Friday, January 09, 2009

FoxSports blog on Smoltz

The news that John Smoltz was leaving the Atlanta Braves for the Boston Red Sox yesterday was indeed a sucker-punch to many long time Atlanta Braves fans. From my own experience, having been at a Braves game when Smoltz was playing as a closer, I can say the Atlanta Stadium gets downright spooky when a closer coming onto the field gets an ovation louder than when the team took the field at the start of the game. I've had the pleasure of meeting several Braves players in person over the years, and I'm pretty sure at some point I've shook hands with John Smoltz, but I can't say that I've actually had the pleasure of knowing the guy... and now after the move to the Boston Red Sox, I'm not sure I want to. Something just seemed, off, about the reason for signing with the Red Sox over the Braves.

Dudski over at FoxSports manages to hit what felt off about the deal. Coming off an injury the Braves appearently told Smoltz that if he played for them, his come-back date would be some time in June, after the expected recovery date given of May. Granted, that's only a month, and for a sports related injury, time can be everything in the healing process. So from the accounts of when Smoltz would start playing, it seems like the Braves Management were playing it safe, giving a star player extra time to recover.

The Braves management also seemed to be taking the wiser approach on the pay scale. As Dudski rightly points out:
I think I can explain it. You don't spend money you don't have on pitchers with torn labrums. Especially not 41 year olds. Even if they are John Smoltz.
Given that the last season was a general disaster in terms of team performance, the Braves front office isn't in the position of being able to spend money any way they like and still have a competitive chance in the 2009 season. As a Braves fan, I viewed the 2008 season as a shake-down of the various rookies and younger players. As 2008 season closed out I saw pitching changes, batting changes, and fielding changes take place that indicated the Braves were already looking into prepping for 2009, using the final parts of the 2008 season as an extended spring training session. Either players made the cut to play next year, or they didn't.

Playing emotional favorites is simply bad business, and for a team that's used to not only going into the playoffs, but having a good shot at winning the playoffs, spending extra money on an aging pitcher with an injury that might not heal as expected, is simply throwing away competitive chances. The Braves, as a business, made the right decision to not chase after the higher cost of keeping an extremely wild card in their deck, puns intended.

The Red Sox on the other hand, seem to have more money than brains. Although Smoltz has been a stellar player in the past, and would likely already be in the hall of fame had he retired last year, he's an expensive pick-up for what could wind up being a poor year for his pitching arm.

Then there is the matter of Smoltz himself as Dudski portrays it. At 41 with several multi-million dollar contracts successfully completed, Smoltz has been paid from just the Braves alone, over 130 million dollars.
That paycheck doesn't include the various paid speeches, paid appearances, or advertising money. So unless Smoltz has a gambling problem I don't know about, chances are some of that money is socked away in a nice savings account for a rainy day.

Quite frankly, a $3.5 million upfront cost difference shouldn't make a lot of difference to Smoltz. To a new player just entering the league, or somebody with only 2 or 3 years playing, that kind of money is a deal breaker. To a veteran player like Smoltz? That's almost literal pocket change.

Like Dudski then, I'm pretty much forced to look at Smoltz's move to the Red Sox as an occurrence driven by sheer ego, and that actually makes me pretty mad. Looking at the way John Smoltz and Chipper Jones acted, then re-acted, I get the decided impression that they put themselves above the good of the club.

While I don't know if that sort of attitude was responsible for the 2008 debacle, I do know that sort of attitude could cause the Braves to lose out again in 2009. From my point of view, if Smoltz was really interested in being in Atlanta, and staying with the team that he wanted to be with, $3.5 million upfront would have been nothing. That didn't happen.

As for Chipper? For such a veteran player? Seems like he missed out basic management 101.
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