It was my honor to get to do my first professional interview this week with Joe Smith, the free agent pitcher from the Cleveland Indians. Smith was down to earth, funny and honest during our conversation. Smith is starting his first experience in free agency after his last 5 years with the Indians. The sidearmer was born in Ohio and attended Wright State University (he came to WSU the year after I graduated from there). Currently Smith is spending his time out in California with his fiance and is in good spirits and health.
How are you feeling now that you have had some time away?
Everything feels good. The month after just trying to relax get your body back to 100%. Just doing maintenance stuff. Don’t start getting back into hard training till January.
What was it like playing for Terry Francona this year compared to other managers?
He is awesome. Same guy everyday. From the first day I talked to him. He treats everyone the same. Lets his guys play. He is a lot of fun. He is not trying to micro manage everything.
This was the first year the Indians had a winning record since you arrived in 2009, how was it different?
It was different in about every way. When you win it makes everything a lot easier. Everyone is more relaxed and in a better mood. In 2009 we were expected to win and we didn’t, it was kinda a let down. During the short rebuild our expectations weren’t the playoff. It was tough to go out and play 162 games. Coming into the season there was a talk about us getting Tito then signing Swish and getting a hold of Michael Bourne in Spring Training. It was fun. Getting a taste of the playoffs.
What was it like to lose the playoff game?
It sucked. They say your in the playoffs, and you are. But it’s a one game play in game. I wasn’t in the mindset that we were in the playoffs, and I don’t think most of the team was. How we were winning was great, wasn’t a bunch of superstars, we were thrown together. Took everyone in clubhouse to do it.
Much was made about Jason Giambi and Nick Swisher’s clubhouse impact, could you give some insight into how they were able to have such an impact?
Giambi was unbelievable. I never played or been around a man like that. He is just a guy who has been around for 18 years in the big leagues. Everything he has been threw in his career, not many have been through what he has been through. Everybody can go to him with anything. He will answer any question you got. You’d think a guy who won an MVP and been to the World Series and made hundred of millions of dollars would just be there for himself but he wasn’t. He was a team guy. He was huge for Jason Kipnis. I wouldn’t go out to the bullpen till the 3rd inning and we would just sit and talk about anything. He was always in good spirit, he always had energy.
This is our first time as a free agent, what has it been like so far in the early going?
So far its definitely different. Your just kinda waiting. This week is the GM and Owner meetings and stuff like that. From the past the big pieces will sign first then see what they have left over for bullpen guys. After these meetings and offer starts coming in and how much team wants you that’s when things get fun.
You were born in Ohio and attended WSU, our shared alma mater, how does your connections to Ohio play a role during free agency?
It does definitely. Its kinda interesting. My fiancé works. Her job would require her to be in LA or New York. She is from Cleveland and I am from Cincinnati. Its kinda hard to say how big of a factor. You have to look at what teams are involved you got to weigh those options. At the end of the day your not going to know until they start making offer.
Is the role you will play on the team, closer, setup etc, a big factor in your decision making?
I don’t know. If the team is going to win, go the playoffs and win the World Series is the biggest factor for me. If they just want me to be a righty specialist maybe not I have proven I can throw an inning. Right now I have only had one team say they might consider me as a closer. They haven’t made me offer. But winning is most important to me.
What makes a pitcher a good closer? Whats the needed ingredient?
Just a short memory. You got to throw strikes. There is a lot more pressure you can say its magnified if you give up a run or two runs and you lose. If you are able to throw strikes and get outs. Just not putting yourself in bad counts. Everyone is going to get beat every once and while. For me every inning is pretty much the same. Its 3 outs you got to get. Pound the strike zone. If I am facing Miguel Cabrera he is going to take the same approach in the 8th or 9th inning.
How do number of years versus yearly salary fit into your thinking during free agency?
That’s a main factor. When you are coming up you don’t know if your going to be traded. I was traded after 2 years in New York. Knowing you are going to be there 3 years gives you that extra comfort. You know where you are going to be and get comfortable.
How does the team’s record/history play into your decision?
I want to go someplace to win.
What is your hope/expectation for a time frame to sign?
Hopefully after the Owner’s meetings things should pick up.
Will you give the Indians a chance to match?
I told them whatever offer I get I would let them have the opportunity. Their policy is that they don’t do 3 year deals for relievers. I will go back to them. I told them I want to be back but if that’s not the best opportunity for me.
Will you give Factory of Sadness the inside scoop when you sign?
I have some other people I need to let know first but after that sure.
I hope you enjoyed learning about Smith and the free agent process. I want to thank him for taking his time to talk with FoS and share his insights so openly and honestly. There is much I learned about the Tribe and Smith during our interview that I will summarize in a future post this week for anyone who missed this interview or wants my specific take on the content of the interview.