What the Will Smith reunion means for the KC Royals

KC has reportedly signed reliever Will Smith to a one-year deal.

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Back in 2012, at a moment when the KC Royals were beginning to show some signs of life after being so bad for so long, they decided to supplement their starting rotation with untested rookie Will Smith. The club called him up in late May from Triple-A Omaha, where he was 4-4 with a 3.61 ERA, and started him the next night at Yankee Stadium.

Unfortunately for Smith and the Royals, the Yankees punished Kansas City's newest pitcher — by the time his first inning was finished, Smith was behind 3-0 and had surrendered home runs to Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson. He gave the Yanks another two runs in the third and left in the fourth having been tagged for five runs on six hits.

Smith's season ended with a late September loss to Cleveland, which battered him for six runs on nine hits in just three innings. He finished 6-9 with a 5,32 ERA. He pitched primarily out of the bullpen the following season and went 2-1, 3.24 in 19 appearances. But the Royals, needing outfield help and obviously considering him expendable, traded Smith to Milwaukee for Nori Aoki.

The deal meant, of course, that Smith missed Kansas City's drive to the World Series in 2014 and its Fall Classic title in 2015, but it also marked the watershed moment of his big league career. The lefty tied for the National League lead in appearances (78) in his first year with the Brewers, saved 37 games for Atlanta in 2021, 34 for the Giants two seasons before that, and 22 for the World Champion Rangers in 2023. His career 3.67 ERA and 113 saves speak well of his overall competence.

And now, Smith is reportedly returning to Kansas City. Per MLB.com Royals beat writer Anne Rogers, and as also widely reported by various outlets, Smith is rejoining the club on a one-year $5 million contract.

It is a deal, though, that must be kept in perspective.

What does the Will Smith-Royals reunion mean?

First and foremost, bringing Smith back to Kansas City should be seen as no more than it probably is — an inexpensive mechanism via which the Royals hope to achieve short-term bullpen improvement, then shop their newest acquisition at the midsummer trade deadline. It's likely nothing more and nothing less.

That the club is apparently securing Smith for only a year tells the tale; if the Royals wanted him for more than a season, and he was willing to commit to a longer-term deal, the parties could presumably have consummated a different arrangement. That they didn't strongly suggests neither is in the other's long range plans.

But that's OK. Smith is far better than some present members of the Kansas City relief corps and as a proven veteran could be a stabilizing, albeit temporary, force. And a recent similar deal worked out quite well for the Royals — they signed Aroldis Chapman, another lefthanded reliever, to a cheap one-year contract last winter, then flipped him to Texas in late June in a trade that brought them Cole Ragans, who became the Royals' best pitcher and landed a spot in next season's rotation.

Whether reuniting with Smith will lead to the same kind of happy ending remains to be seen, but that seems to be the goal of general manager J.J. Picollo's latest deal.

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