Monday, August 17, 2009

Smoltz's Next Destination: Rotation or Pen?

There was a time when facing the Atlanta Braves was a nightmare. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz toyed with opposing batters from 1993 to 2002, the decade the trio shared the rotation. The Braves were NL East Champions 8 times in that span. Those days have long since been over.

Glavine is a free agent after being released by Atlanta after a one year return to the team. Maddux has retired after spending the last years of his career with a few teams, and Smoltz's shore-lived tenure with the Red Sox has come to an end.

After rejected a minor league assignment, Smoltz now finds himself on the trading block as the playoff races heat up. The thought of playing with kids just getting over their acne didn't appeal to Smoltz, who, at 42, probably wants the chance to win on the big stage at this point in his career.

Despite several poor showings this season, there may be a market for Smoltz after all.

Smoltz is 2-5 in eight starts this season with an 8.32 ERA. Not exactly the John Smoltz opposing batters grew to fear as one of the National League's prominent starting pitchers, and later in the 9th inning as an exceptional closer. So what good is a 42-year-old pitcher who has clearly past his prime in the rotation and in the bullpen?

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It's his veteran leadership and experience that attracts teams. It's rumored that the Marlins, Cardinals and Dodgers are interested- all three playoff contenders entering the second half of August.

For the Marlins, Smoltz could help propel the Marlins' young rotation past Colorado for the NL Wild Card. Josh Johnson has proven to be a Cy Young contender this season, although beating out Tim Lincecum will be near impossible, but after Johnson the rotation has been volatile. Chris Volstad has been the steadiest after Johnson. Ricky Nolasco has been up and down all season; he was even sent down for a stint in the minors. Not only would Smoltz give the Marlins an anchor at the bottom of the rotation, he'd give the young pitchers a brain to pick at.

Complicating matters for the Marlins is Anibal Sanchez who has impressed in his latest minor league rehab start. The Marlins could call on Sanchez to start as early as this week, likely taking Sean West's spot at the bottom of the rotation.

Although it would make the most sense to work Smoltz out of the bullpen, expect to see him in the rotation if he is signs with the Marlins, despite the apparent quagmire that Sanchez's return and signing Smoltz would create. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez is familiar with Smoltz after spending a few years as a coach with the Braves from 2003 to 2006.

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Smoltz makes the most sense as a reliever for both the Dodgers and Cardinals as well; however, he does not appear to be willing to accept a role out of the bullpen despite having expressed a willingness to do so before signing with the Red Sox before the season.

The Cardinals find themselves in a tight battle with the Cubs for the NL Central title and could use a John Smoltz on their pitching staff. Faltering of late, the Dodgers would also do well by bringing in Smoltz to help bolster their own pitching. The Marlins, who have never won a division crown despite having won two World Series titles, find their playoff hopes once again clinging to the wild card race. Smoltz's presence in Miami would help steady a team of never-been-there's and would gain a following among the young pitching staff.

Wherever he goes, Smoltz offers more off the field and in the bullpen than on the mound as a member of the starting rotation. Some may say that he's had a Hall of Fame career, and some managers, including Gonzalez, believe he's got something left in the tank. When Smoltz is picked up by another team after Boston releases him, we'll see if his showing in Boston is representative of what he has left or if he does in fact have a little something left in the tank for September and October.

Written By Danny Hobrock