted to get a deal done sooner than later. He confirmed a report from last week that if no team had met his desired terms in advance of the qualifying offer deadline, he would have accepted the one-year, $17.8 million pact with San Francisco and taken his chances next year.

Still, if there was little doubt as to the fit between player and team, there are some interesting questions about Smith’s role in the bullpen. Smith closed for the Giants in 2019, racking up 34 saves. Meanwhile, Atlanta used Melancon in the ninth inning after trading for him. For now, that will continue, with Melancon pitching the ninth and Smith able to be deployed in a less restricted manner.

“You’re in the closer’s role, you get the ninth, you get a lead,” Anthopoulos said. “There could be times where Will’s coming in with a tie game or maybe we’re down a run and it’s bases loaded. I think the left-handed part is big too. There’s just going to be key moments in the game there. We feel like that’s the strongest 'pen.”

Smith seemed unconcerned as to when he’ll pitch.

“I’ve always said if everybody in the bullpen takes the mentality that they’re the closer, they’re just the closer of their inning, then you’ll have a successful bullpen,” he said. “One guy just happens to get the last three outs.”

It probably helps that everything else about the Braves was a fit for him. Smith was born and raised in Newnan, Ga., about 50 miles southwest of SunTrust Park. So when he got the chance to pitch near home, for a team with postseason expectations, he didn’t hesitate. And it’s safe to say his family is excited too.

“They were pretty excited,” he said. "When I was in San Francisco, they’d set alarms at 12:45 [a.m. ET] just to check the score and see if it was a save situation. If it was, they’d get up and turn the TV on and keep watching it from there. But if it wasn’t, or if we were losing, they’d just go back to sleep. So, yeah, it’s big. Being closer to home is always nice.”

Matthew Leach is an editor and reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach.