Yesterday, the Atlanta Braves signed John Smoltz to one-year, $14 million extension. The deal includes two years of options. The first is a $12 million player option for 2009 that vests if Smoltz reaches 200 innings in 2008. The second is a club option for 2010 that is worth $13 or $12 million, depending on whether or not Smoltz pitches 200 innings in 2008. It should be noted that he has pitched about 230 innings in each of the two previous seasons.
According to my estimates from The Baseball Economist, Smoltz’s 2006 season was worth about $16.6 million, so this deal seems about right. Yes, there is a chance of injury, but Smoltz has been very durable since his return to the rotation. He is hardly more risky than any replacement the Braves could have found on the free agent market. Indeed, Smoltz probably would have commanded a larger deal as a free agent, and certainly would not have given the injury out-clauses—this is essentially what the option years are—to another club. It was a good move by Schuerholz to take advantage of Smoltz’s desire to pitch for the Braves. Even it Smoltz goes down tomorrow, it was a good gamble.
I have read some comments from fans that even if Smoltz is worth this contract, that’s a lot of payroll to tie up in one player, especially on a team with some holes. The biggest hole on the Braves organization—not just the big club—is pitching. There are very few arms to wait for from the farm. If Smoltz left, the Braves were going to have to go to the free agent market for a replacement. So, why not pick up one of the best pitchers in the game and pay him what he’s worth?
What does this mean for Andruw Jones, who is hitting the free agent market this offseason? Well, I actually think this is good news. It shows that the Braves are able to spend some money again. And even if the new owner is going to put some restrictions on payroll, the Braves need a center fielder. And like Smoltz, Andruw wants to play in Atlanta for Bobby Cox. That is something that no other team can offer, and I think that Schuerholz may be able to get him for less than any other team. The McCann deal signed during Spring Training frees up some payroll that can be used on other players.
As a fan, I am happy to see Smoltz back. I thought that he would leave after this season like Glavine and Maddux. It’s been hard to cheer against the Mets when Glavine is on the mound. I’m glad I won’t have to go through that with another pitcher.