According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Blue Jays and reliever Joe Smith have agreed to a one-year deal.
Source: #BlueJays in agreement with free-agent reliever Joe Smith on one-year, major-league contract.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 5, 2017
While his name is so generic that it almost seems fake, his talent is anything but. From a results perspective, Joe Smith was a solid reliever in 2016, ending the season with a 3.46 ERA while splitting time with the Angels and Cubs. That total came despite his giving up 1.38 home runs per nine innings, the 25th worst mark among qualified relievers in 2016. That high homer total was an aberration for Smith, who’s only had one other season with a HR/9 mark greater than 1.0.
Joe Smith is no fireballer, throwing a fastball that regularly sits below 90 MPH, thus limiting his strikeout potential. However, as a sidearm pitcher Smith has historically been able to keep the ball out of the air and he holds a career 56.2 % groundball rate. Between 2011 and 2015, his deceptive and wipeout slider combined for quite good results. Over that time span, Smith held a a 2.51 ERA, which was 25th among qualified relievers and in a similar range with Jonathan Papelbon and Tony Watson. He also handled left-handed batters very well, which is something of a surprise for a low slot guy. Since 2011, they have hit a measly .221/.308/.337, though that is higher in the last two years.
With that said, there are reasons why Smith didn’t sign until this point in the offseason and only got one year. Namely, the poor results described above in addition to a dip in velocity and some injury troubles. He missed 39 games due to hamstring problems last year, after missing ten the year before with an ankle injury.
Nevertheless, Smith adds to a Blue Jays bullpen that is quietly becoming incredibly deep. In addition to Roberto Osuna and Jason Grilli at the back end of the bullpen, the Jays now have three middle relief options with some upside in Smith, J.P. Howell, and Joe Biagini. Plus, the team has accumulated a hefty list of high-strikeout relievers in the minors with Dominic Leone, Danny Barnes, and Chris Smith. Each of those three relievers posted 2016 seasons with 10+ K/9 in the minors.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Blue Jays are done making moves for the offseason, but at the very least they’ve continued to fill out the roster with adequate depth. That strategy is somewhat of a departure from the previous regime’s strategy of “throw in whomever you’ve already got and hope for the best.”
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