One of Gabe Kapler’s first tasks as Giants manager will now be finding a new closer.
Will Smith — who held the title for the last year and a half — eschewed the club’s $17.8 million, one-year qualifying offer to sign with his hometown Atlanta Braves.
Smith’s contract with Atlanta — three years, $39 million with a club option for a fourth at $13 million — is a lesser one than the qualifying offer he turned down, but comes with security and a chance to return to the playoffs while playing for his hometown team.
A native of Newnan, Ga., Smith returned from Tommy John surgery to take over as the Giants’ stopper in 2018, saving 14 games and posting a 2.55 ERA in 53 innings, with 71 strikeouts. The 30-year-old lefty then saved 23 straight games to start the 2019 season, earned his first All-Star nod and finished with 34 in 38 tries, going 6-0 with a 2.76 ERA and striking out a career-best 96 in 65 1/3 innings.
Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said after his post-season post-mortem press conference that he was comfortable paying the potential $17.8 million to Smith because he was a premium left-handed, late-inning arm who was effective against both righties and lefties.
It was a gamble, and winds up paying off with a compensatory draft pick for San Francisco. Because the Braves neither exceded the luxury tax, nor received revenue sharing, they will lose their second-highest pick in next year’s draft, as well as $500,000 from their international bonus pool.
As for who replaces Smith at the back end of the bullpen, San Francisco could continue what they started last season, and put hard-throwing former Florida stopper Shaun Anderson at the back end of the bullpen, but the organization, at least as of the end of the season, still viewed him as a starter.
Hard-throwing Reyes Moronta will likely miss most of the season as he recovers from a torn labrum, but he would be a candidate eventually. Rookie Sam Coonrod, who posted a 3.58 ERA pitching in relief last season, could also be an option.
Shortly after news of Smith’s signing broke, it was reported that, as expected, Madison Bumgarner rejected his qualifying offer. Bumgarner was always eager to try the free agent market after agreeing to a sweetheart five-year, $35 million extension with the Giants in 2012 (with two option years), and will now hit the open market. A Hickory, N.C. native, it’s likely that Bumgarner at least has discussions with Atlanta, a team which would also put him in position to get back to the postseason.