Former Los Angeles Angels catcher Kevan Smith spoke about being released by the Halos in December.
Heading into the offseason, the Angels had a decision to make at the backstop position. They could tender veteran catcher Kevan Smith and enter the 2020 season with Smith and Max Stassi as their catching duo ahead of Anthony Bemboom. Or they could explore options to improve. After four straight losing seasons, General Manager Billy Eppler, emboldened by owner Arte Moreno, was ready to jump start the roster.
In December, the Angels decided to non-tender Smith, making him a free agent, news that caught the Pittsburgh-native by surprise, according to a report from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
"“[Eppler] told me I might get traded or I might not be with the team next season,” Smith said. “It was a constructive conversation, and Billy explained his reasoning. Still, I was pretty stunned by it. I thought I was on solid footing there.”"
The 31-year-old catcher ended up signing a minor league contract in Tampa Bay where he was competing in Spring Training to play back-up duties to Mike Zunino. And in the meantime, the Angels added Jason Castro, who is certainly an upgrade to their catching position, especially defensively.
Smith was limited to only 67 games last season for the Halos after suffering several injuries (concussion, left wrist sprain, back sprain) that forced him to miss time. The towering right-hander showed moments of competency at the plate, batting .251/.318/.393 with a wRC+ of 91. Where he hurt the team was on defense, costing his pitchers eight runs on missed strikes due to his poor framing ability.
Jason Castro turns a weakness into a potential strength, as he has been one of the better pitch framers in baseball over the past several seasons. He has saved his pitchers twenty-five runs in added strikes over the past five seasons, according to Baseball Savant.
The Angels signed Castro for $6.85MM, adding roughly $5 million in payroll at the catching position, as Smith was projected to fetch ~$1.3MM through arbitration. For a team desperate to help a pitching staff that needs to show progress in 2020 for the Angels to have a chance to compete, exchanging Smith for a solid pitch framer in Castro was a smart move, surprise or not.