Braves bolster shaky bullpen, sign free agent LHP Will Smith

(AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo, File)

By PAUL NEWBERRY


Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) The Atlanta Braves made another move to bolster their shaky bullpen Thursday, signing left-hander reliever Will Smith to a three-year, $40 million contract.

The free-agent deal includes a $13 million option for the 2023 season, with a $1 million buyout.

The 30-year-old Smith went 6-0 with a 2.76 ERA and a career-best 34 saves for the San Francisco Giants this past season. He made the All-Star team for the first time.

The NL East champion Braves were looking to upgrade the bullpen after going through several closers last season, including Luke Jackson, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon.

Smith is Atlanta's fourth free-agent signing of the offseason but the first to change teams. The Braves re-signed outfielder Nick Markakis, catcher Tyler Flowers and reliever Darren O'Day.

Smith received a $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Giants, who acquired him from Milwaukee at the trade deadline in 2016. Shortly before a Thursday deadline to accept the offer, he reached a more lucrative deal with the Braves.

Atlanta will forfeit its third-highest pick in the 2020 amateur draft since Smith received a qualifying offer. San Francisco will receive an extra choice as compensation, likely around the 75th overall pick.

The signing of Smith is the latest move by the Braves to improve one of their most vulnerable areas in 2018. Eleven relievers had saves, led by Jackson with 18.

Atlanta made three deals at the trade deadline to acquire Greene from Detroit, Melancon from San Francisco and Chris Martin from Texas.

Greene, who had 18 saves and a 1.18 ERA for the Tigers, quickly flopped as the Braves' closer and shifted to a setup role. Melancon finished out the year as the closer, picking up 11 saves, but was roughed up badly in several appearances.

In the NL Division Series against St. Louis, Atlanta led 3-1 going to the eighth inning in Game 1, but Jackson surrendered the tying runs and Melancon was pounded for four runs in the ninth of a 7-6 loss.

After two straight wins, the Braves were four outs from wrapping up the series in Game 4 when Greene surrendered the tying hit.

St. Louis went on to a 5-4 victory in 10 innings before taking the deciding game with a 13-1 rout in Atlanta, sparked by a 10-run outburst in the first. It was a record-tying 10th straight postseason round loss for the Braves.

Smith, a native of Newnan, Georgia about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta, dealt with back issues that cost him some appearances this past season. But he was able to pitch in 63 games while receiving regular treatment that included cupping.

The 6-foot-5, 248-pound Smith had 96 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings, along with 21 walks. Opposing batters hit just .196 (46 of 235) and he was particularly effective against left-handers, limiting them to a .157 average with just two extra-base hits in 70 at-bats.

Smith began his big league career as a starter with the Kansas City Royals in 2012. He was traded to the Brewers after going 8-10 with a 4.76 ERA over his first two seasons. He has worked exclusively as a reliever since then.

In 2018, Smith received the "Will Mac Award" named for Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, who presented the award just a month before he died at age 80.

The honor is voted on by the players, coaches and training staff to recognize the team's player most exhibiting McCovey's inspirational example both on the field and in the clubhouse.

"Something I will cherish forever," Smith tweeted after McCovey's death.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com

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AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley in San Francisco and Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

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Updated November 14, 2019