Looking back at the 2019 Giants, with an eye toward the future. Previously: Pablo Sandoval.
The only constant in the Giants’ bullpen all season was its closer.
There is a good chance that constant returns next season for a team with a relief corps with virtually no guarantees.
Will Smith, fresh off perhaps the best season of his career, will be an interesting free-agent case this offseason, entering a reliever market that is still to develop and one he likely will join with a string attached: the qualifying offer.
It’s likely the Giants will place the tag on their incumbent closer, meaning he can be retained for a single season for $17.8 million. If Smith accepts another team’s longer-term pact, that team would cough up a compensatory draft pick to the Giants.
Teams are more wary than ever about losing draft picks. Teams are more wary than ever about overspending. Would a closer-needy club offer three years and $39 million to the 30-year-old lefty — the same deal the Yankees offered the then-30-year-old lefty Zack Britton last year, in a deal that did not cost New York a pick?
It’s not a perfect analog — Britton entered free agency with a much better resume but more injury concern — but that deal can be a barometer for how baseball values Smith, who finished with 96 strikeouts in 63 innings to go along with a 2.76 ERA. Smith was the Giants’ lone All-Star, but was worse after the break, his before-and-after ERAs 1.98 and 3.72, respectively. He walked 13 in 29 second-half innings (with a 1.31 WHIP), a concern for a pitcher in his second season off Tommy John surgery.
Still, in a bullpen that was more torched than tweaked post-trade deadline, Smith was the only reliable piece from start to finish. Gone were Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson and Drew Pomeranz, and soon to be gone were Reyes Moronta — whose future hangs in the air following labrum surgery — and Trevor Gott, who missed the last few weeks with both a right elbow strain and a groin that needed surgery.
With Tony Watson still to decide whether he becomes a free agent, there is not a single sure thing in next year’s relief corps (Jandel Gustave? Sam Coonrod?). And adding to Smith’s uncertain Giants future is an uncertain free-agent reliever landscape.
The top of the market could be Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen if the Yankees and Dodgers closers, respectively, opt out of their deals (more likely for Chapman than Jansen). Smith would be in the next tier, alongside guys like Will Harris, Daniel Hudson, Dellin Betances and Steve Cishek.
If Chapman and Jansen are both retained, that may mean Smith, effective against both lefties and righties, elevates to the top of the market. Would Atlanta try to pluck another from San Francisco’s pen and make a run at the Georgia native? Would the Dodgers see their bullpen as a weak link and add him to their wish list? Of course, the Giants’ qualifying offer — likely but not definite — would water down his value.
What would Smith want? Most desire the security of long-term deals, though one year for nearly $18 million would be significant for a pitcher who’s made about $13 million in his entire career. He has said he will want to know who is at the helm of the Giants next season, too, before he decides with what team he’ll play.
The qualifying offer means the Giants likely won’t lose him for nothing. Will they lose him for something?