SCOTTSDALE — A couple of hours after they were connected to a free agent reliever, the Giants gave their most definitive Will Smith update in months. The two are connected.
Smith’s target date for a return to the big leagues is May 1, manager Bruce Bochy said, leaving the Giants without their best left-handed reliever for potentially the first 28 games. With little else in the way of established lefty relief on the roster, the Giants are reportedly chasing veteran Tony Watson. Bob Nightengate of USA Today reported that the Giants and Watson are involved in “serious contract talks,” with Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports adding that the Phillies and Red Sox are also after Watson.
A longtime Pirate, the 32-year-old Watson has a 2.68 ERA in seven big league seasons. He had a 3.38 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 71 appearances for the Pirates and Dodgers last season. Watson would immediately became Bochy’s go-to lefty early in the season, but it’s unclear how the Giants will be able to slide him under the luxury tax. The Giants have only a couple million to spend before reaching the limit, and Watson is certainly worth more than that. On the other hand, camps opened Tuesday and he has been caught up by a market where teams simply aren’t spending. Plus, Bobby Evans has consistently proven to be creative at structuring contracts to lower the tax hit.
Regardless of what happens with Watson, the Giants will need Smith to be a big part of their bullpen at some point, and he said he’s optimistic about his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Smith has already thrown seven bullpen sessions and is close to facing hitters. He said he has had no setbacks during the process, but the training staff is being cautious. The Giants at some point hoped to get Smith back by opening day but May 1 is more realistic.
“If you’ve already waited this long, what’s another three weeks?” Smith said. “One of the worst things would be to rush back for opening day and then have to take three weeks off in the middle of the season. That would kill me. That would suck.”