The Curious Case of thethree8

Joe Smith has been a dynamic reliever for the Cleveland Indians for five seasons. He’s always been unheralded but has been one of the longest tenured relief pitchers in the big leagues. A bullpen is inherently fickle and it’s rather difficult to find someone who is up to the pressure of the position for such a lengthy period. It’s even less exciting to find a reliever – one whom you trust and would like to have back – out on the open market.

The Cleveland Indians entered 2013 with two “big time” arms at the back of Kevin Cash’s bullpen but they enter the upcoming winter with about as much uncertainty at the back as a squad might have. You see, Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano have lost their form. It’s doubtful that one of the two will be back and questionable whether the other will regain his dominance.

You wouldn’t really think a reliever would have much loyalty to a city or franchise and accept any type of discount due to relievers being that volatile and getting lucky to even have one opportunity to get a true chance at cashing in at free agency.

Take a look at Pestano for all the proof you need. His career seemed destined to be full of blowing away the AL Central after taking over for the embattled Chris Perez and eventually finding himself as one of the best pitchers – starter or not – available to all 30 teams.

Fat chance of that happening anytime soon.

Smith’s durability and rare longevity make him an unusual case for a reliever. Sure, we all know (right?) that the “closer” role should be more form than substance but that’s not how the game works. Those closers – they’re the ones who typically have a chance to cash in.

It’s odd that thethree8 never did snag that closer job. He never even snagged an MLB save until 2013, his seventh campaign. It’s certainly a nice moment for the Indians now that he didn’t because it’s fairly likely that he would have succeeded and gotten those crazy closer dollars.

But, he essentially finds himself in a limited market in which his main comparable of the past five years – Jonathan Broxton – garnered a cool 3/$21 million in his most recent free agent foray.

Guesstimating a free agent contract is not exactly the most quantifiable science so we’ll wait and see what happens but the real situation Chris Antonetti faces is whether or not he’s going to pay Joe to bring him back.

And yes, he’s going to have to pay him a dollar amount in the ballpark of that Broxton amount.

What does Smitty think himself? You may be surprised.

Smith — one of seven potential free agents for Cleveland this offseason — has made it clear that he wants to keep pitching for the Indians.

“Definitely. They know it. They all know it,” Smith said. “Everybody in this clubhouse knows I want to be back. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve never been through it, so it’ll definitely be something new. I want to be back here. I don’t want that to be my last game.”

No, I did not toss that italicized all into the quote from Jordan Bastian’s most recent article on Indians.com. The Indians bullpen doesn’t look too special on paper. You’ve got Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen and Marc Rzepczynski anchoring the Mafia for the time being. Shaw was fortunate to not get sent to Columbus a few times during 2013, Allen had a nice year but is still far from being proven and Scrabble was in AAA for the majority of the term.

There are rare instances when the Indians should pay a reliever. Should this be one of those times? It’s not exactly black and white. You don’t pay Smith if you keep Pure Rage. You don’t pay Smith if you splurge on someone like Ubaldo, Kaz or give Masty that well deserved extension.

Joe wants to stay and he’s got an important person in his life, fiance Allie LaForce who could be tied to the area too. And before the critics decide that he’s automatically gone because his girl has bigger cities on her mind, take a look at what some cash did to JoAnna Garcia‘s husband’s decision.

Smith’s excellent performance over his career definitely has earned him a better salary than most relievers can even dream of. I hope they find a way to sign Joe Smith for 2014-2016 but it just shouldn’t be quite near the top of the pecking list at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.

Get the more important business done quickly and then see what the market is looking like for thethree8. It would be hard to criticize them for any deal as long as they’ve kept him to an AAV of something at $5 million and below.

We’ve all been fooled by a reliever or a thousand in the past but Joe’s one guy who I realistically think is going to give you consistent innings every year. He’s the rare ballplayer who has avoided the Pestano 2013 meltdown and someone is going to pay him for it.

 

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