SAN FRANCISCO -- Will Smith was just 21 years and in Single-A ball when the Angels, the team that drafted him, dealt him to the Royals. His first thought upon hearing the news was that he had done something wrong.
"I thought I was in trouble. I thought, 'Did I piss somebody off?' " Smith recalled this week, laughing. "But somebody broke it down like, it's not that the Angels don't want you. It’s just that Kansas City wanted you that much more."
If the Giants' closer is in another clubhouse on Aug. 1 -- and the high, high likelihood is that he will be -- it won't be because San Francisco doesn't want him. Smith has lived up to every expectation since coming over at the deadline in 2016, proving to be a clubhouse leader and dominant late-innings left-hander.
Very little has gone right for the Giants since the All-Star break in 2016, a stretch that cost Bobby Evans and others their jobs and will lead to further changes down the line. But the Smith trade was a heist, one of the best deals the organization has made.
On deadline day in 2016, the Giants acquired Smith for catcher Andrew Susac, who has since bounced around and spent most his time in the minors, and first-round draft pick Phil Bickford, who has been slowed by injuries and a drug of abuse suspension. Bickford still is in the Brewers' system, but he’s now a reliever in A-ball.
Smith will be an All-Star, and is perfect in 17 save chances to start this season. Tommy John surgery wiped out a chunk of his time with the Giants, but he has a 2.45 ERA in 108 appearances since the trade. Had he been given the entire ninth inning in Game 4 of the NLDS that first year, Smith and the Giants might have made a World Series run.
Instead, he was a small part of the meltdown, but it's still a memory he cherishes.
"Going to the playoffs right off the bat is something I'll definitely never forget, and I never want to go home early now after playing in the playoffs," Smith said. "Even just that Wild Card Game, that's something I'll never forget."
Smith likely will get another crack at October this season. He figures to be a popular target for contenders, one capable of solidifying the ninth inning -- perhaps for his hometown Braves -- or sliding into the seventh or eighth for a deeper bullpen.
Smith knows the drill. He said the hardest part of any trade is the first few days, when you're constantly checking to see if your bags have arrived at the ballpark, or your luggage and truck are in the right city, or you have a place to live. That is all stuff Smith again might deal with after a trade. For now, he's carefree about the process.
"You hate leaving, and for three years, you've built relationships, but we all realize it's part of the game, that it's part of the business," Smith said of trade rumors. "I think once you've been traded, once you kind of know how it goes, you know what to expect, you know you're not in trouble and you're going to a team that wants you, that really, really wants you. They're willing to give away good players for you.
"It's kind of a cool feeling, I guess."
Smith has learned to accept that over time. He has had plenty of practice, too. Any trade over the next six weeks will be Smith's fourth in the big leagues and will set him up to cash in as a free agent. The 29-year-old should be one of the premier relievers on the market, but for now, that's the furthest thing from his mind.
"I just like to play, and as long as I have a uniform on, I'll play my hardest for that team," he said. "Right now, we'll play hard for the orange and black, and whatever happens, happens. We'll cross that bridge when we get there."