Will Smith is set to earn $5.25 million in 2023, his first season as an arbitration eligible player. The Dodgers catcher is entering his fifth season as a big leaguer and fourth as the primary catcher in LA. Since making his MLB debut in 2019, The Fresh Prince has grown into one of the top backstops in baseball. So, naturally, it feels about time to start considering a contract extension for the 27 year old.
But have the Dodgers entertained that thought yet? According to Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic it doesn’t appear so.
In a recent column, Ardaya fielded questions from fans, including one asking if LA has explored a new deal with Smith. Here’s what he had to say.
My understanding is that the Dodgers haven’t to this point. Outside of Julio Urías, Smith may be the most obvious extension candidate on the roster. I’ll be diving into that more in-depth soon.
Fabian addresses several other interesting Dodger topics, so it’s worth a read, if you have a subscription to the publication. But, for now, let’s focus on Will Smith.
Again, Smith got his first big payday as a big leaguer this offseason when he agreed to a $5.25 million deal with the team. By the standards he’s established over his career, Will had a somewhat down year in 2022. However, he was still the third most valuable catcher in baseball by WAR (3.9 fWAR) and wRC+ (127). Ahead of him on the list are 2022 breakout star Sean Murphy and Phillies All-Star J.T. Realmuto.
Last season was Murphy’s best as a big leaguer and it ultimately earned him a 6-year, $73 million extension with the Braves, covering up to four free agent years for the 28 year old. Using Murphy as a comp, Smith has been better than him in most offensive categories over the last four years…
Will also has the edge on defense with 14 career defensive runs saved versus Murphy’s 12. So, those are some cherry-picked stats that help paint the picture that Will Smith > Sean Murphy.
Moving on and looking at J.T. Realmuto as a free agent comp, the three-time All-Star signed a 5-year, $115 million deal just three years ago as one of the top catchers in all of baseball. Across three trips through the arbitration process, J.T. earned $2.9 million, $5.9 million, and $10 million in arb deals with the Marlins and Phillies before entering free agency.
Couldn’t or shouldn’t the Dodgers explore locking up Smith for the foreseeable future?
A figure somewhere between what Murphy got and what Realmuto got seems fair for a club like the Dodgers. But there’s one problem… this front office doesn’t necessarily like extending its players. Or at least they’ve been pretty bad at it. Yes, the argument can be made that they signed Mookie Betts to an extension, but considering the situation he was in at the time — just traded to LA and was going to be a free agent after the season — it’s not overly similar.
Walker Buehler agreed to a two-year extension in 2021, but that only covered his arb-2 and arb-3 seasons (2021 and 2022). Beyond Walker, small deals with Austin Barnes, Max Muncy, Daniel Hudson, and Blake Treinen happened last season, but those are less in the spirit of what we’re talking about here.
So, to answer the question we’re asking in this article… should the Dodgers try to sign Will Smith to a contract extension? Absolutely. He’s one of the best catchers in the game and has turned into a key player on the roster. In theory, a deal should be easy to figure out. The homework has been done with players like Sean Murphy and the Braves and J.T. Realmuto and the Phillies. Both very recently.
Unless the club has any plans of trading Will or moving him to a different position to clear a path for top prospect Diego Cartaya, locking him up for the rest of his arbitration seasons and possibly two or three free agent years could be cost-effective in the long run.
After seeing players like Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Trea Turner, and Cody Bellinger leave LA recently, a bit of long-term commitment might be nice for a change.