With John Smoltz Departure Near, What Does Atlanta Do Next?

James HulkaAnalyst IJanuary 8, 2009

Let me first say, John Smoltz has been as classy and professional as any athlete in sports today. But the reports of his signing a one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox that could include another $5 million in incentives have me wondering what exactly is going through his mind. 

The Braves' offer was supposedly in the neighborhood of $2-$3 million in base salary plus incentives that could've brought the total up to about $7 million for the year.

John, I know you're a great guy, but you made $14 million in 2008 and pitched 28 innings, then were lost for the season due to shoulder surgery. We could all be so lucky to get $166,667 for every batter we got out in a major league game.

Buster Olney's headline says that Smoltz is going to Boston because he felt the Braves were doubting he could come back. If they doubted you were going to come back, they wouldn't have offered you a contract in the first place. $3 million base salary coming back at 42 after major surgery doesn't exactly happen unless you've earned an impressive reputation, which Smoltz surely has. 

Smoltz shouldn't feel insulted—he should be gracious. He pitched 20 percent of the season and got a whole year's salary. Do the math: He earned about $2.8 million and got paid another $11.2 million that he didn't earn. His vesting option for 2009 would have been in the neighborhood of $10 million, meaning if he was healthy, he wouldn't have been taking that big of a pay cut. 

In this writer's opinion, Smoltz took his money and ran. Sure, there is the argument the Red Sox have a better chance of getting Smoltz a World Series ring in 2009 than the Braves. I can buy that. But leaving a team that offered you a contract of any significant value after they just paid you basically $11 million to sit on the bench isn't an insult to John Smoltz—it's an insult to the Braves.

I guess Smoltz just followed Mike Hampton's lead. With Smoltz likely gone, I don't see Tom Glavine coming back in 2009 either. About the only thing I can be glad about is that Smoltz is joining a team that only plays the Braves once a year, maybe twice, and isn't the Yankees.

So, what does Atlanta do now?

Turning their attention to Derek Lowe isn't a bad idea. But considering he turned down three years and $36 million from the Mets makes me think the Braves won't land Lowe unless he drops his asking price quite a bit. However, since Boston was the ace in the hole for Lowe's agent/devil incarnate Scott Boras, the price may drop because the leverage is gone.

I've said this in other articles this offseason, but the Braves really should sign Jon Garland and Adam Dunn. The Braves aren't going to be World Series contenders in 2009, but bringing these two free agents in who aren't garnering a load of media attention would fill two holes and be around for several years.

Garland wouldn't be the ace the Braves might want, but he's pitched at least 190 innings and made at least 32 starts in each of the last seven seasons.

Dunn's the power bat the Braves could use to provide some protection for Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. The Braves didn't have a problem getting people on base last year; they just didn't score enough of the time. Dunn would probably strike out once every game, but he'd hit 40 homeruns and drive in 100. The Braves had no one close to those numbers in 2008.

Reminder, the Braves have an ace (Tim Hudson)—he's just out until mid-August—and an ace in waiting (Tommy Hanson). Looking at 2010, a rotation of these two plus Jurrjens, Vasquez, and Garland would be solid, if not great.

Just because the Braves have had a miserable offseason and lost their own players and missed out on bringing other marquee free agents to Atlanta doesn't mean all is lost. If an open rotation slot means Tommy Hanson gets called up in June, that might be a good thing for years to come.

But I'm not going to sugarcoat the fact that the likely loss of John Smoltz hurts in a lot of ways, but not for the obvious reason of, "How could the Braves let Smoltz go?" I've the gut feeling it really will be the end of an era once pitchers and catchers report in about six weeks.