In the midst of an offseason shopping spree meant to restore its success, the Boston Red Sox pulled off a largely unheralded trade, acquiring Carson Smith from the Seattle Mariners.

The full deal, which the teams completed back on Dec. 7, sent Smith and left-handed pitcher Roenis Elias to Boston in exchange for pitchers Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro.

It’s never easy to draw major interest to a reliever acquisition—especially when the reliever won’t be a closer for his new team. But make no mistake: Smith will prove to be the steal of the offseason.

At only 26 years old and having only one full season in the majors under his belt, Smith has yet to touch the prime of his career. Based on his 2015 numbers, he could become the best reliever in the game shortly.

Last season, Smith made 70 appearances out of the bullpen for the Mariners, mostly in late-game situations. His 22 holds ranked ninth in the American League, and he also notched 13 saves.

When taking a closer look at Smith’s numbers, we see just how good he really was.

He struck out 11.83 batters per nine innings pitched, ranking No. 12 among qualifying MLB relievers. He also kept his pitches largely unpredictable, as his 0.26 home runs per nine innings pitched ratio was tied for third-best in the league.

Perhaps the most impressive number is his 2.1 WAR, tied for fourth among MLB relievers. It shows just how much he boosted Seattle’s bullpen.

Smith has quickly taken notice as one of the best strikeout relievers in the game, and his highlights show it well. Take a look at his five-strikeout performance against the Detroit Tigers back on July 7, arguably his best of the season:

Keep in mind that these aren’t bad hitters Smith mowed down; All-Stars J.D. Martinez and Jose Iglesias were two of the victims.

Smith goes right at the hitters, and he isn’t afraid to go to his off-speed pitches to get the strikeout. He loves to locate his sinker and slider on the outer half of the plate, either getting the hitter to chase or placing it right on the corner for a called third strike.

In his profile of Smith, FanGraphs‘ Zach Sanders raved about the young reliever:

After a dominant season with the Mariners in which he struck out nearly a third of the batters he faced, Smith was traded to the Red Sox for some reason, and he’ll likely make the Mariners regret that move for his next five years of team control. The 26-year-old right-hander features a low-90s sinker and wicked slider thrown from a funky angle, helping him neutralize left-handed hitters despite his typically split-heavy repertoire.

Smith’s talent is undeniable, and the fact that Boston was able to acquire him and Elias for a serviceable starter like Miley was nothing short of trade robbery. But the question persists: What role will Smith play in the Red Sox bullpen?

The acquisition of Craig Kimbrel rules out Smith as the team’s closer (barring an injury), and Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa’s presence have forced Smith into a role as the team’s “bridge reliever”; someone who comes in for the sixth and perhaps even seventh inning to hold the score.

Even if that remains Smith’s role all season, it’s still a major benefit for Boston.

Every team needs a strong bullpen to boost its chances at a World Series, and it’s hard to argue with the strength of Boston’s pen. It’s clear that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has learned from his Detroit days, where a poor Tigers bullpen ruined several promising seasons for an otherwise loaded roster.

Even if the worst-case scenario does hit the back of Boston’s bullpen, Smith can step right in as the closer, and the team won’t skip a beat.

Given the lack of clarity behind David Price in the Red Sox starting rotation, its nice to know that the team can count on Smith to guide it through countless must-win games over the duration of the season.

And all it cost them was two dispensable pitchers.


Advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs.

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