Smoltz mulling options as season looms
Veteran in no rush, could join a contender midseason
ATLANTA -- This year will mark the first time since 1985 that Spring Training has arrived without John Smoltz being part of a Major League organization. But as his close friends Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux move forward in their lives, Smoltz finds himself comfortable with the fact that his future primarily consists of uncertainty.
"I'm just not ready to say, 'I'm not going to Spring Training, so I'm not going to play,'" Smoltz said. "I know what it takes to stay ready and stay in shape. I'm still throwing every other day and keeping myself prepared."
Smoltz acknowledged that the Mets and Phillies are among the clubs who have shown some level of interest in him. In addition, he said there is some truth to reports that have indicated he might opt to sign with a club during the middle of the season like Pedro Martinez did with the Phillies last year. Slugger Carlos Delgado may go that route this year as well.
One week before pitchers and catchers report to Major League camps, Smoltz hasn't found himself motivated enough by an offer to make an immediate decision.
Instead, his plan is to see if some appealing clubs determine they have a greater need to acquire pitching through Spring Training and the early weeks of the regular season. If nothing interesting develops, then there is a chance that he will follow the path of Martinez, who immediately put himself in a pennant race when he signed with the Phillies on July 15.
Having gone 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA in 41 career postseason appearances with the Braves, Smoltz certainly wants to land with a club that could provide him at least one more opportunity to experience the thrill of pitching in October.
"I'm actually excited about this opportunity," Smoltz said. "I'm going to take it at my own pace. I've been part of several things that look good in the beginning and don't turn out the way you envisioned."
When Smoltz signed with the Red Sox before the start of the 2009 season, it appeared he'd made a wise choice. Along with being part of a legitimate World Series contender, he was joining a club that had the luxury of allowing him to wait until June to attempt to return from the major shoulder surgery he had undergone the previous year.
After Smoltz went 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA in eight starts, the Red Sox released Smoltz, who two weeks later landed with the Cardinals. The veteran went 1-3 with a 4.26 ERA in seven starts with the Redbirds.
The improvement Smoltz realized in St. Louis kept him motivated and drew some interest from a handful of clubs that are still looking to improve their pitching staffs.
Smoltz, who set the Braves' franchise record by recording 154 saves from 2001-04, also is open to the idea of joining a club to serve as either a starter or reliever.
"There is a chance for anything right now," Smoltz said. "I really am that wide open."
When Smoltz opted to sign with the Red Sox last year, he expressed some frustration toward the Braves, who had employed him for each of his previous 21 seasons in the Majors. But he's since mended his relationship with some of the club's executives.
"Whatever happens, I think everybody knows that I'll forever be a Brave," Smoltz said.
Time will tell if the Braves ever develop a need to provide Smoltz with the kind of offer and opportunity that he's seeking.
But even if they don't, they'll be drawing support from Smoltz, who is among those many former players who are hoping their longtime manager Bobby Cox experiences one more successful season before retiring.
"The Braves have the potential to have a really good team," Smoltz said. "I'm not in a position right now where I'm tied to anybody. So right now, all that I know is that I'm going to root like heck for Bobby."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.