SAN FRANCISCO -- So much of the talk in recent months has been about Madison Bumgarner heading home to play for the Atlanta Braves. But Bumgarner, from nearby North Carolina, wasn't the marquee Giants free agent who truly had strong connections to Atlanta.
Closer Will Smith is from the Georgia area and spends his offseasons in Atlanta, where he lives and dies -- usually dies -- with his beloved Falcons. Smith had hoped for an opportunity to go back home as a free agent, but more than that, he wanted a chance to play for a contender. On Thursday, he found his perfect situation.
A free agent for the first time, Smith turned down the Giants' qualifying offer of $17.8 million and instead signed a three-year deal with the NL East-champion Braves that guarantees him $40 million and includes a club option that could tack on an additional $13 million.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Smith's agent, Jeff Berry of CAA, told teams that Smith would sign the one-year qualifying offer with the Giants if they did not come up better offers by Thursday's 2 p.m. deadline to accept or decline. The Braves took him up on it, announcing the deal 19 minutes before the deadline.
For Smith, an All-Star closer and very popular Giant, this is the best possible outcome. For the Giants, there are pluses and minuses.
Given their situation, the Giants were unlikely to pay that much for a closer in free agency, so Farhan Zaidi took a risk and put the QO on Smith. While $17.8 million would be a lot for a reliever, Zaidi knew that it was not far from the average annual salary you would expect to pay for a high-end free agent closer. He would have been fine with paying Smith that much for one year, knowing that he could try to trade him again in July, and that the ninth inning would be taken care of in the meantime.
That leads to the downside here. The current closer is Tony Watson? Maybe Shaun Anderson? What was one of the best bullpens in the National League in the first half of 2019 has been decimated, with Mark Melancon and Sam Dyson being traded in July, Smith leaving as a free agent, and Reyes Moronta having shoulder surgery.
Looked at individually, those moves have worked out well. The Giants got out from under Melancon's contract and Dyson, once viewed as the backup plan if Smith left in the offseason, had his own shoulder surgery. The Giants were likely to lose Smith all along, and because of the risk Zaidi took, they'll now get a compensatory draft pick somewhere around the 80th pick in next June's draft, along with excess pool money.
But grouped together, all these moves have left the new-look front office with some serious heavy lifting to do. They basically have to build an entire bullpen for Gabe Kapler, who didn't get rave reviews for the way he handled that part of the game in Philadelphia. Kapler has vowed to be better the second time around, but he certainly won't be starting out with an inexperienced group of relievers.
This is a hit to the 2020 Giants' chances and a hit to the clubhouse. Smith, a Willie Mac Award winner, was extremely popular with teammates and took young relievers under his wing. He was as dependable as it got in the ninth inning, eliminating the "torture" that's become so infamous at Oracle Park.
But it's a hit the Giants expected, and one that was probably unavoidable. Privately, Smith always wanted to head back home. He is desperate to wipe away the sour memories of the 2016 NLDS, his lone postseason experience. He should get a chance to do it in 2020, playing in front of family members and friends.