The Twins selected the veteran catcher’s contract on Wednesday. Sandy Leon — acquired in a minor league trade with Cleveland yesterday — and designated veteran right-handed reliever joseph smith for assignment (twitter link via MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park). Minnesota also reinstated the lefty caleb thielbar 15-day IL and optional catcher Caleb Hamilton to Triple-A St. Paul.
Smith, 38, signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Twins at the end of the offseason. He currently has a lackluster 4.61 ERA over 27 1/3 frames, though that number is skewed disproportionately by a nightmarish appearance on July 17, when Smith took a six-run drubbing at the hands of the White Sox in a blowout loss. 11-0. . That horrible start aside, he has otherwise pitched with a 2.67 ERA.
However, the Twins rarely gave Smith work in the eighth inning and often relied on him in innings five through seven, often trusting higher-leverage innings to John Duran, jax griffinand (with much less success) emily pagan Y Tyler Duffy. Smith has been prone to hitting home runs this year, even if one is willing to charitably overlook the White Sox’s implosion, and left-handers have absolutely torched him, posting a .303/.410/.606 batting line in 39 plate appearances.
In the past, the Smith sidearm has excelled in terms of limiting hard contact. After a brief hiccup in that regard in 2020, he bounced back in 2021 — not to his previous peak, of course, but an average exit velocity of 87.9 mph and a hard hit rate of 35.2% were strong enough marks. Yet this season, Smith has thrown an average exit velocity of 89.2 mph, and a hefty 42.1% of balls hit against him have left the bat at 95 mph or higher.
Smith is still owed about $879K of this year’s $2.5MM salary, and any team claiming him will be responsible for the rest of that sum. If he isn’t claimed by waivers, he can decline a minor league assignment in favor of free agency while he keeps all of that remaining salary. A new team would only be responsible for the prorated portion of the league minimum when signing Smith and adding him to the major league roster. The Twins, of course, can no longer trade Smith now that yesterday’s deadline has passed, so he will either be on outright waivers or release waivers in the next few days.
As for Leon, he will give the Twins a defensive-minded backup that has long been praised for its receiving and defensive skills, even when combined 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 walked six earlier this season with the Guardians and is slashing .226/.340/.333 in 100 Triple-A plate appearances between Cincinnati and Cleveland in the year. He will give the Twins a solid glove and veteran player as they await the 25-year-old’s return. Ryan Jeffershe’s out for several more weeks with a broken thumb.
It’s possible the Twins will continue 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. Beyond that, major league teams will get a couple of extra roster spots in September, making it easier to include Leon and Sanchez. The Twins have regularly carried three receiver options in previous seasons.