While everyone was waiting for Yu Darvish, Zach Britton and Sonny Gray, the 2017 non-waiver trade deadline passed with little noise in Cleveland. Darvish went to Los Angeles to bolster the Dodgers rotation with Clayton Kershaw on the DL, Gray went to New York and Britton stayed in Baltimore. The Indians did make one minor move, however, adding Joe Smith to the bullpen for Samad Taylor and Thomas Pannone.
Starting with the cost, Taylor just turned 19 and was originally taken in the 10th round last year. He’s a solid defensive second baseman who hit well in the AZL last year, although not for much power, and has improved in every facet this year in Mahoning Valley. While he has as much Major League potential as any short season A player, he’s years away from that and behind at least Tyler Krieger and Mark Mathias on the Indians minor league second baseman depth charts. Given Lindor’s likelihood to stay at short for many years, he could also be said to be behind players like Willi Castro and Yu-Cheng Chang who could possibly switch positions. Suffice it to say, losing Taylor is a loss, but not a significant one.
Pannone is much closer to Major League action, playing this season in AA at an elite level. The left hander has been one of the best in AA and didn’t allow a run in his first six appearances this season (including five no hit innings in his first start). While Pannone has never been considered a top pitching prospect for the Tribe, he definitely projects to be a back end Major League starter with good control and a knack for inducing weak contact. It’s hard to say what Taylor will eventually become, but there’s no question that, right now, Pannone was by far the biggest part of this deal.
As for Smith, there shouldn’t be an Indians fan who doesn’t remember the righty. He held the record for most holds in an Indians career until Bryan Shaw surpassed him earlier this season. In fact, he was essentially the Shaw before Shaw, being used over 70 times in each of his final three seasons before joining the Angels as a free agent in 2014.
Excluding his first season in Los Angeles, however, Smith has not been that dominant reliever. That being said, at age 33, this has been his most dominant campaign since 2014. For the Jays, Smith had a 3.28 ERA, but a 2.31 FIP that shows he may have been slightly unlucky. This is largely based on his 12.9 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9, the first a career high and the second the second best in his career after 2014.
At this point in his career, Smith should probably be considered a ROOGY if there is such a thing. He has a 12.5 K/BB rate vs RHH this year compared to a 2.5 K/BB vs LHH and a .211 average compared to .255. It depends on the roster moves made after the Smith acquisition (Tyler Olson was called up earlier today to replace Josh Tomlin who went on the 10 Day DL), but Smith could be used exactly like this. If they use Smith to replace Shawn Armstrong, Olson and Smith could become a solid match-up duo. While Olson may not be the answer from the left side (Kyle Crockett still seems a better long term solution), Smith certainly seems like the answer from the right side.
Because of his proficiency in this specialty, Smith isn’t just a nostalgia pick-up, simply bringing back a player loved by fans and by Terry Francona. It may be that as well, but Smith should be a solid improvement over Armstrong although the cost may still have been high for a player who is a free agent at the end of the year.