The Twins on Wednesday picked up the veteran catcher’s contract Sandy Leon — found in a minor league swap with Cleveland yesterday – and an old reliever named right Joseph Smith for the task (Twitter link via Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com). Minnesota also sent back a lefty Caleb Thielbar from the 15-day injured list and selected catcher Caleb Hamilton to Triple-A St. Paul.
Smith, 38, signed a one-year, $2.5MM deal with the Twins late in the season. He currently has a paltry 4.61 ERA through 27 1/3 frames, though that number is skewed disproportionately by a serious appearance on July 17, when Smith took a six-run shutout at the hands of the White Sox in an 11-0 blowout loss. . That awful outing aside, he’s otherwise pitching to a 2.67 ERA.
The Twins, however, gave Smith the eighth-inning work and often relied on him in innings five to seven, often entrusting higher-leveraged innings to. John Duran, Griffin Jaxand (with much less success) Emily Pagan and Tyler Duffey. Smith has had a good chance this year even if one is willing to charitably ignore that White Sox bullpen, and lefties have absolutely torched him, posting a .303/.410/.606 batting line in 39 plate appearances.
In the past, the Smith sidearm has excelled at limiting hard contact. After a brief setback in that regard in 2020, he bounced back in 2021 — not to his previous peak, granted, but an average exit velocity of 87.9 mph and a hard 35.2% mark rate were pretty solid. This season, however, Smith averaged an exit velocity of 89.2 mph, and 42.1% of batted balls against him left the bat at 95 mph or more.
Smith is still owed about $879K of this year’s $2.5MM salary, and any team that claims him will be responsible for the remainder of that amount. If not claimed on waivers, he can decline a minor league assignment in favor of free agency and still retain his full remaining salary. A new team would only be responsible for the pro rata portion of the major league minimum after signing Smith and adding him to the big league roster. The Twins, of course, can no longer trade Smith now that yesterday’s deadline has passed, so he will either be on full waivers or a release waiver within the next few days.
As for Leon, he will provide a defensive backup for the Twins who has long been praised for his receiving and defensive skills – even when paired with an anemic offense. At this point in his career, the 33-year-old switch-hitter is the consummate veteran backup. He went 2-for-15 with a pair of singles but six walks earlier this season with the Guardians and has a .226/.340/.333 slash in 100 Triple-A plate appearances between Cincinnati and Cleveland on the year. He will give the Twins a solid glove and veteran game caller as they await the return of the 25-year-old. Ryan Jefferswho is out for a few more weeks with a broken thumb.
The Twins may continue to roster Leon even after Jeffers returns, as Leon would still be a better defensive backup behind the plate than Gary Sanchez, who could return to a primary designated hitter role. Additionally, Major League teams will gain a few extra roster spots in September, making it easier to roster both Leon and Sanchez. The Twins have carried three catcher options regularly in previous seasons.