It’s time – we are now beyond the start of Free Agency at 12:01 AM November 5. We at Phillies Nation will take a look at a players, mostly outfielders, catchers, starting pitchers, and relievers, who the Phillies may target this offseason. We will explore potential performance, fit, cost, and feasibility. We continue today with right-handed, side-arming reliever Joe Smith. And a reminder: you can check out all the “Pass or Play” posts by clicking on the category hyperlink.
Smith, who turns 30 just before Opening Day 2014, has been one of Cleveland’s most reliable relievers over the last three-plus seasons, relying primarily on a sinker/slider combo to get hitters out. Smith averages less than a strikeout per inning but has a career groundball rate of 57% which would come in handy in the Major’s easiest park to hit homers in 2013. One of Smith’s biggest attributes is reliability and consistency: Smith pitched the 17th most innings in the Majors over the last three seasons, with the 18th best ERA, and the 23rd lowest HR/FB%.
Smith gets a lot of downward movement on his sinker that sits near 90 MPH and frequently fools hitters with arm movement that has been described as something between sidearm and submarine. Smith’s biggest red flag is his 3.15 BB/9 IP over the last three seasons but Smith excels in working around the free passes, posting just a 1.160 WHIP in that time frame, just a tick higher than Antonio Bastardo (1.140) in that time frame.
As mentioned when talking about Joe Nathan and Jose Veras, the Phillies’ bullpen was ranked 14th out of 15th in ERA, FIP, and xFIP in the National League last season and there are not a ton of promising bullpen arms that the Phillies haven’t yet seen in the Majors. Like Veras, Smith is a pretty interesting veteran name with a solid, consistent track record as a Major League reliever.
Smith made $3.2 million last year in his final year of arbitration with Cleveland. Usually, I have turned to FanGraph’s crowdsourcing project, but they curiously omitted Smith from their top 47. MLB Trade Rumors ranked Smith #43 in their top 50, but did not estimate a price. Baseball-Reference says the most comparable pitcher to Smith through age 29 is Scott Linebrink who earned four year, $19 million contract for his performance after the 2007 season. While I think those big money deals for middle relievers are over, it wouldn’t surprise me for Smith to get $3-4 million for 2-3 years.
Smith, at $3-4 million a year, would fit easily into most Phillies scenarios, including the ones where they sign a marquee name.
Verdict: Buy, Buy, Buy!
Smith is very quietly one of the most consistent relievers on the market that rarely makes mistakes (i.e. gives up homers). Smith, for me, is a no-brainer upgrade to the bullpen at what should be a reasonable price.