In Jerry DiPoto's never-ending attempt to improve the Angels bullpen, the club has signed former Indians reliever Joe Smith to a three-year, $15.75 million contract. Last winter, DiPoto's Angels gave Sean Burnett a two-year, $8 million contract with a club option for 2015 only to see Burnett throw just 9 2/3 innings before going down with an injury to his flexor tendon in his left elbow.
Let's dial it back a minute and focus on Smith. The 29-year old has spent the last five years with Cleveland, and has a career 2.97 ERA in 378 2/3 innings. But despite that low ERA, Smith has just one year with more than half a win above replacement – 2011. when he had a 2.01 ERA in 67 innings to go along with an unsustainable 2.2% HR/FB and .258 BABIP. Sure enough, those numbers have moved back towards the pack over the last two years, and Smith has been worth less than a win combined over the last two years while allowing nine home runs, striking out 107, and walking 48.
Smith is a ground ball pitcher, though he posted the lowest ground ball rate of his career in 2013. Despite that, his 49.1% mark was better than every Angels reliever except for the departed Scott Downs, the injured Burnett, and Dane de la Rosa. If he can boost that ground ball rate closer to his career mark of 57.2%, the Angels will clearly benefit – despite a below average infield defense.
But $5.25 million a year for any reliever is ludicrous, especially one like Smith that doesn't throw overly hard, relies on weak contact, and doesn't strike many hitters out. If you compare Smith's signing to the Rockies' signing of LaTroy Hawkins last week, Hawkins is a much better bargain, even considering his age. The Angels have plenty of money to burn, but handing three years of guaranteed money to a middle reliever like Smith really doesn't seem like a wise move.