How Will Smith signing helps Rangers and impacts roster

Division Series - Milwaukee Brewers v Atlanta Braves - Game Four
Division Series - Milwaukee Brewers v Atlanta Braves - Game Four / Michael Zarrilli/GettyImages

The Texas Rangers have signed left-handed reliever Will Smith to a major league contract worth $1.5 million, the team announced over the weekend. Looks like they wanted capitalize on the news cycle with Chris Rock's Netflix comedy special airing that same day!

To make room on the 40-man roster for Smith, the Rangers designated infielder Mark Mathias for assignment.

Smith has lived the life of a journeyman reliever. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Los Angeles Angels in 2008. He was then traded in to the Kansas City Royals in 2010 where eventually he made his MLB debut. He came up as a starter in 2012, but was then moved to the bullpen in 2013. In 2014 he was traded to Milwaukee where he pitched nearly every day. In 2014 he had a career-high in appearances with 78. He followed that up with 76 in 2015. In August of 2016 he was traded to San Francisco.

He missed all of 2017 after having Tommy John surgery. It shouldn't have been a surprise after he pitched in 207 games from 2014-2016. He came back in May 2018 and was a part-time closer. In 2019 he became the closer for the Giants and made his only All-Star team. He was excellent for Bruce Bochy and the Giants that year. He recorded 34 saves, a 2.76 ERA, 96 strikeouts and 21 walks. The Giants headed in a new direction after the 2019 season when Bochy retired. Smith hit free agency and moved on.

He signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Atlanta Braves in 2020 and was the closer for the World Series-winning team in 2021. He had 37 saves for the Braves in 2021 and closed out the Fall Classic against the Astros that season. In 2022 the Braves needed a starter and the Astros needed a reliever, so the Braves traded Smith to the Houston for Jake Odorizzi. He pitched well for the Astros, but was not included on the postseason roster for the ALDS and ALCS. He was on the roster for the World Series, but did not get into a game. The Astros declined his option for $13 million and he became a free agent.

Will Smith is now a Texas Ranger

The 33-year old veteran now comes to Texas and will pitch on the other side of the Silver Boot rivalry. Seven months ago, Smith and Jake Odorizzi were traded for each other and now they will both suit up for the same team. Smith, throughout his career, has been a late-inning reliever and mostly has spent his career closing out games. He has more experience closing games than anyone on the roster. He has registered 91 saves since 2018. He would seem to be in line to join Jose Leclerc and Jonathan Hernandez to pitch innings 7-9.

Smith has also been mostly a two-pitch pitcher. He mainly relies on a low 80s slider as well as a four-seam fastball that averages 92 MPH. He does sprinkle in a curveball and changeup as well, but 90% of his pitches though are either sliders or fastballs, with his slider as the put-away pitch. Last season, hitters whiffed on 46% of his sliders (with a 25% put-out rate). Those numbers are in a season where he wasn't nearly as good as he's been in the past.

This signing will have an effect on who makes the team. The thought was that there were two jobs open in the bullpen with Brett Martin being out, but Smith certainly takes one of those spots now. The other will likely be taken by Josh Sborz, who is out of minor-league options. The Rangers certainly have interest in keeping Sborz or they would have DFA'd him a long time ago. Sborz has one of the best fastballs on the team and, despite a high ERA in 2022, the Rangers seem content to hold on to him. The bullpen now appears to line up like this: Jake Odorizzi, Brock Burke, Taylor Hearns, Joe Barlow, Josh Sborz, Will Smith, Jonathan Hernandez and Jose Leclerc. That means Dane Dunning, Glenn Otto, Cole Ragans, Ian Kennedy, and others are likely headed to Round Rock.

Even though Smith struggled with Atlanta last season, he was better for the Astros. The Rangers have now addressed all of the positions they said they were going to back in October. They signed and traded for five starting pitchers, added Robbie Grossman to play left field, and brought in Smith. The Rangers are officially full steam ahead for the upcoming season and have the pieces to get back to the playoffs and potentially make a deep run if they can get a few lucky bounces.