By Kevin McAlpin
Atlanta, Ga – As the November temperatures drop, the Hot Stove season has heated up in a hurry for the defending National League East champion Braves. On Thursday afternoon, the club agreed to a three-year deal for free agent closer Will Smith, arguably the top reliever available on the market this offseason. Smith, a native of Newnan, saved 34 games for the Giants with 96 strikeouts in 65.1 IP. In addition, Smith held lefties to just a .157 average against, allowing just two extra base hits in 70 at bats. The 30 year old southpaw is coming off a season that saw him represent the National League in the All-Star game for the first time in his seven year Big League career.
The acquisition of Smith is big for the back of the Atlanta bullpen, and once again shows Alex Anthopoulos’ desire to be aggressive at the start of Free Agency. We saw it this time last year when he went out and signed both Brian McCann and Josh Donaldson. This year, not a peep about the possibility of Smith until the team announced the transaction.
Smith is expected to take over the closers role that was filled by Mark Melancon over the last two months of the season. Melancon, under contract for $14 million dollars next season will likely become the setup man and can share duties in the ninth on nights when Smith isn’t available. Shane Greene, another All-Star closer with Detroit is in his final year of team control and projected to make $7 million dollars in salary arbitration.
Now that one major item is crossed off the list, look for the Braves to continue to explore options in the starting rotation, third base and corner outfield spots as their next orders of business. But perhaps the most important area that needs to be addressed is behind the plate. We know Tyler Flowers is back on a one-year, four million dollar deal. What we don’t know is who else will share the duties behind the dish. I’d expect the Braves to get involved in trade discussions for catchers as the market is rather weak this offseason.
Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.