Barring any last-minute shenanigans, the 2017 MLB Trade Deadline has come and gone and the Cleveland Indians ended up with... Joe Smith. On the surface, that might come as a disappointment, but it’s also a statement on the current formation of this team: They are really, really good without making any huge additions.
Smith himself will shore up a position that the Indians didn’t need that much help in, anyway. Their bullpen is one of the best in the business, with the best ERA and FIP in the American League and one of the highest overall fWAR totals.
The problem is so much of those stats are coming from a couple relievers. Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Zach McAllister all have over 40.0 innings logged this season, and Nick Goody is a shade under at 39.1. We’ve seen the occasional Shaw meltdown, and Nick Goody will occasionally remember he’s Nick Goody. Another warm body back there wouldn’t hurt, and that’s exactly what the Indians got in Smith.
Indians fans may remember Smith from the Bullpen Mafia days, when Chris Perez, Vinnie Pestano, and Joe Smith locked down the later innings at Progressive Field. Smith himself has had limited success since departing the team in 2013, but he’s had the best post-Indians career of any ex-mafia member.
In his first year out of Cleveland, Smith was a big part of the Los Angeles Angels team that won 98 games in 2014. Smith finished with a 1.81 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and he was worth 1.0 fWAR — the best season of his professional career. Injuries limited him in 2016, but he pitched at least 60 or more innings in four of his 10 seasons in the majors since his debut in 2007.
With the Toronto Blue Jays this season, he’s looking better than ever. Smith struck out 35.4 percent of the batters he has faced (a full 14.4 percent higher than his career average), with a slider producing swinging strikes 15.03 percent of the time. Opponents are slugging just .205 off Smith’s slider, which did awful, terrible things to Edwin Encarnacion earlier this year:
As for the Tribe’s overall deadline plan, they didn’t quite stick to the Chris Antonetti’s “very active at the deadline” quote provided earlier in the month. They were involved a few rumors here and there, including Yu Darvish and Zach Britton, but they came away with a submarine reliever making his way back home.
Even without doing anything, the Indians are — and should — still be considered World Series hopefuls. The bullpen is even deadlier with Joe Smith in the mix. If nothing else, he provides extra rest for Miller, Allen, and co, and he might find himself in a clutch situation here and there. It’s also worth acknowledging that, while he’s not a lefty himself, Smith can get lefties out well enough — southpaws have a career .309 wOBA off him.
The lineup still looks great, even without adding yet another fringe outfielder, or an infielder to fill in while Jason Kipnis recovers. Speaking of which, Jason Kipnis will be back. Giovanny Urshela’s glove is phenomenal to watch, but his bat doesn’t play everyday, and Erik Gonzalez doesn’t look like an everyday player yet, either. Kipnis recently started his rehab assignment, and he could be back with the team as early as next week, with Lonnie Chisenhall hopefully following suit soon. It’s quickly becoming a cliche, but the Indians are about to “acquire” two pretty solid players to plug into the lineup.
And the starting rotation? Yu Darvish, Sonny Gray, or Lance Lynn would have been nice, but the Tribe did just recently announce a six-man rotation — they aren’t hurting for starting pitchers, even with Josh Tomlin hitting the disabled list with a hamstring injury.
While any prospect dealt that directly leads to a World Series win is a good trade, we should also accept that the Indians probably did the right thing in keeping Francisco Mejia in the system. Based on some of the trades made over the last week, the Indians likely could have nabbed whoever they wanted if they threw Mejia in. But he’s a switch-hitting stud at a very important position. The Tribe held onto him, and might end up extending their window to win because of it.
The same can’t necessarily be said for parting with Thomas Pannone who “isn’t on MLB Pipeline’s top-30 list,” but thought by some general managers as one of the Tribe’s top-10 prospects. Well, former top-10 prospect, I guess. Losing him hurts, but if Smith can help win a championship (or even come close) it’s worth it all day.
The trade deadline was kind of a dud, but it’s always a dud for everyone not getting the top prize, or trading away a few pieces for a boatload of prospects. I, for one, welcome the death of our deadline overlords. The Indians are great as-is, and everything seems to be clicking. Now go win a championship.
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