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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Will Smith

A bad month almost ruined the left-hander’s 2022, but he righted the ship and finished strong.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have a solid bullpen foundation already. You could say with confidence that it’s consistently been their deepest unit for some time. The team’s lineup or rotation may have down years, but the bullpen always produces.

So far, New York has Clay Holmes, Tommy Kahnle, Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loáisiga, Lucas Luetge, and Lou Trivino likely penciled in for slots, with other young guns and recovering arms (think Michael King) also in the mix. If they feel like bringing in another seasoned veteran with a solid track record, Will Smith might be a guy to target.

Smith’s 2022 was divided in two parts: a stint with the Atlanta Braves, and the second half with the Houston Astros. But first, some context. Smith was, in case you don’t remember, the closer of Atlanta’s 2021 postseason run that resulted in a World Series title. He pitched 11 innings between the NLDS, NLCS, and World Series, and he didn’t allow a single run.

Then, 2022 came and he had a 4.38 ERA (5.22 FIP) in 37 innings with Atlanta. On deadline day, he was traded to the Astros in exchange for pitcher Jake Odorizzi, a rare one-for-one swap, and he was much, much improved in Houston. Once he was acquired by the Astros, he returned to form: a 3.27 ERA, an excellent 2.66 FIP and a 24/4 K/BB ratio across 22 innings.

In total, he had a 3.97 ERA and a 4.26 FIP in 59 innings, striking out 65 hitters and posting a 1.41 WHIP. His fastball velo did come down a bit in 2022, but it wasn’t a huge drop-off — it was in the 92.7-92.8 mph range in recent years and checked in at 92.1 mph in 2022. He’s not likely to be lighting up any radar guns, but he still has enough velocity to succeed with.

The fact he didn’t pitch at all in the postseason with the Astros has more to do with their absurd bullpen depth than with Smith. With the Yankees, he surely would have made the ALDS and ALCS rosters. Taking a closer look at his season, there is one outlier month, which is July. Here are his monthly ERA finishes:

April: 2.89

May: 4.50

June: 2.53

July: 9.00

August: 3.27

September/October: 3.27

Nothing was ever reported, but it could be that he was hiding an injury, trying a new pitch, arm slot, pitch sequence, or whatever. We will probably never now, but he did bounce back nicely after that horrible month.

The Astros declined a $13 million club option on Smith, making him a free agent. The Yankees can probably have him at a much, much lower price if they want him, and they should be taking a good look at him given his history of quality and the fact he hasn’t shown a prominent physical decline in his 30s. Entering his age-33 season, he’d likely only require a one-year commitment to bring his brand of bullpen reliability.

The Yanks can benefit from having a guy like Smith in their bullpen on a short-term deal. He was an All-Star in 2019 and a World Series champ in 2021 and 2022 — that’s not too bad for recent performance. He’d also be a reasonable fit, with the club losing a couple of lefty relievers in Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton this winter. They could do much worse in terms of settling the back of their bullpen.