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MLB Trade Deadline: Indians add Smith, make strong ‘pen stronger

Cleveland snags another late-inning arm to lock down games in the postseason, and the Jays start restocking their farm system.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays made a much-rumored trade, moving righthanded reliever Joe Smith to the Cleveland Indians for two prospects, lefthanded pitcher Thomas Pannone and second baseman Samad Taylor.

Smith, 33, signed a one-year, $3-million deal with Toronto in the off season. Coming off a 2016 with a 3.46 ERA (albeit with a 4.99 FIP), the reliever has improved his ERA to 3.28 and his FIP all the way to a sterling 2.31. After Jason Grilli’s struggles, Smith effectively became the set-up man to closer Roberto Osuna, and was arguably in the middle of the best year of his career before landing on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation in June. However, since coming back last Sunday, he’s pitched four innings with one earned run and four strike outs, easing back into high leverage situations.

With this trade, Cleveland adds another strong arm to its already-elite bullpen. The Indians bullpen ranks third thus far this year in fWAR (4.9), second in FIP (3.38), fourth in strike out rate (26.8%) and fourth in batting average against (.221). By adding Smith, they can really shorten games, especially in the playoffs. Postseason opponents will have to deal with Smith, closer Cody Allen, and the looming multi-inning darkness known as Andrew Miller. It’s a testament to Cleveland’s strong relievers that Smith slots in as their third-best, but he’ll still help a lot.

Toronto added two low-ranked prospects to its minor league system. Given the decent return the Jays got for Francisco Liriano — an outfielder at AAA, ready to slot into a major-league roster almost immediately and likely pretty close to league average — the return for Smith is somewhat head scratching. Neither Thomas Pannone nor Samad Taylor are ranked in Cleveland’s top 30 prospects, as per MLB. Given the return on relief pitchers recently and Joe’s Smith’s performance this year, it is hard to fathom this trade, unless the Blue Jays front office know something about these two players that scouts and prospect ranking writers have missed out on.

Pannone is a 23-year-old starter at AA in the midst of an excellent year, with a 1.96 ERA in 110 innings between AA and High-A. Taylor is an 18-year-old second baseman who was drafted in the 10th round last year, and played in short-season A-ball this year. His numbers have been good — a 133 wRC+ in 130 PAs — but given his age and distance from the majors, it’ll be a few years before we’re in a position to project him with any confidence.

Still, Smith wasn’t worth much to the Blue Jays this season, so adding to their minor-league system in any way is a fine outcome. Cleveland has to be happy they can slot another proven arm into their formidable bullpen.

Azam Farooqui is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @afarooqui21.