The Twins selected the veteran receiver’s contract on Wednesday Sandy Leon – acquired in a minor league trade with Cleveland yesterday – and designated a right-handed veteran reliever Joe Smith for duty (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park). Minnesota also reinstated the southpaw Caleb Thielbar from the 15-day injured list and optional receiver Caleb Hamilton at Triple-A St. Paul.
Smith, 38, signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Twins at the end of the offseason. He currently sports a lackluster 4.61 ERA in 27 1/3 frames, though that number was disproportionately skewed by a nightmarish appearance on July 17, when Smith suffered a six-point beating at the hands of the White Sox in a 11-0 defeat. . Aside from that terrible output, it is otherwise launched at a 2.67 ERA.
The Twins, however, rarely gave Smith work in the eighth inning and often relied on him in innings five through seven, often giving higher leverage innings to Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jaxand (with much less success) Emilio Pagan and Tyler Duffey. Smith has been prone to home runs this year, even if one is willing to charitably ignore this White Sox implosion, and the southpaws absolutely torched him, posting a .303/.410/.606 batting line in 39 home plate appearances.
In the past, the Smith Side Gun has excelled in limiting hard contact. After a brief setback in that regard in 2020, it rebounded in 2021 – not to its previous high, admittedly, but an average exit speed of 87.9 mph and a 35.2% hit rate were both strong enough marks. This season, however, Smith has averaged an exit speed of 89.2 mph, and 42.1% of the balls hit against him have left the bat at 95 mph or more.
Smith still owes about $879,000 of this year’s $2.5 million salary, and any team that claims it will be liable for the rest of that amount. If he is unclaimed on the waivers, he can reject a minor league assignment in favor of free agency while retaining 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 big league roster. The Twins, of course, can’t trade Smith now that yesterday’s deadline has passed, so he’ll either be on a waiver outright or on a waiver in the coming days.
As for Leon, he will give the Twins a defensive-minded replacement who has long been praised for his receiving skills and defense – even though they have been linked with an anemic attack. At this point in his career, the 33-year-old hitter is the quintessential veteran substitute. 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 board appearances between Cincinnati and Cleveland that year. He will give the Twins a solid glove and a veteran caller as they await the 25-year-old’s return Ryan Jefferswho is still missing several weeks with a broken thumb.
It’s possible the Twins will continue to field Leon even after Jeffers returns, as Leon would still be a better defensive backup behind the plate than Gary Sanchez, who could revert to a primary designated hitting role. Beyond that, Major League sides will get a few more roster spots in September, which will make it easier to pick Leon and Sanchez. The Twins have consistently carried three catch options in previous seasons.