The Seattle Mariners made waves with their trade to acquire Abraham Toro along with Joe Smith for Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero at the 2021 Trade Deadline. The trade came as a surprise because Graveman was having such a dominant season, and not many had heard of Abraham Toro. Included in the deal was Joe Smith, who Mariners fans believed to be a throw-in, but Smith turned out to have a fantastic second half in the M’s bullpen.
Joe Smith, a 37-year-old reliever, was struggling mightily for the Astros in the first half last season. He was running an ERA over 7 and he had a FIP of nearly 5. He was clearly awful for the Astros, and Mariners fans were not happy with his acquisition; clearly, fans did not see what Jerry Dipoto and the M’s front office saw in him.
Smith pitched in 23 games for Seattle and accumulated 18 innings; in those 18 innings, he only allowed 4 earned runs, walked only 4 batters, and struck out 17. Those numbers gave him an ERA of 2.00, a FIP of 2.67, and an ERA+ of 212. Those numbers clearly show that Smith was incredibly valuable for the M’s.
By comparison, Kendall Graveman gave up 8 earned runs, walked 12 batters, and had a FIP of 3.60, all in 23 innings for the Astros after being traded. In reality, Joe Smith performed better as a Mariner than Kendall Graveman as an Astro in a similar sample size. This might shock some fans who were outraged at the trade, but it is clear that Joe Smith was at least extremely comparable to Kendall Graveman, and even better in some areas.
This is why Joe Smith earned an A for his time in the Seattle bullpen.
Joe Smith not only was a quality pitcher for the team, but he was a quality person. This was on display when he was pitching in a close game on September 14 against the Boston Red Sox: He pitched one inning, and then was sent out to start the top half of the next inning. He allowed a triple to start the inning, then was pulled for Drew Steckenrider. Steckenrider then allowed the runner to score and the Mariners ended up losing the game.
However, after the game Joe Smith took the blame for allowing the triple and did not let the media talk to Drew Steckenrider. He took full responsibility for allowing the triple and setting up Steckenrider in a poor situation. This showed tremendous class and it showed that in a very short time, Smith had become not only a quality relief pitcher, but also a leader for the Mariners.