This reliever will be good for the KC Royals, but for how long?

Will Smith returns to Kansas City this season.

Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/GettyImages

The Rangers, winners of their first-ever World Series title last November, plan to deliver championship rings to players before their March 28 home and season opener. Conspicuous by his absence, though, will probably be reliever Will Smith, for whom Opening Day presents a scheduling conflict — the well-traveled veteran of 11 big league seasons who saved 22 games for the champs is slated to be in Kansas City that day to take his new seat in the bullpen of the KC Royals.

Smith will eventually get his World Series ring and add it to those he earned with Atlanta in 2021 and Houston in 2022, but being with the Royals for their own Opening Day against Minnesota takes precedence. And if his new club has a late lead, expect manager Matt Quatraro to call on Smith to close things out. Quatraro's roster no longer includes Scott Barlow, KC's closer for the better part of the last three seasons until they traded him to the Padres last summer, and Smith is the logical choice to assume Barlow's old role.

Fortunately, closing is a job Smith knows and and has done well. Besides saving those team-leading 22 games for the Rangers last year, he led Atlanta with 37 in 2021 and San Francisco with 34 two seasons before that, and tied Hunter Strickland with 14 for the Giants' lead in 2018.

Smith, who the Royals signed in December to a single-season, $5 million contract, isn't perfect, though, as his seven losses and 4.40 ERA out of the Texas bullpen last year suggest. Those are numbers the Royals hope he doesn't repeat in his return to Kansas City.

What should we expect from Smith in his Royal reunion?

How FanGraphs projects Will Smith will perform in 2024

FanGraphs (Depth Charts) predicts Smith will pitch 64 times, save 12 games, and go 3-4 with a 4.39 ERA.

How will Will Smith actually pitch for Kansas City?

Smith should do well for Quatraro and the Royals. He'll start the season as their closer, save his share of games, and post the low numbers of wins and losses relievers so typically do.

Predicting his performance with more precision is, however, more complicated than it might seem. Because he's a proven veteran with valuable postseason experience, and just happens to be working on that one-year, relatively cheap team-friendly deal, he'll draw a lot of attention at the trade deadline. As we've said before in this space, and say again now, the Royals probably aren't thinking long-term when it comes to Smith, and he'll almost certainly be pitching for another club come August.

Count on it, in fact. But from late March until late July, Smith should be good for the Royals.

The latest KC Royals news from Kings of Kauffman