A familiar, and somewhat surprising name was added to the list of non-tendered players on Friday. Former Tigers’ starter Drew Smyly is now a free agent and available for teams to pursue. This is an opportunity the Tigers should thoroughly investigate.
Smyly looked to be primed for an excellent year back in March. He was spectacular in the World Baseball Classic for Team USA, and featuring the best velocity of his career. Unfortunately elbow issues led to Smyly’s shutdown, and he never made it to the mound during the regular season. He went under the knife to have his UCL repaired in July, and rehabilitating his elbow will keep him out of action through most, if not all, of the 2018 season as well.
For the Mariners, cutting Smyly was necessary to trim a payroll that is bursting at the seams as general manager Jack DiPoto desperately tries to build an AL West contender. Headed into his third year of arbitration, Smyly would’ve been due a substantial bump from the $6.85 million he made in 2017. The Mariners would’ve had to offer an extension to keep Smyly beyond a 2018 season in which he won’t be pitching much anyway. But their loss could be the Tigers’ gain.
Pitchers with good work ethic who apply themselves consistently to their rehabilitation often come back as good as new. In some cases, that rehab work improves their overall conditioning. Smyly has also had some minor shoulder issues during his career, and it’s possible that a year and a half away from the mound could do well by his overall arm health. The Tigers have an opportunity to bring back a known commodity with excellent character by offering him a multi-year contract.
Signing a multi-year deal with the Tigers would give him financial security while he makes his return, and put him in the hands of an organization that typically takes great care of pitchers’ arms. The Tigers have nothing to lose in the process, other than a modest sum of money. But there is plenty to gain by stashing an arm or two like Smyly away with an eye toward their future value.
Smyly struggled to a 4.49 FIP in 2016 while pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays. His strikeout to walk ratio was still excellent, but he was bitten badly by the long ball. A return to the excellent numbers he posted earlier in his career with the Tigers may not be in the cards. But if the Tigers investigate, and like what they see in Smyly’s medicals, and in the progress of his rehab, he’s a better option than most of the bargain basement starters they’re considering in free agency.
They’ll still need help in 2018, but they should seriously consider taking a chance on Smyly. Offer him a multi-year deal, stash him, and hope for the best. If it works out they’d have themselves a proven, and fairly cheap, asset once he gets back on the mound.