The Twins selected the contract of veteran catcher on Wednesday Sandy Leon – acquired yesterday in a minor league trade with Cleveland – and designated veteran right-handed reliever Joe Smith for command (Twitter link via MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park). Minnesota also recovered lefty Caleb Thielbar of the 15-day injured list and option catcher Caleb Hamilton to Triple-A St. Paul.
Smith, 38, signed a $2.5MM one-year deal with the Twins late in the off-season. He currently has a mediocre 4.61 ERA to 27 1/3 frames, though that number is disproportionately skewed by a nightmarish appearance on July 17, when Smith took a six-run thrashing at the hands of the White Sox in an 11-0 blowout loss. Other than that one awful outing, he’s otherwise thrown to 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 entrusting higher innings to John Duran, Griffin Jaxand (with much less success) Emily Pagan and Tyler Duffey. Smith is prone to homer this year, even if one is willing to charitably overlook that White Sox implosion, and the lefts have absolutely set him on fire, hitting a .303/.410/.606 in 39 at bats. .
In the past, the sidearming Smith has excelled at limiting hard contact. After a brief hiccup in that regard in 2020, it bounced back in 2021 – not to its earlier peak, admittedly, but an average exit speed of 87.9 mph and a hard hit rate of 35.2% were both solid enough. This season, however, Smith has achieved an average exit speed of 89.2 mph, and a hefty 42.1% of batted balls against him have left the bat at 95 mph or higher.
Smith is still owed about $879K of this year’s $2.5 million salary, and any team that claims him will be responsible for the rest of that amount. If not claimed on waivers, he can turn down a minor league assignment in favor of a free agency while still retaining the full remaining salary. A new team would only be responsible for the pro rata portion of the league minimum when Smith is recruited and added to the big league-roster. Of course, the Twins can no longer trade Smith now that yesterday’s deadline has passed, so he will either get full waivers or release waivers within the next few days.
As for Leon, he will give the Twins a defensive backup that has long been praised for his reception skills and defense – even when accompanied by anemia. At this point in his career, the 33-year-old switch-hitter is the veteran backup for veterans. He was 2-for-15 with a few basehits but walked six earlier this season with the Guardians and has a .226/.340/.333 hit in 100 Triple-A at bats between Cincinnati and Cleveland on the year. He will give the Twins a tough gauntlet and a skilled game-caller as they await the 25-year-old’s return Ryan Jefferswho is out for a few more weeks with a broken thumb.
It is possible that the Twins will continue to select Leon even after Jeffers returns, as Leon would still be a better defensive backup behind the plate than Gary Sanchez, who could return to the primary designated batter’s role. Additionally, Major League teams will get a few extra roster spots in September, making it easier to roster both Leon and Sanchez. The Twins regularly had three catches in past seasons.