Wren reacts to Smoltz leaving Atlanta
GM wanted right-hander to return, but couldn't rely on injured shoulder
ATLANTA -- Braves general manager Frank Wren has long made it known that he was interested in re-signing John Smoltz if the veteran hurler proved capable of being effective while returning from a major shoulder surgery.
Having experienced nothing but frustration this past season with a starting rotation that consisted of two 40-year-olds (Smoltz and Tom Glavine) and the oft-injured Mike Hampton, Wren had no desire to roll the dice with his starters for a second consecutive season.
Even if it meant facing the public backlash that was created late Wednesday night, when it was learned that Smoltz had opted to end his 21-season career in Atlanta to chase the greater guarantee that was being offered in Boston.
"We were willing to pay John as much or more than the Red Sox to pitch," Wren said early Thursday evening. "We just weren't willing to pay him as much as the Red Sox were to not pitch."
Smoltz, who will turn 42 in May, had his shoulder surgically repaired in June and now finds himself with a shoulder that is bound together with five anchors. This and the fact that Dr. James Andrews had found significant damage proved worrisome for the Braves.
Braves manager Bobby Cox was impressed with what he saw when Smoltz threw off a mound for the first time since his surgery on Dec. 5. But Wren never gained enough confidence to provide the kind of guarantee that the Red Sox had the luxury of providing.
The Red Sox lured Smoltz away from Atlanta with a guaranteed $5.5 million contract that includes incentives that could increase his 2009 earnings to $10 million. In other words, those $5.5 million will be gained whether or not Smoltz throws a single pitch.
The guaranteed portion of the offer provided by the Braves was in the neighborhood of $2 million. A source familiar with the offer confirmed that Smoltz's earnings could have risen to $12 million if he'd maximized all of the incentives of the offer provided by Wren.
With Atlanta's offer, Smoltz would have received a $1 million bonus the day he was placed on the active roster and subsequent $1 million bonuses for each 30-day period that he remained on the roster. There were also bonuses available based on appearances and accomplishments, such as Cy Young votes and an All-Star selection.
"We appreciate what John has done for the franchise. We loved having him as part of our franchise," Wren said. "One of the most difficult times in this business is when star players get older. We couldn't pin our hopes on the surgically-repaired shoulder of a 42-year-old pitcher."
Obviously, to maximize the incentives offered by Wren, Smoltz would have had to remain healthy for the entire season. The Braves weren't given reason to believe he'd be ready to pitch before June 1, which is when he's told others that he'll likely join Boston's starting rotation.
Smoltz has told some of his former Braves teammates that he felt the incentives in Boston's offer were easier to attain than the ones he would have had with Atlanta's offer.
"There were large discrepancies between the offer from the Braves and offers from other teams," Smoltz said through a statement issued by his agents at Career Sports & Entertainment.
While Wren took heat from fans and others, including Chipper Jones, who believed Smoltz should have been given the benefit of the doubt with his health, there are some who have wondered if Smoltz was simply anxious for the opportunity to experience baseball outside of Atlanta and improve his odds of winning another world championship before retiring.
Whatever the case, Smoltz will certainly be missed by many of those who had the opportunity to marvel at his athletic ability and the great heart he showed both in competition and through his many charitable community endeavors.
Cox, who as general manager orchestrated the 1987 trade that brought Smoltz to Atlanta, was saddened with this news. In fact, he called Smoltz early Thursday morning and asked him to give to it a second thought.
But Smoltz told his longtime manager that he'd already made a final decision.
"It's a downer," Cox said. "It feels like it did when Glavine and [Greg] Maddux left. But you've got to remember that guys don't play their entire careers with one team. Willie Mays and Hank Aaron didn't do it. A lot of Hall of Famers don't do it.
Smoltz, who is the only Major League pitcher to ever record 200 wins and 150 saves in a career, has compiled credentials that many believe already make him a lock for Cooperstown.
Along with owning a Major League record with 15 postseason wins, he is one of 16 pitchers to ever record 3,000 strikeouts. Perhaps fittingly, he reached this milestone while making his final home start for the Braves on April 22, 2008.
At the time, there was reason to celebrate the moment. But as Smoltz says goodbye to the only Major League team he's ever known, that moment now stands as just one of the many that should be celebrated by an organization and city that was fortunate to have him around for so long.
"I have always loved the city of Atlanta, and it will always be my home," Smoltz said in his statement. "I will cherish my 21 years with Bobby Cox and all my Braves' teammates. I continue to wish the Atlanta Braves nothing but success in the future."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.