Giants' Will Smith attracts trade interest in crowded relief pitcher market


Giants' Will Smith attracts trade interest in crowded relief pitcher market

SAN FRANCISCO — On the last night of the MLB Winter Meetings, two deals sent a shockwave through the crowds gathered at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s lobby bars. The Mets gave Jeurys Familia $30 million, and the Dodgers guaranteed $25 million to Joe Kelly. 

The wall had come crashing down in the crowded relief pitcher market, and in the Giants, suite, it was all smiles. 

The Giants have been patiently waiting for some big-name free-agent relievers to come off the board, knowing they have intriguing alternatives to offer teams looking for cheaper solutions. 

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls on guys in our bullpen,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. “Both veteran guys and even some of the younger guys.”

The majority of the calls, league sources confirmed, center around closer Will Smith.

The St. Louis Cardinals are among the teams that have checked in on Smith, one of the more attractive pieces potentially available this offseason. Smith is coming off a strong season during which he posted a 2.55 ERA, saved 14 games, struck out well over a batter per inning, and showed his pre-Tommy John velocity and command. 

Why would the Giants trade such a piece? They find themselves confronted with an old team-building adage: If you’re not going to contend, the first player you should trade is your closer.

The Giants hope to play competitive baseball down the stretch in 2019, but they also are realistic about how many holes there are on the roster, and they’re willing to trade players such as Smith or Madison Bumgarner if the team is stronger in the long run. 

[RELATED: Why Bumgarner trade now seems more likely at July deadline]

Zaidi kept his cards close for most of the four days in Las Vegas, but he was open about the fact that he’s listening on his relief pitchers. He said he tried to trade Hunter Strickland but could not find a taker, so the Giants non-tendered the right-hander, who remains a free agent. Tony Watson and Sam Dyson are other cost-efficient options, although Smith is the biggest prize.

The left-hander could fit just about any team in the majors. Smith is expected to make only about $4.1 million in his final year of arbitration and could slide in as a closer for a team in need of ninth-inning help, or a late-innings lefty for a team already possessing a solid closer. He can pitch multiple innings and proved to be durable once he returned.

The Giants, per sources, are marketing Smith as an appealing alternative to Andrew Miller and Zach Britton, two veterans who expect to cash in as free agents. Zaidi noted that for teams looking at the high end of the relief market, the "cost certainty of the trade targets may be attractive."

The Giants are looking for young outfielders and cost-controlled starting pitchers in most discussions. If nothing materializes, Zaidi believes he'll go into 2019 with a strong bullpen. Perhaps all of this will be revisited before the July 31 trade deadline. 

"That’s an area of strength for the team. If we keep this group intact, it’s one of the best groups in the National League," Zaidi said of his bullpen. "If it makes sense for us to move somebody to fill needs on the position player side or in the rotation, I think we’re still going to go into next year with a pretty good core." 

What Buster Posey's first homer of 2019 in Giants' win shows Mike Krukow

What Buster Posey's first homer of 2019 in Giants' win shows Mike Krukow

Buster Posey's first home run of the 2019 season was a no-doubter. And it couldn't have came at a better time. 

With the Giants down 2-0 in the top of the fifth inning Sunday against the Pirates, Posey gave the team the lead with a three-run shot to the farthest part of the ballpark. The catcher crushed a 92-mph fastball from Chris Archer 409 feet to dead-center field. 

"That tells me that his balance is finally in synch," Giants broadcastr Mike Krukow said Monday on KNBR. "With his hip throw, with his hand throw, all of that is in synch. And he can backspin a a ball over center field. That was huge." 

Just as important, Posey's smile was back with his first home run since June of 2018. 

"You could see the look of relief on his face," Krukow said. "It was wonderful."

Even manager Bruce Bochy knows this was a big swing for Posey, who has accomplished pretty much everything anyone can ever dream of in baseball. 

"I'm sure, even for Buster, that some weight is off his shoulders," Bochy said after the game.

The Giants held on for a wild win that snapped a four-game losing streak. They're 2-4 on their current road trip and play two more games away from home starting Tuesday in Toronto.

[RELATED: MLB power rankings after one month of 2019 season]

"Getting Buster back, getting his confidence back in his swing, and winning the way they did in a comeback victory -- to salvage a game -- that's a huge win for this team," Krukow said.

MLB power rankings 2019: Every team's standing one month into season


MLB power rankings 2019: Every team's standing one month into season

As demoralizing as a bad stretch of baseball can be in April, you're never far out of it in the season's first month. 

The Red Sox got off to an awful start, but a hot weekend has them back within shouting distance of the Rays and Yankees. A winning streak from the Astros pulled them just about even with the Mariners, the hottest team around a couple weeks ago. The Dodgers lost six straight and then won six straight, getting back atop the NL West. 

There will be more separation in the coming weeks -- and teams like the Giants need to be careful not to fall eight or nine back -- but for now most of the division races are still closely grouped.

[RELATED: Posey ends longest homer drought of career, powers Giants to win]

Here's a rundown of all 30 teams.