12:55pm: It’s a one-year deal worth $2.5MM, per Phil Miller of the Star Tribune. To make room on the roster, Kenta Maeda has been placed on the 60-day IL. The news on Maeda is merely a formality, as he had Tommy John surgery last year and will miss most of the season, hoping for a September return.
This is something of an early birthday present for Smith, as he will turn 38 years old on Tuesday. A veteran of 14 MLB seasons at this point in his career, the sidearmer has played for the Mets, Indians, Angels, Cubs, Blue Jays, Astros and Mariners. In that time, he’s appeared in 832 big league games, with a 3.09 ERA, 21.4% strikeout rate, 8.1% walk rate and 54.1% ground ball rate.
The last time Smith was a free agent, he signed a two-year deal with the Astros prior to the 2020 season. The righty ended up opting out of that pandemic-shortened campaign due to family health concerns, the first season he missed since 2006. He returned last year and showed a bit of rust, putting up an ERA of 4.99 over 39 2/3 innings. His previous career high was 3.83, set way back in 2010. However, he clearly improved as the season went on, as can be seen when comparing his time before and after a trade from Houston to Seattle. Prior to the deal, he had an ERA of 7.48, with a measly 16.5% strikeout rate, though his 3.9% walk rate was excellent. As a Mariner, his ERA was an even 2.00 and his strikeout rate jumped to 24.3%, with his walk rate nudging up only slightly to 5.7%. Those are small samples, but the brief stint with the Astros in the first months of last year seems to be the outlier here, as the rest of Smith’s ledger is very strong. Also, Smith’s batting average on balls in play was .413 before the deal and .229 after. Given his career BABIP of .276, it seems possible to attribute his first-half numbers to poor fortune.
For the Twins, they have been extremely busy in the post-lockout period, totally remaking their lineup, subtracting Josh Donaldson and Mitch Garver but adding Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela and Carlos Correa. The main focus now will be on whether they can bolster their pitching staff enough to help that lineup compete this year. Adding Sonny Gray to the rotation surely helped, and now Smith will strengthen the relief corps. It’s a relatively inexperienced group, with Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey being the only other projected members of the bullpen with more than four years of MLB service time, making Smith a logical addition for his veteran presence.