The Cubs bullpen conversations will span far and wide for the Cubs this off-season, but one of the better fits they might find is former Cub Joe Smith. You might remember Smith from his brief stint with the Cubs in 2016. Now I’m not saying that Smith is the reason they won the World Series that year, but I’m also not saying that he isn’t. Let’s dig a little deeper into why Smith makes sense for the Cubs in 2018.
Position: Right-handed pitcher, reliever
2017 Stats: 54 IP, 3.33 ERA, 2.23 DRA, 47.4 DRA-, 69 cFIP, 33.2% K, 4.7% BB, 50% GB
How He Fits: Theo Epstein mentioned in his postseason press conference that the Cubs will be looking to cut down on the walks. Joe Smith would help solve that problem. His 4.7 percent walk rate in 2017 was the eighth lowest in baseball among relievers with at least 50 innings pitched. This was the lowest number in Smith’s lengthy career. This isn’t just a fluke either. After he returned in September 2016 from a hamstring injury for the Cubs, the numbers were great in a small sample.
Another great reason that Smith fits the Cubs is the contract that he will command. While he won’t necessarily solve the high leverage problem, Smith would be a great solution to fill the middle relief hole that the Cubs currently have. As a soon to be 34-year-old, he likely won’t be looking at more than a two-year deal, and with the flooded reliever market this off-season, he might end up getting just one year. Last offseason he got one year and $3 million, but with his big success this past year, he should be looking at double that if he takes a one year deal. With the Cubs looking to keep commitments short term heading into the absolutely loaded post-2018 off-season, Smith would be a perfect plug and play as a 6th inning guy.
With a career low walk rate, you might be thinking Smith’s 2017 season was a fluke. I actually think he could be looking at an even better 2018 season than he had this year. His LOB% and HR/FB% were right around normal, so you don’t expect a ton of regression there. The contact profile might be even more encouraging. He gave up much more soft contact in 2017 (25 percent, the second highest mark of his career) but his BABIP was .328, well above his career mark of .274. Because of this, you’d expect Smith to give up even fewer hits in 2018 than he did in 2017. His cFIP (69) gives us a good idea that he’ll be able to repeat or even improve upon last season.
Why It Won’t Work: There aren’t many reasons why this wouldn’t work. The main possibilities are the contract length and/or the Cubs preference of relievers. If the Cubs are looking to only go one year for relief help, it could potentially be possible that they don’t want to go to two or even three years for Smith.
The last reason I could see the Cubs staying away from Smith is simply the number of available options this offseason. The Cubs might prefer other guys on the market (see below). The Cubs pro scouting department has their work cut out for them identifying the guys who work best for them.
Alternatives: As I’ve gone over before, there are plenty of options for right-handed relievers if the Cubs don’t opt for Smith. That include Matt Albers, Steve Cishek, Luke Gregerson, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow, Seung Hwan Oh, Addison Reed, Bryan Shaw, Pat Neshek and Anthony Swarzak.
Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports