First it was Robbie Ray getting a fairly surprising $8 million on a one-year deal with the Blue Jays, and now it’s fellow upside lefty Drew Smyly getting even more on a one-year deal with the Braves.
From the Braves, themselves, announcing the $11 million signing:
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) November 16, 2020
Smyly, a brief old friend of the Cubs, was stellar for the Giants this past season, albeit in just seven appearances (five starts). As the Braves release notes, the numbers were just absurd, and they did come after a significant improvement in 2019 after a midseason pickup by the Phillies. Perhaps something clicked for the long-talented lefty, and the Braves wanted to be the team to cash in on his first full season after that clicking.
That said, my word. Let me just say, even in a normal environment, $11 million would have been a solid get for Smyly given his extremely uneven track record, extremely short-term success, and past injuries. I’m not trying to say he wasn’t brilliant this past year (in SEVEN outings), but I’m just saying I never would have guessed he could get this much after the pandemic.
So now the big question: does it mean anything? Well, on the one hand, like Ray, Smyly is viewed as a guy with tons of untapped upside, so it doesn’t surprise me that a team pounced extremely early in the offseason. Relatedly, it doesn’t surprise me that it took a pretty sizable one-year offer to get Smyly to sign this early. The Braves clearly made Smyly a significant target right from the outset of the offseason, and paid the price it would take for him to not wonder if he could get more if he waited.
The Braves, notably, are owned by a publicly-traded company, which means they’re our one window into confirmation that, yes, MLB teams lost a lot of money in 2020. So if they’re out there committing $11 million this quickly for one year on a Smyly bet, that has to be at least something of a good sign that they are among the teams betting on a decent chunk of fan-attendance-related revenue in 2021. As we’ve discussed, MLB believes it will happen at some level, and the positive vaccine signals suggest it could happen.
So maybe the Braves just want to get out ahead of the rest of the offseason, and they’re among the teams betting that revenues will be much better next year? I’d love to believe that, because a healthy (financial) baseball season in 2021 means a better shot that the post-2021 CBA negotiations go smoothly.
But it’s also possible that the Braves, who don’t have a ton of huge-dollar contracts on the books and do have needs in the rotation, simply saw a guy they really wanted and knew they could afford this particular contract. It’s possible this signing doesn’t mean more than that.
Still, after the Ray signing (and, heck, the qualifying offer given to Kevin Gausman), I’m wondering about these one-year commitments for guys with upside. Maybe teams will be paying more than we anticipated. And that could mean a lot for the value of guys like Kris Bryant, Javy Báez, and Kyle Schwarber. Just sayin’.