Lefty Smith on trade season: 'I liked Milwaukee'

Former Brewers reliever is thriving as Giants closer

June 15th, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO -- This much is certain about one of the Brewers’ myriad potential targets in the run-up to the July 31 Trade Deadline: wouldn’t be impacted by the drama of being dealt.

Smith, the former Brewers left-hander who earned a save against his former team in Friday’s series opener at Oracle Park, has already been traded three times in his career and twice in July, including by the Brewers to the Giants on Aug. 1, 2016. He’s now in a similar situation with a Giants team in transition. Smith is set to become a free agent after this season.

“I’ve been traded three times already, so it’s not like I’m worried about getting traded or anything like that,” Smith said. “As long as I’ve got black and orange on, I’ll try my hardest to win for them. You don’t expect it to happen, but if it does, it’s not a huge shock or anything like that.”

Smith, who entered Saturday with a 1.95 ERA and a career-high 17 saves, is one of the most prominent relievers on this summer’s deep trade market, which includes the likes of Cleveland’s Brad Hand, Pittsburgh’s Felipe Vazquez and Arizona’s Greg Holland. Like most contenders, the Brewers will monitor that group of pitchers closely, especially after losing former All-Star closer Corey Knebel in Spring Training to Tommy John surgery. Milwaukee has traded prospects for relievers in each of the past two Julys -- Anthony Swarzak and Jeremy Jeffress in 2017 and Joakim Soria in ’18.

Smith is no stranger to such moves. He was traded by the Angels to the Royals in July 2010 and from the Royals to the Brewers for outfielder Norichika Aoki in December 2013 before establishing himself as a solid late-inning reliever for Milwaukee, with a 3.28 ERA and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings in parts of three seasons for the Brewers prior to being dealt at Brewers GM David Stearns’ first Trade Deadline.

The deal didn’t work out for Milwaukee. It netted catcher Andrew Susac, who appeared fleetingly in the Majors in 2016 and ’17, and pitching prospect Phil Bickford, who was suspended and injured and now is healthy but stuck in extended spring camp as he tries to find lost velocity.

The Giants got the better end of the trade, but it took time. Smith was solid down the stretch in 2016 for a team that won the National League Wild Card Game but fell in the NL Division Series to the eventual World Series champion Cubs. But Smith blew out his elbow the following spring and required Tommy John surgery, which cost him all of '17.

“I felt bad when I first got here because we got knocked out by the Cubs in the playoffs and then I blew out the next year. I just felt I wasn’t the player that they had traded for,” Smith said. “I apologized to [former Giants GM] Bobby Evans. I was like, ‘I’m sorry. I feel bad.’ So it feels good to finally be the player they wanted and show it wasn’t a bad trade. I promised I would help. It feels a little bit better now that you’re healthy.”

How does Smith keep trade rumors from impacting his work?

“At the end of the day, I’m living out my dream. I still get to play baseball for a living,” he said. “If I do it for the orange and black right now, I’m still the happiest kid in the world when I come into a clubhouse. It doesn’t really matter who you do it for, but at the end of the day, you do want to win and play for a ring.

“So if it does end up happening, at least you know you’re going to a contender and you know you have a chance at the playoffs and all that stuff you can play for. That’s how we look at it, I think. You try not to overthink it.”

It goes without saying that if Smith is traded, he would welcome a move back to Milwaukee. Jeffress, who returned to the Brewers after being traded away at the same 2016 Deadline, remains one of Smith’s best friends.

“I liked Milwaukee a lot,” Smith said.