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Braves bolster shaky bullpen, sign free agent LHP Will Smith

Braves make a move for the bullpen

By Paul Newberry

AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Braves made another move to bolster their shaky bullpen Thursday, signing left-hander reliever Will Smith to a three-year, $40 million contract.

The free-agent deal includes a $13 million option for the 2023 season, with a $1 million buyout.

The 30-year-old Smith went 6-0 with a 2.76 ERA and a career-best 34 saves for the San Francisco Giants this past season. He made the All-Star team for the first time.

The NL East champion Braves were looking to upgrade the bullpen after going through several closers last season, including Luke Jackson, Shane Greene and Mark Melancon.

Smith is Atlanta’s fourth free-agent signing of the offseason but the first to change teams. The Braves re-signed outfielder Nick Markakis, catcher Tyler Flowers and reliever Darren O’Day.

Smith received a $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Giants, who acquired him from Milwaukee at the trade deadline in 2016. Shortly before a Thursday deadline to accept the offer, he reached a more lucrative deal with the Braves.

Atlanta will forfeit its third-highest pick in the 2020 amateur draft since Smith received a qualifying offer. San Francisco will receive an extra choice as compensation, likely around the 75th overall pick.

The signing of Smith is the latest move by the Braves to improve one of their most vulnerable areas in 2018. Eleven relievers had saves, led by Jackson with 18.

Atlanta made three deals at the trade deadline to acquire Greene from Detroit, Melancon from San Francisco and Chris Martin from Texas.

Greene, who had 18 saves and a 1.18 ERA for the Tigers, quickly flopped as the Braves’ closer and shifted to a setup role. Melancon finished out the year as the closer, picking up 11 saves, but was roughed up badly in several appearances.

In the NL Division Series against St. Louis, Atlanta led 3-1 going to the eighth inning in Game 1, but Jackson surrendered the tying runs and Melancon was pounded for four runs in the ninth of a 7-6 loss.

After two straight wins, the Braves were four outs from wrapping up the series in Game 4 when Greene surrendered the tying hit.

St. Louis went on to a 5-4 victory in 10 innings before taking the deciding game with a 13-1 rout in Atlanta, sparked by a 10-run outburst in the first. It was a record-tying 10th straight postseason round loss for the Braves.

Smith, a native of Newnan, Georgia about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta, dealt with back issues that cost him some appearances this past season. But he was able to pitch in 63 games while receiving regular treatment that included cupping.

The 6-foot-5, 248-pound Smith had 96 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings, along with 21 walks. Opposing batters hit just .196 (46 of 235) and he was particularly effective against left-handers, limiting them to a .157 average with just two extra-base hits in 70 at-bats.

Smith began his big league career as a starter with the Kansas City Royals in 2012. He was traded to the Brewers after going 8-10 with a 4.76 ERA over his first two seasons. He has worked exclusively as a reliever since then.

In 2018, Smith received the “Will Mac Award” named for Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, who presented the award just a month before he died at age 80.

The honor is voted on by the players, coaches and training staff to recognize the team’s player most exhibiting McCovey’s inspirational example both on the field and in the clubhouse.

“Something I will cherish forever,” Smith tweeted after McCovey’s death.

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GIANTS HIRE GABE KAPLER AS MANAGER TO REPLACE BRUCE BOCHY

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Gabe Kapler might need years to match the popularity of his predecessors with the San Francisco Giants.

Farhan Zaidi believes he will get there eventually.

Kapler has been hired as San Francisco’s manager a month after being fired from the same job by the Philadelphia Phillies. Kapler received a three-year contract to replace Bruce Bochy, a beloved figure who retired at the end of the season following 13 years and three championships with San Francisco.

The Giants made the announcement late Tuesday and made a formal introduction Wednesday afternoon. Kapler is the second big hire in a matter of days by Zaidi, the Giants’ president of baseball operations. On Monday, Zaidi introduced new general manager Scott Harris, most recently an assistant GM for the Chicago Cubs.

Zaidi and Kapler are now reunited from their time with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where Kapler served as director of player development and Zaidi the general manager.

“The most important trait, if we could have summarized it in one sentence for the next manager, was somebody who was capable of building trust and relationships with both the players and the front office,” Zaidi said. “And in my experience with Gabe, and as we went through the interview process and got to learn more about him, it became clear to us that he was the person who could best execute on that.”

The 44-year-old Kapler was fired Oct. 10 after going 161-163 over two seasons with the Phillies. With slugger Bryce Harper their blockbuster acquisition, the Phillies finished 81-81 this year for their first non-losing season since 2012.

Last week, the Giants narrowed their managerial search to three finalists: Kapler, Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro.

Harris said he was impressed with the reference checks done on Kapler around the game. The Giants also received feedback from current San Francisco players.

Still, there will be scrutiny.

The Washington Post reported in February that Kapler did not alert police of an alleged assault in 2015 during which Dodgers players were present. The newspaper said Kapler received an email from a 17-year-old girl saying she had been assaulted by two women during a night of partying with two Los Angeles minor leaguers. The girl later told police she was also sexually assaulted by one of the players. Kapler tried to arrange a dinner with the girl and the two players, and engaged in discussions with the girl’s grandmother, but he never alerted authorities.

Kapler told the newspaper his actions were in line with club policy and advice offered by Dodgers lawyers and human resources personnel. He also said he was not aware of a sexual assault allegation.

Zaidi said Tuesday he wishes he had handled the matter differently.

“We’ve had the opportunity to talk to people in the community and talk to experts to try to learn and understand what we did and what we did wrong,” Zaidi said. “As I’ve had time to reflect on it, I’ve realized the biggest mistake we made was asking the wrong questions. In those situations, we asked, ‘What do we have to do?’ instead of ‘What is the right thing to do?’

“I can only speak for myself, I’m truly sorry that from my perspective I didn’t ask the right questions and address things appropriately.”

Giants CEO Larry Baer was suspended without pay by Major League Baseball on March 26 after a video showed him in a physical altercation with his wife on March 1. He returned to work July 1. Baer, who apologized publicly and to his wife, took a leave of absence after TMZ published the video.

The Giants want nothing more than to get back to winning. They have missed the playoffs in four of the past five years since their 2014 championship, losing in a four-game Division Series to the Cubs in 2016.

A former outfielder, Kapler played parts of 12 major league seasons with six teams and was a career .268 hitter.

Bochy announced in February at spring training that he would retire after the season. He managed the Giants to World Series championships in 2010, ‘12 and ‘14. San Francisco went 77-85 in his final year.

Kapler has big shoes to fill. Bochy followed Felipe Alou and Dusty Baker in the job — all adored in the Bay Area.

“Gabe’s someone obviously I worked with for three years and got to know personally and obviously know very well from a professional standpoint,” Zaidi said. “I feel really optimistic and confident that once our fan base gets to know him, they’re going to know the person I’ve known personally and professionally and be really excited about him as our next manager. There have been some portrayals of him publicly that I don’t even recognize.”

The club could look quite different heading into 2020 with lefty ace and 2014 World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner among baseball’s top free agents.

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This story has been corrected to clarify that the email Kapler received from the 17-year-old girl only mentioned an assault, not a sexual assault.

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More AP MLB coverage: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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