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.