Braves send postseason star Smith to Astros for RHP Odorizzi

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
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ATLANTA — The World Series champion Atlanta Braves bolstered their starting staff ahead of the trade deadline Tuesday by giving up a reliever who played a big part in their 2021 title.

Poised for another postseason run, the Braves dealt former closer Will Smith to the Houston Astros for right-hander Jake Odorizzi, giving Atlanta a sixth starting pitcher for the final two months of the regular season.

The move was the biggest of three deadline deals pulled off by general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who on Monday gave up minor leaguers for corner outfielder Robbie Grossman from Detroit and infielder Ehire Adrianza from Washington.

Atlanta, with the third-best record in the NL and going into Tuesday’s games trailing the East-leading New York Mets by 3 1/2 games, was seeking additional depth for the rotation.

Ian Anderson has struggled and former All-Star Mike Soroka appears unlikely to make a major contribution this season after two major Achilles’ injuries. Also, there are concerns that 13-game winner Kyle Wright, in his first full big league season, and rookie sensation Spencer Strider could tire down the stretch.

Smith played a huge role in the Braves’ first World Series championship since 1995. He had 37 saves during the 2021 regular season and was even more dominant in the postseason, throwing 11 scoreless innings with six saves over 11 appearances.

But Smith willingly gave up the ninth-inning slot when the Braves signed longtime Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen during the offseason, and the lefty faltered in a less-prominent role.

In 41 appearances, Smith was 0-1 with a 4.38 ERA and five saves, giving up 35 hits – including seven homers – and 21 walks over 37 innings for a WHIP of 1.514.

In his last four appearances with the Braves, Smith surrendered six runs in three innings.

He was especially expendable with three other lefties – A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and Dylan Lee – proving more effective out of the bullpen. Also, former Padres closer Kirby Yates appears close to returning to the big leagues with the Braves after recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The AL West-leading Astros acquired the pitcher who was on the mound for the decisive game of the Braves’ World Series victory over Houston last season.

The Astros have a glut of starting pitching and could afford to give up Odorizzi, especially to acquire a much-needed lefty for their bullpen. Smith is making $13 million in what is likely the final year of his contract. He has a $13 million club option for 2023 with a $1 million buyout.

The 32-year-old Odorizzi was an All-Star with Minnesota in 2019, when he had a career-best 15 wins. He went 4-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 12 starts for the Astros this season.

Odorizzi missed 42 games with a lower left leg injury and is 1-1 with a 4.45 ERA in five stars since returning to the Houston rotation. In his latest outing, he surrendered two hits in seven scoreless innings against Seattle.

The Braves could use six starters on an upcoming three-city road trip that includes a pair of doubleheaders. After that, they could go with Odorizzi as a spot starter to give everyone additional rest ahead of the postseason, or make a change if someone falters.

The 24-year-old Anderson has been a big disappointment, going 9-6 with a 4.99 ERA, though he did bolster his chances of staying in the rotation by giving up only one hit over six scoreless innings against the Nationals in his last start.

Wright has blossomed this season, leading the NL in wins to go along with a 2.93 ERA. But he has thrown 122 2/3 innings, closing in on his professional high of 143 1/3 set last season while mostly pitching at Triple-A Gwinnett.

The hard-throwing Strider has made a hugely successful transition to the Braves rotation, going 5-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 22 appearances that include 11 starts.

But Strider has logged 80 1/3 innings, not far from the 96 1/3 he pitched a year ago while making a meteoric rise from Low-A to the big leagues in his first professional season.

The trade for Odorizzi, who has a $6.5 million player option for 2023 and minimum buyout of $3.25 million that could grow based on innings pitcher over 2021-22, would seemingly complete the Braves’ wish list before the deadline.

Grossman, a switch hitter who has been much more effective against left-handers, gives the Braves an outfielder who can platoon with lefty-hitting Eddie Rosario and serve as a replacement for Adam Duvall, who recently underwent season-ending wrist surgery.

Adrianza returns to the team he played for in 2021, providing additional infield depth until Ozzie Albies returns from a broken foot, likely in early September.

The Astros also were busy at the deadline, acquiring catcher Christian Vazquez from Boston and slugger Trey Mancini from the Orioles.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.