Once again, the Atlanta Braves are getting an early start in free agency. The team announced on Monday that they have signed free agent left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly to a one-year, $11 million contract.
Smyly, who did not pitch in a Major League game in 2017 or 2018 due to Tommy surgery, struggled between the Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies in 2019 but settled down in 2020. In seven games (five starts) with the Giants this past season, Smyly went 0-1 with a 3.42 ERA. He allowed 11 runs on 20 hits over 26.1 innings, striking out 42 batters while walking just nine. His impressive strikeout rate (37.8 percent) and strikeouts per nine innings (14.35) were both career-highs, while the latter led all pitchers who made at least five starts in 2020.
While the deal has already attracted negative criticism from Braves and baseball fans alike, it’s worth noting that waiting around for the best pitchers in baseball to make a contract decision is a risky game. For example, instead of waiting four months just to hear a big-name free agent reject their offer, teams would be wise to invest in lower-priced players early in the offseason.
Did the Braves overpay for Smyly? Yes. But there was also the possibility that the Braves extend offers to their top three targets, learn in late January that all three have been rejected, and then have to pivot to an already-picked-over crop of depth options.
The Braves always move quickly to sign players, as evidenced by their three-year deal with reliever Will Smith on Nov. 14, 2019, and an $18 million pact with starter Cole Hamels on Dec. 4, 2019. Smyly to Atlanta is just another example of the Braves’ thoughtful front office checking off the first benchmark on a thorough offseason plan and to-do list.