Signing Will Smith was atop the Dodgers’ ‘to-do list’ for a while. Now it’s done.



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LOS ANGELES — Long before the Dodgers bestowed his new teammates with barrels of cash, the Dodgers saw a future with Will Smith. The soft-spoken, steady backstop was still learning the intricacies of the position but, man, could he hit. It took three years from draft day in 2016 to big-league debut for Smith. And in his fourth career game, he sent his new ballpark into a frenzy with a walk-off home run at Dodger Stadium.

Smith has been pegged as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ franchise catcher ever since. The club made that permanent Wednesday, inking the 28-year-old Smith to the longest contract ever given to a catcher. The veteran catcher with a boyish grin will be a Dodger for the next decade, signing a 10-year, $140 million contract extension that ends years of off-and-on talks between the organization and the All-Star.

“This has been something that has been near the top of our to-do list for a long time,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.

Conversations between the sides spanned years. The fit was obvious. The prospect of a homegrown, cost-controlled catcher whose offensive performance rivaled the best in the sport had obvious appeal. Smith was so clearly part of the club’s future that the Dodgers used the catcher to help recruit key free agents such as Yoshinobu Yamamoto this offseason.

The backstop has never talked much about his status, but his work spoke volumes.

“It’s pretty real the whole time, honestly,” Smith said of the negotiation process. “You kind of know what to expect – what 10 years means, what certain dollars mean, what the whole thing means. For me, it always came back to, where do I have the best chance to win the most World Series? That is the Dodgers.

“I don’t think I would be the player I am without being here.”

A deal started to take shape this spring, as Smith noted to The Athletic at the beginning of camp in Arizona that the sides hadn’t engaged in talks in months. The background of earlier conversations helped a deal form quickly from there. Friedman joked about hammering out details with Smith’s representatives, Adam Karon and John Furmaniak of Apex Baseball, on the team’s 14-hour flight to Seoul, South Korea.

Days later, Smith was undergoing his physical and putting the final touches on a deal that tied him to the only franchise he’s ever known.

“For me to probably finish my career (as) a Dodger means a lot,” Smith said. “I couldn’t be happier.”

The final figures: a front-loaded deal that includes a $30 million signing bonus to be paid out over the next two seasons, and $50 million in deferred money to be paid out in the decade following his deal, according to league sources.

“It’s a really special, organizational moment,” Friedman said of the biggest extension the franchise has ever given to a homegrown talent.

“Obviously making a bet of this nature, we felt even more comfortable being that we’ve seen him since he was drafted. We know the work ethic. We know the character. There’s so many things that we don’t have to rely on second- or third-hand information. We know Will and (his wife) Cara really well and know that no matter how things play out in the future that they are going to fit in incredibly well and be a huge part of our culture and us continuing to build on our success.”

Smith smiled throughout, laughing as Cara bounced their giggling daughter, Charlotte, in her lap in the front row of the Dodger Stadium interview room. Their life, for the next decade, is now set.

The Dodgers’ core is entrenched, with Ohtani, Yamamoto, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Tyler Glasnow and now Smith all locked in through at least 2027 with significant financial backing. The length and structure of Smith’s contract and its deferrals mean his deal will only count for a little more than $12 million annually for luxury tax purposes, even if it means the Dodgers’ overall deferred money bill will run up to $915.5 million from 2028 through 2043.

Smith is the lone homegrown member of that group. After years of watching homegrown stars and MVPs like Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger exit, and after stalling in pursuit of an extension for Walker Buehler, it is Smith who the club managed to retain.

His production has made it worth it. No catcher in baseball (min. 1,500 plate appearances) has produced a higher wRC+ since Smith’s debut in 2019. His strides behind the plate were immense, and when Smith missed weeks last season with a concussion, the Dodgers felt the void.

“One of the things I think we appreciate most about Will is that he is not a guy that ever wants the spotlight and yet when the lights are the brightest he really comes to life,” general manager Brandon Gomes said.

Now, they’re rewarding him with the second-highest guarantee to a catcher behind the $184 million the Minnesota Twins gave Joe Mauer in 2010.

“For us, he’s been a superstar,” Freddie Freeman told The Athletic last summer. “In our opinion, he’s the best catcher in the game.”

(Photo of Will Smith: Ryan Sun / Associated Press)





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