Tigers Have Shown Interest In Will Smith

MLB Trade Rumors

The Tigers have shown some interest in free-agent reliever Will Smith, per Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press. However, the left-hander has also received interest from multiple clubs that expect to contend for postseason berths in 2023, Petzold adds, which makes them an unlikely landing spot unless they significantly outbid any other suitors.

The 2022 campaign was a tale of two seasons with Smith, who posted a 4.38 ERA and 12.3% walk rate in 37 innings with the Braves before being traded to the Astros for Jake Odorizzi and immediately turning things around. In 22 frames with Houston, Smith worked to a 3.27 ERA (2.66 FIP, 2.83 SIERA) with a 26.7% strikeout rate — an uptick on his 24% mark in Atlanta — and a 4.4% walk rate that was miles below his bloated rate with the Braves. I noted back in January that the Astros upped Smith’s reliance on his slider and four-seamer at the expense of his curveball and also made some alterations to both his horizontal and vertical release points.

The results were impressive, although the Astros didn’t use him in the postseason. Smith wasn’t on the ALDS or ALCS roster and didn’t pitch in the World Series upon being added. And, as encouraging as his turnaround was, the ’Stros unsurprisingly weren’t heartened enough to exercise a weighty $13MM option (which came with a $1MM buyout).

Smith is now one of the few unsigned, clearly big-league caliber relievers remaining on the free-agent market. He won’t match the three-year, $40MM contract he received from the Braves in the 2019-20 offseason, but it stands to reason that his strong finish in Houston and his track record ought to land him a big league deal somewhere.

Dating back to 2013, the now-33-year-old Smith carries a 3.26 ERA with an excellent 31.5% strikeout rate against a 9% walk rate. He’s tallied 91 saves and 106 holds in that time, frequently operating as a high-leverage reliever with the Brewers, Giants and Braves. His time with Atlanta didn’t go as well as hoped, although it’s worth noting that was dominant during the team’s postseason run in 2021, firing 11 shutout innings as the Braves secured a World Series victory.

With a non-contending club like the Tigers, the opportunity would exist for Smith to even work his way into the closer’s role. There’s no established option in that spot for the time being, and at the very least, Smith would seem likely to find himself in a high-leverage role — be it as a setup man or ninth-inning specialist. Right now, Tyler Alexander looks like the Tigers’ lone lefty in the bullpen, though Chasen Shreve, Jace Fry and Miguel Del Pozo are all in big league camp as non-roster invitees this spring.

There hasn’t been much chatter about Smith’s market — or lack thereof — this offseason. Left-handed bullpen help has remained the one area of free agency with some actual depth for interested clubs, and the fact that so many southpaws lingered so long into the offseason figures to create some potential bargains. The D-backs scooped up Andrew Chafin on a one-year deal with a club option over the weekend, but the likes of Smith, Matt Moore, Zack Britton and Brad Hand all remain available. Britton just worked out for six clubs today, and the Twins have reportedly shown some interest in Hand. There’s likely some degree of overlap in the markets for the remaining lefties, and now that pitchers and catchers are beginning to report, it’s possible there’s an increased sense of urgency among the remaining unsigned free agents to find a job for the upcoming season.

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