So Long, Smoltz

According to numerous reports, John Smoltz will be joining the Red Sox for a guaranteed $5.5 million plus the potential for $4.5 million in incentives. This has already started an uproar in Bravesnation, because Smoltz has basically gone out of his way to deny his interest in other teams to fans. I’ve heard him on the radio a few times assuring fans that he planned to stay.

From a team-quality standpoint, I really don’t see what the big deal is. John Smoltz is not just slightly hurt, and $5.5 million is a lot of guaranteed money to cough up for an injury risk. He didn’t just get his knee scoped. He’s about to turn 42, and he’s coming off major shoulder surgery. Yeah, I know he’s throwing off the mound, yadda yadda yadda, but that’s a long way from being the dominant pitcher he has been over the past few seasons.

From 2005–2007, he was basically a $15 million pitcher—one of the league’s best, and I don’t want to understate this. From the reports I’m reading, Smoltz’s injury should keep him out for the first third of the season. So, if he returns to his old starting form immediately after his return, he’ll be worth about $10 million—two-thirds of a $15-million pitcher. That’s the level at which incentive bonuses max out. However, the incentives cannot be based on quality, and must be determined by awards or quantity-of-play benchmarks. I suspect the incentives will be based on the latter considering that the Red Sox bonuses have been defined as “more attainable” than what the Braves offered. I think it’s more likely that if Smoltz does reach innings-pitched goals it will be at a performance level closer to a third or fourth starter rather than as his old dominant self. Thus, if he doesn’t trigger the incentives, he’ll be getting paid a lot to pitch very little; and if the incentives do kick in, I doubt the amount paid will match the performance.

The Braves supposedly had offered $2 million with incentives increasing the total to $7 million. I would not recommend that the Braves offer more than this. It’s easy to forecast Smoltz being on the hill in October, but there’s also a decent chance that he’ll be sitting on a gold-plated butt cushion in the dugout.

I don’t think Frank Wren deserves the heat that he is going to get for this. The Braves have paid Smoltz $130 million over his career. Smoltz wanted more, and I don’t blame Wren for passing. Signing and not signing Smoltz both have risks, and I think he gambled on the right side.

28 Responses “So Long, Smoltz”

  1. Sergio says:

    Hey JC. Longtime fan. We talked a while ago on Leo Mazone.

    Ill have to disagree here. What is the risk? We have 30m left to spend and its amonth before the season starts. Would 3 million dollars have been such a big risk? We spend 3m on guys like Will Ohman, and Albie Lopez. John Smoltz a Braves icon deserved that. He deserved the chance to end his career in Atlanta.  I just dont see how this would have been a risk. Its one year and its just 3 more million dollars. From a budget of 30 we still have.

  2. Jay says:

    Hard to hear, but I think you’re absolutely right. I wonder if all of us irate fans will feel differently if Smoltz doesn’t pitch well (or enough, or at all) in ’09.

  3. Daniel says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. Smoltz pitched 28 innings last year. He is the a part of the lesson learned last year, and probably the reason the Braves aren’t chasing Lowe. Older = Riskier

  4. Shaun says:

    Would those fans who are in an uproar be happy signing a free agent pitcher of Smoltz’s age and injury history to close to $5 million (plus incentives) if he had never played for the Braves and if his name wasn’t John Smoltz?

    Good calculated risk for the Sox. At worst maybe he’s a super setup man or maybe he gets enough innings in the regular season to give the Sox another strikeout pitcher in the playoffs.

    Good non-move by the Braves. They can use the close to $5 million on younger, cheaper, healthier players.

  5. Terrance Franklin says:

    I agree with you, but Frank Wren definitely needs to sign Derek Lowe and either Jon Garland, Oliver Perez or Randy Wolf.  Smoltz is probably not going to make it through the season and he deserves it for going to Boston for maybe 3 million dollars more.  Smoltz being a power pitcher is less likely to recover and regain form as Tom Glavine will.  Here is the 2009 rotation 1. Derek Lowe 2. Jair Jurrgens 3. Javier Vazquez 4. Jon Garland 5. Tom Glavine ( approximately 70- 80 wins).  And when Hudson comes back, the rotation will be even stronger.  Give Lowe 15 million, Glavine 8 million and Garland 5 million.  That still leaves the Braves with about 32 million to pick up a solid outfielder ( Abreu or someone else) and resign Will Ohman!  If this all happens, Frank Wren will regain my respect and the Braves will be back in the postseason!

  6. JJ says:

    “Its easy to forecast Smoltz being on the hill in October”

    Yeah, only if he’s on another team.

  7. J says:

    JC, love the book and the site.

    As a Sox fan, I think this is a good deal for both teams. The Braves really don’t want to be pissing their money away on a guy like Smoltz with his history. $5M for a guy that could pull a Schilling this year. I think it’s a bit too much for him. It’s a big “if” that he comes out and is effective. (And returns to the $15M you had him at in 07.) For the Sox, this makes sense, because like the Yankees, they can use money to hide their mistakes. $5M is next to nothing for the Sox that are under the tax significantly this year. Also, their starting rotation is pretty solid, but a bit weak in the end. If Smoltz contributes, they get to push Wakefield to long relief. If he doesn’t, they ditch him on the DL and pretend they never signed him. A good risk/reward strategy for the Sox.

  8. Cliff says:

    JC,

    I agree on the value of Smoltz.  He COULD be worth a lot, but probably won’t be. 

    For the Braves, having gotten some discounts over the years, paying full freight wouldn’t have been unfair.

    However, I think the Front Office should have been more forthcoming.  When the internet started buzzing a few weeks ago at Smoltz looking at Detroit or Red Sox, FO should have plainly said “we can’t use money for the needs we have on an aging pitcher until we think we have covered our needs.  We know John wants a commitment on money and a chance to win.  We are working on creating a chance to win.  When we finish that (or get definitive proof of John’s health) we can deal with money for John”.  

  9. Marc Lazzeri says:

    This totally sucks, but I agree with you, JC. The Braves aren’t in a position to piss away money on Smoltz, who wouldn’t even be back until the first of June at the earliest, just for the sake of sheer sentimentality. It wouldn’t have made good baseball or economic sense to spend $6MM+ on Smoltz who was going to miss at least the first 55-65 games of the season.

    Hopefully this is more of a Smoltz’s desire to have a chance to win another ring and be in the playoffs again. Having earned over $130MM in his career, if this turns out to be all about who was going to offer the most guaranteed money, then John Smoltz will have lost at least one fan.

  10. Randy says:

    JC,
    Reading the reports this morning and comments attached (ajc, mlb, etc.) I don’t understand why Braves fans are all mad.  I am a Braves fan and personally I see this as one good thing that has happened for Wren.  With this Sox deal everybody wins.  Smoltz get 5+ guaranteed to pitch a partial season (with significant health risk), the Sox get a proven starter with postseason moxy on the cheap that they don’t have to depend on, meaning it’s a low risk if Smoltz gets hurt because 5 mil is like pocket change.  For the Braves, they can now truly focus on getting younger and more complete from 1-9.  Long term the Braves aren’t going to win with Smoltz without making other moves.  They could lock up Smoltz this year and still not win only to sacrifice next year and the year after.  I think it’s a good move on Wren’s part to be patient and look at multiple years together and not just 2009.  It is going to take a lot of luck for the Braves to compete this year, but with some creativity and savy trades the Braves could have something special in 2010 with Hanson, Jurrjens (seasoned), Shafer, Escobar (more mature?), and McCann (MVP quality).  I see the non comittment to Smoltz as an attempt to win at baseball, not nostalgia.  A similar decision will be made soon on Chipper.

  11. Marc Schneider says:

    I agree with the consensus generally; I was not upset when Maddux and Glavine left because it made no sense to rely on aging, expensive pitchers.  And I agree with Marc Lazzeri that, it’s one thing if he went to get another ring, another if he went because he was insulted by the money.  He is an incredibly rich man; another $ 5 million is tip money for him. 

  12. mraver says:

    I agree with basically everything you said about Smoltz’s likely performance value next year (although I guess I might think he’s got a legit shot at being dominant-but-not-able-to-pitch-much like last season). But frankly, I don’t care that much. You give him what you need to give him to get him to stay. Unless there’s some grand move that Smoltz’s guaranteed $5 million would have precluded (and unless there’s a plan to throw a ton of cash at both Lowe AND Dunn, I don’t see this happening), you should just do it.

  13. eric the red says:

    I’m a braves fan but i think Smoltz sees that it’s not happening in Atlanta- why hang around for the rebuild ?  His October chances are much better in Beantown. Good luck to him!

    The Atlanta outfield is empty – infield okay ( how many games will Chipper last ?) -.They should have cleaned house ala the Marlins and brought in youngsters rather than going with the dying on the vine route. It will take a miracle for them to compete.

  14. Derek Townsend says:

    Thank God.  Thank God someone associated with the Braves is showing some resolve.  Frank Wren should be given a medal for this, but instead he’s likely to be drawn and quartered by the Atlanta media who think the Braves are still on the cusp of winning a World Series title.  It’s time to slaughter the sacred cows and begin the youth movement using the 2002 Indians as a blueprint.  Trade Chipper and anything else of value.  Hell, trade McCann, because the Braves aren’t going to be be competitive during his peak years anyway and just about every team in baseball needs a catcher.  It’s time for Braves fans to realize that signing/trading for a few players is just prolonging the inevitable and that rebuilding has to happen.  I can only hope this disastrous off-season has given Frank Wren the augury to do what is right.   

  15. Random says:

    How can this be good for the Sox AND good for the Braves?

    Set aside the general money advantage of the Sox — in this one specific case, the Braves could have risked as much.

    Not always, and not in general, but the Braves could have well afforded Smoltz in addition to their other offseason plans — his salary was going to come out of another “pot of money” (per Wren, months ago).

    So money aside — how can it be a good “baseball” move both for the Sox to sign him and for the Braves to let him go?

    The Braves are more desperate for starting pitchers than are the Sox — how can it be smart for them to let one of Smoltz’ pedigree and accomplishments go, however suspect his surgical recovery?  He would not have been blocking anyone in the minors, he would not have prevented the Braves from acquiring any other pitcher this offseason.

    How can Smoltz be worth more — baseball-, business- or PR-wise — to the Red Sox than to the Braves?

  16. Ben says:

    JC,

    Love your website… Here are some of my thoughts.

    I think there are other intangibles than just money.  I think both parties should have seen that keeping Smoltz is good for Atlanta as he is a lifelong brave and it would be nice to keep that legacy, and he is great for the Braves image.  Keeping him also I think is good for the younger pitchers because his experience can definitely rub off.   And if Smoltz truly does love Atlanta and wants to remain, I don’t see why he wouldn’t take a slight pay cut.  

    This isn’t mentioned anywhere, but could it be Smotlz wants a shot at one more championship?  He is one of the most dominating post season pitcher ever, but only one World Series ring to show for it.  Smoltz obviously knows he has no chance of winning a WS with the Braves, in what is probably his last season, but with the Red Sox, he has a very legitimate chance.  

    Although I don’t blame the braves for not wanting to pony up the cash for a 42 year old risk, I do blame them for not ponying up the cash to sign much needed free agents and make the deals to become a contender.  If this is about a ring I don’t blame Smotlz, if it is purly economics then I think he is a traitor.

  17. jj3bagger says:

    JC, love your site and your knowledge.  I would agree with you 100% that if the Braves were strapped for cash that maybe the money tied up to Smoltz could be used more effectively.  The fact that upsets most Braves fans especially most of the ones that you’ve read over at Mac’s, is the public stating that there is money to spend and might have been able to exceed the $40 mill to keep Smoltz & Glavine.  So far they have spent $11.5 mill on Vasquez and little else.  When it comes to spending the money on Smoltz, or not spending it at all, which is looking more and more likely by the day, that’s what is upsetting, at least to me.

  18. atlpaddy says:

    I wonder if having Marlins like attendance numbers in 2009 will be good for the Braves as well, because with Wren’s move that’s whats coming.  Sure the Braves have $40 million to spend on FA’s.  Yeah, and Atlanta doesn’t have an epic crime problem either.

    “Attention fans! Please keep your eyes on the distracting scoreboard tool race and away from the actual baseball game.”

  19. David says:

    The Red Sox probably think Smoltz will recover, but one can’t help but wonder if they’re also considering his PVL™ (proven veteran leadership)prowess.  Specifically, Josh Beckett always misses a couple starts because he gets blisters on his fingers, whereas Smoltz (and for that matter Maddux and Glavine) played golf all the time and it doesn’t seem to be quite as much of a problem for him.  Maybe the risk was worth about $4.5 million, and Beckett’s extra 2 or 3 starts were worth $1 million.  Or something.   Just a thought.

  20. mravery says:

    Just to reiterate, my (and that of most intelligent fans, IMO) desire to pay Smoltz more money than we should is an emotional reaction to being a big fan of him. That means it isn’t entirely rational if “rational” means “only wants to win ballgames/championships”.

    But I don’t think that matters particularly much here, since being a fan is all about reacting emotionally. I’d almost rather lose with Smoltz than win without him.

  21. leviinalaska says:

    FWIW: I want the Braves to win. But reality bites…this isn’t our year. (To say the least.) I wish that Wren and the team would have done what they needed to keep John Smoltz a Brave. At least I might be inclined to watch every 5th game…now I don’t know what to think. >shrugs shoulders and tries to imagine listening to new announcers on MLB Gameday talking about Javier Vasquez pitching to avoid the sweep< I’m not a fairweather fan…but I am extremely busy, and the 2009 Braves aren’t going to successfully compete for too much of my attention.

  22. Johnny says:

    JC,
    Great analysis.  As a longtime Braves fan, John Smoltz will always be a favorite.  Along with Henry Aaron, Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Andruw Jones, Javier Lopez …. you know all those guys that either left via free agency or were traded.  The Braves are a business and Frank Wren is a business man.  Its that simple.  I can’t fault the guy for Smoltz’s decision.  If the reports are true he made what I would consider a decent offer.  Wren has been taking heat for the deals that haven’t gotten done.  That is Ridiculous.  Its also probably fortuitous.  AJ Burnett 80 million….. please, our entire farm system for Jake Peavey…… get real, sign Rafael Furcal then trade Yunel Escobar ok there was some merit to that one but lets face it, Wren would have looked like a dumbass if Escobar had played to his potential and Raffy hurt his back again and we were treated to watching Omar Infante try to play short.  My only questioning of Frank Wren’s off season so far is the very fact that he is under the delusion that the Braves are close to contention.

  23. Gary says:

    JC,
    I couldn’t disagree with you more. With a player like John Smoltz, the money shouldn’t matter unless it’s a ridiculous amount. 5.5 million, the Braves should have matched that in a heartbeat. This is a player that has been in your organization since 1987! He has taken less money in the past to stay with the Braves. Screw Jeff Francoeur, John Smoltz is the face of the franchise. I understand he is coming off a major injury and that he only pitched 20 some innings last year, that’s why you don’t offer him 15 million a year. 5.5 is more than reasonable. Schuerholz, Wren, McGuirk, Liberty Media…I don’t know who to blame but someone that doesn’t wear a uniform is destroying this franchise slowly but surely.

  24. Heath says:

    Can we all stop for a moment to consider that sports is not purely a stats game? That sometimes things don’t make sense on paper? It’s called intangibles people! Smoltz has what it takes. He’s come back from every injury thus far in his career (ahead of schedule), and I expect this time to be no different. Who among any of you can throw a football 55 yards? Smoltzie was doing that a month ago…and impressing Bobby Cox with his throwing off the mound. It doesn’t make any sense to let Smoltz go now. He hasn’t exactly been the picture of health the past couple of years, and we’ve been patient with him then…why stop now? 3 million for an icon is worth it; for him, for the fans, and more importantly, for the TEAM. Look at the reaction by Chipper Jones already. And imagine what it must feel like for McCann to lose a guy like Smoltz, that he has looked up to since childhood. I assume many of the other guys will feel the same. Deflated, dejected. Yep, that’s how I want to begin my 2009 season. Signing Derek Lowe or any other free agent isn’t going to change that feeling right away. I’m afraid this will be a deep wound that won’t heal quickly in Atlanta.

  25. Heath says:

    P.S. Sign Orlando Hudson, move Kelly to left field. 2-time Gold-glove winner at second that will bat .300 with 15 homers and probably flirt with 100 runs scored if he stays healthy for a full year in Atlanta’s offense. I like the strategy Mr. Wren, just not on Furcal. Use it on O-dog and that will be a much needed offensive boost.

  26. Marc Schneider says:

    The players are mostly adults; unlike fans, they realize it’s a business.  If McCann can’t get over not playing with his “idol” he better get in another business. 

  27. Kyle James says:

    This move was not about the money.  It was because Boston has a better shot at the postseason that Atlanta and it’s that simple.  Best of luck to him, I hate it for the Braves, but I understand.