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Posted: January 10, 2009 8:17 p.m.

No more Smoltz, no more ties to the beginning

Word came down the pipeline that Braves’ icon John Smoltz is packing up his gear and heading to Beantown. Normally, I would love to write about how I feel about such a defining moment in Braves’ baseball history. After all, I arrived in town in 1995 and have witnessed the evolution of a perennial doormat into, well, the Atlanta Braves. But I decided I wasn’t the best person to write such a piece.

Instead, I asked our web guru and longtime Braves fan Tyler Smith to do so. Like me, Smith grew up a passionate baseball fan. While my team is the Giants, I have enough knowledge and experienced the Braves enough over the years to give you some reflection. But this goes deeper than a baseball move. None of my Giants heroes played for as long as Smoltz did for the Braves. I was already out here by the time Barry Bonds made his way to the Bay and I never got that emotional attachment [save for maybe Will Clark] to any of the guys quite like some of the Braves fans have with Smoltz.

For these reasons, I hand Bumpkin Stew over to my friend and colleague for he can do this topic more justice than can I. It comes from the heart, and that’s what it’s all about. Enjoy.

Josh Briggs, Sports Editor

 

The end of an era

After 20 years, 3011 strikeouts, 210 wins, 154 saves and one Cy Young Award, John Smoltz’ career as a Brave has ended. Fans knew this day would eventually come and have been preparing for the inevitable since doctors opened up his shoulder this past summer. What fans, myself included, were not prepared for was the sight of the Braves icon in another uniform.

I first read the news Tuesday as I was preparing to go to bed for the night. Waking the computer from its sleep to check the rumor mill one more time before hitting the hay, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

Sure, there had been rumors all winter that the Red Sox and several other clubs had interest in the future Hall of Famer, but I never considered that Smoltz would have any interest in them. This was the guy who turned down significantly more money from the Yankees the last time he became a free agent. This was the face of the Braves, the only player still on the team from the worst to first team of 1991. But there it was, plain as day, each word in the headline like a kick in the gut: "John Smoltz to sign with the Red Sox."

Since that crushing moment, my emotions have swung from one extreme to another. My initial anger was directed at Smoltz. Then, as I read more about the situation, my anger shifted to the Braves. Now, as I have had time to process that Smoltz is really a Red Sox, my anger has veered again in Smoltz’ direction.

Shortly after making the decision to sign with the Red Sox, Smoltz reportedly told Chipper Jones he felt unappreciated by the Braves and felt, if the team really respected him, they would have matched the highest offer from another team. If true, these comments make Smoltz sound more like a moody high school girl mad at her boyfriend than a 41-year-old legend known for his intimidating on-field presence.

In a perfect word, Braves’ owner Liberty Media would have given general manager Frank Wren a blank check to sign Smoltz back, but that is not how it works. The Braves made a fair offer, guaranteeing Smoltz $2 million with the possibility of earning as much as $12 million through incentives. Had Smoltz limited himself to only pitching for the Braves and signed the deal, no one would have suggested he deserved anything more.

Instead his agents pimped him out to other teams with deeper pockets who could afford to take the risk and spend more. The guaranteed $5.5 million is nothing to the Red Sox. If Smoltz never throws a pitch in Fenway Park, GM Theo Epstein isn’t going to lose any sleep. For the Braves on the other hand, that extra $3.5 million might be the difference between in signing a No. 1 starter or left fielder or losing him to another deep-pocketed team.

More than when Tom Glavine left, more than when Greg Maddux left, this one is going to hurt emotionally for a long time. On the other hand, it will probably have very little on the field effect next season. Odds are, Smoltz will not pitch a great deal next season, and if he does, it will not be at the level we are all used to seeing.

The Braves have about six weeks left until spring training with plenty of money left to spend as the price for free agents plummet everyday. They should act quickly and sign Derek Lowe, Adam Dunn and Japanese free agent Kenshin Kawakami. It also wouldn’t hurt to sign Andruw Jones to a minor league deal when he is released by the Dodgers in the coming weeks. If Jones performs anywhere near his career numbers, the Braves would have the steal of the offseason. If he really is finished as his numbers last year suggest, then the Braves simply release him during spring training and lose nothing.

A rotation of Lowe, newly acquired Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, Kawakami and top prospect Tommy Hanson would be one of the deepest in the game. With that rotation and possible August return of ace Tim Hudson, Smoltz will not be missed.

The offense would also be strong with Dunn slotting in as the cleanup hitter the Braves have lacked since the Mark Teixeira trade. If, and it is a big if, Jones returns to form, the Braves would have a truly deep and powerful lineup of rising star Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Chipper Jones, Dunn, Andruw Jones, Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur and Casey Kotchman. The lineup would be slow and the strikeout numbers might be huge, but so too would be the home run totals.

With a lot of luck and some aggressive moves by Wren, the Braves might just have the chance to clobber their old teammate and the rest of the Boston Red Sox in October.

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