The 31-year-old Smyly has appeared in the Majors for the Tigers, Rays, Rangers, Phillies, and Giants, accumulating a 4.13 ERA/4.15 FIP across 188 games (111 starts) totaling 710 2/3 innings over seven years.
He also spent 2018 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery in the Chicago Cubs organization. The Cubs had signed Smyly to a two-year deal as he recovered, which kicked off a convoluted set of trades between the Cubs and Rangers. First, the Cubs acquired Cole Hamels from the Rangers in July of 2018. As part of that deal, the Rangers agreed to pay Hamels’ $6MM buyout if the Cubs chose not to pick up his $20MM option in 2019. Rather than pay the buyout, the Rangers took Smyly and his $7MM contract off the Cubs’ hands so that Chicago could afford Hamels’ option – which they did indeed execute.
Smyly, unfortunately, didn’t last the year in Texas. The Rangers released Smyly on June 25th after he stumbled to a 8.42 ERA in 51 1/3 innings. He would sign with the Phillies to finish 2019.
Smyly and Hamels again cross paths here, with Smyly presumably taking Hamels’ place in Atlanta after a year in which Hamels missed all but one start due to injury. If Hamels somehow ends up signing with the Giants (not inconceivable), their double-helical careers can continue to intertwine.
Smyly, meanwhile, looks like he might have finally returned to his early-career form – or better. The 31-year-old posted a 3.45 ERA across 26 1/3 innings in 2020 with 14.4 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9. He finished in the 89th percentile for Whiff% and 97th percentile for K%, per Statcast. His four-seamer also exhibited some out-of-character giddy-up, averaging 93.6 mph, a 2.5 mph jump from the year prior. As small a sample as that may be, it was enough for Smyly to parlay his one-year, $4MM deal with the Giants into a contract more than double in value with the Braves.
Smyly comes with a fair amount of injury risk, but the Braves know how to handle some injury uncertainty. They are coming off a season in which they experienced near total rotation turnover (while still managing to come within a game of winning the pennant). If Smyly can perform anywhere near his 2020 level – when he limited opposing hitters to a .198/.261/.297 line – the Braves will happily cash in on that upside. They do intend to place him into the rotation, per the Athletic’s David O’Brien (via Twitter).
The concern, beyond injury, is that Smyly might turn back into the pumpkin that logged a 6.24 ERA between the Rangers and Phillies in 2019. If you consider his time with the Rangers an aberration due to his recent recovery from Tommy John, however, Smyly’s combined ERA between the Phillies and Giants is a much more palatable 4.15 ERA over 89 innings. The Braves would take that kind of production in a rotation alongside Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson, and Kyle Wright.