The Royals announced the signing of left-hander Will Smith to a one-year contract. It’s reportedly a $5MM guarantee for the CAA client, who could earn up to $1MM in additional incentives. He’d receive $125K for every fifth appearance between 25 and 60 contests.
Smith, 34, returns to the club with whom he made his big league debut back in 2012. Then a starting pitcher, Smith took the ball for 16 turns through the rotation during his age-22 rookie campaign, struggling to a 5.32 ERA and 4.66 FIP across 89 2/3 innings of work. The Royals converted Smith to relief the following season, and the southpaw hasn’t looked back since. He posted a solid 3.24 ERA, 23% better than league average by ERA+, and a 3.03 FIP from 2013-16 across 202 2/3 innings of work split between the Royals, Brewers, and Giants organizations.
Smith missed the entire 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but returned to the mound in 2018 to deliver the finest two seasons of his career. Pitching for San Francisco in 2018-19, Smith posted a 2.66 ERA and 2.71 FIP, striking out a whoping 35.8% of batters faced while racking up 48 saves and earning his lone career All Star appearance during the 2019 season. That dominant performance earned him a three-year, $40MM deal with the Braves in free agency the following winter.
The lefty struggled during the first season of that deal, posting a 4.50 ERA with a whopping 7.38 FIP during the shortened 2020 season, though that amounted to just 16 innings of work. The remainder of the contract saw Smith post decent numbers out of the bullpen as the Braves won the World Series in 2021, though he would ultimately be shipped to Houston the following year in a swap that brought Jake Odorizzi to Atlanta. Overall, Smith posted a 3.69 ERA and 4.21 FIP over 127 innings while striking out 27.9% of batters faced and collecting two World Series rings between the 2021 and 2022 campaigns.
In his return to the open market last winter, Smith lingered on the free agent market until late March before ultimately signing with the Rangers on a one-year, $1.5MM guarantee. Though Smith posted a roughly league average 4.40 ERA in 2023, he managed a more palatable 3.36 FIP and recorded 22 saves in 27 chances for Texas last season as they went on to make the postseason for the first time since 2016 before winning the first World Series championship in franchise history and earning Smith his third consecutive World Series ring.
Back on the free agent market once again, Smith wasted no time in agreeing to a deal this winter, and figures to get the opportunity to close for the Royals entering the 2024 campaign. The contract will give the southpaw the opportunity to bounce back on a team with minimal hopes of making the playoffs next season, a similar situation to the one Kansas City offered Aroldis Chapman in 2023 before he joined Smith in Texas following a midseason trade. Meanwhile the Royals are surely hoping that, if they do find themselves on the outside looking in with regards to the playoff race, Smith will have pitched well enough by the time the trade deadline rolls around next summer to net the club a solid return just as Chapman did when he was swapped for Cole Ragans. Ragans, 26 this week, made 12 starts for the Royals down the stretch after the club acquired him from the Rangers and impressed with a 2.64 ERA and 31.1% strikeout rate in 71 2/3 innings of work.
Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported Smith and the Royals had agreed to a one-year, $5MM guarantee. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported the possibility of $1MM in incentives, which the Associated Press specified.