Braves give Smoltz an extension
Veteran almost certain to finish legendary career in Atlanta
ATLANTA -- As John Smoltz envisions what will likely be the final three years of his already illustrious career, he always thinks about two things. First, he sees himself getting another opportunity to start a clinching game in the World Series. Then, to fulfill a selfish desire, he dreams of that one inning when he gets the chance to play center field.
Fortunately, if these aspirations become a reality, they will encompass a dream that seemingly became a reality on Thursday night, when the Braves announced that they had extended Smoltz's contract with the mind-set that he'll have the opportunity to play his entire Major League career within their organization.
"This doesn't change how I'll approach every start I make this year," said Smoltz, who began his Major League career with the Braves in 1988. "It just gives me peace of my mind, because it's always been my dream to play my whole career in one city and that opportunity is here now."
Smoltz's new contract provides him the opportunity to pitch in Atlanta through the end of the 2010 season, at which time he would be 43 years old. He's guaranteed to make a healthy $14 million in '08. If he pitches at least 200 innings next year, he'll make $12 million via the vesting option that is in place for '09.
The club option for the 2010 season will be worth $13 million if he completes 200 innings in '09 and $12 million if he doesn't.
"John has meant so much to our franchise since I've been here, and he's been one of the cornerstone guys through this remarkable 17 years of success that we've had," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. "Nothing about his mental or physical state makes us think he can't continue to do the same."
Manager Bobby Cox, Smoltz and Schuerholz are the only key faces of the organization that have been around since 1991, when the Braves began their record run of 14 consecutive division titles. The run began when Smoltz was just a 24-year-old rising star and ended last year, when he was a 39-year-old Hall of Fame prospect.
"I'm the most blessed man in the world," Smoltz said. "To have had the opportunity to have played all my career in one city and for pretty much just one manager, I just couldn't have asked for more."
Smoltz, who will celebrate his 40th birthday on May 15, was ecstatic to learn that Schuerholz was committed to getting this contract completed so early in the season. He, too, understood that the generous financial commitment was a sign that the Braves have greatly appreciated the loyalty he's shown.
After the 2001 season, Smoltz turned down a much more financially-lucrative offer from the Yankees to remain with the Braves. Plus, the $8 million salary that he's earning this year is a sign that he also left some money on the table to re-sign with the Braves after the 2004 season.
Of course, the Braves also previously showed Smoltz great generosity. The four-year, $31 million contract they gave him at the conclusion of his 1996 National League Cy Young Award-winning season was at the time the largest contract given to a pitcher.
This marked the first time during Smoltz's 20-season career that he's had his contract renewed during the season.
"This is a stamp of commitment from the organization," Smoltz said. "A lot went into this, and I am just thrilled that at this point of the season, it's over and done with."
Smoltz certainly has attained the credentials to lead one to believe that he could one day be wearing a Braves cap and entering the immortalized world of Cooperstown. He owns a Major League-record 15 career postseason wins and joins Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley as the only pitchers to have ever registered both 150 wins and 150 saves in their career.
While winning two of his first five starts this season, Smoltz has moved five victories away from the 200-win milestone. He has a 3.28 career ERA and his 2,800 strikeouts place him 18th on the all-time list.
Smoltz has proven durable since ending his 3 1/2-year-stint in the closer's role. Since moving back to the starting rotation at the start of the 2005 season, he hasn't experienced any problems with his right elbow, which has been surgically repaired four times.
During his first two years back in the starter's role, Smoltz went 30-16 with a 3.28 ERA. More impressively, he worked 461 2/3 innings, which was just four outs shy of the National League-best total amassed by reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb.
Of all the NL pitchers who worked at least 220 innings in 2005, Webb was the only other one who increased his workload in 2006.
"[Smoltz's] winning spirit and drive was obviously a big part of what helped him get through the injuries and obstacles that he's faced," Schuerholz said. "It's also been a key to our ongoing success."
Smoltz became a nationally-known figure after proving so dominant during the 1991 postseason. At the end of that October, he found himself throwing 7 1/3 scoreless innings in a Game 7 World Series matchup against Jack Morris, whose 10 scoreless innings helped the Twins gain a 1-0 win that evening.
If all of Smoltz's dreams come true, the final start of his career will come during Game 7 of the 2010 World Series. Sometime during that same season, he too will have had the opportunity to flaunt his athleticism in center field.
But most importantly, he'll realize both of these visions while wearing the only Major League uniform that he's ever adorned.
"That would be the most fitting end to what has been an incredible ride," Smoltz said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.