01/08/09 12:39 AM EST
Smoltz to leave Atlanta for Boston
Deal could be completed as early as Thursday afternoon
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
A Major League source who was in contact with Smoltz on Wednesday night said the 41-year-old right-hander will be calling the Braves on Thursday morning to tell them that he has decided to sign with the Red Sox.
Smoltz began calling many of his teammates late Wednesday night to say goodbye and inform him of his decision.
Now the Braves find themselves once again scrambling to fortify their suspect starting rotation. Late Wednesday night, it became evident that they will increase their efforts to land Derek Lowe, the top starting pitcher still available on the free-agent market. In addition, they remain hopeful that they'll be able to land Kenshin Kawakami, a 32-year-old Japanese right-hander.
The Red Sox have been aggressively pursuing Smoltz over the past month and it appears they were able to land him with guaranteed $5.5 million contract that includes incentives that could increase his 2009 earnings to $10 million.
According to the Major League source, the incentives offered by the Red Sox were "more attainable" than the ones provided by the Braves.
Multiple sources have said the Braves were offering slightly more than $2 million guaranteed and performance-based incentives that could have increased Smoltz's earnings to approximately $7 million.
Smoltz's departure adds to the growing list of disappointments experienced by the Braves this offseason. To some Atlanta fans, Smoltz's decision to go to Boston will likely prove more painful than the fact that the pursuits of A.J. Burnett, Jake Peavy and Rafael Furcal proved futile.
Smoltz has been with the Braves since making his Major League debut in 1988 and he had visions of remaining in Atlanta throughout his entire career. Some have argued that he is the most successful professional athlete the city of Atlanta has ever seen.
Intrigued by Smoltz's potential, the Red Sox were in better position to take this gamble on the veteran pitcher. Coming off a season in which four members of their original starting rotation missed significant time, the Braves were hesitant to provide the guaranteed dollars that were provided by Boston.
In addition, the Braves were worried about the severity of damage that Dr. James Andrews found when performing the shoulder surgery. Sources have said that Smoltz's shoulder is currently bound together by five anchors.
But the Red Sox were willing to take this chance on Smoltz, who has thrived on proving his doubters wrong in the past. He returned from Tommy John surgery in 2001 and notched a National League record 55 saves in 2002. This came amidst wonder whether he'd be able to make the successful conversion from starter to closer.
In 2005, Smoltz once again proved his doubters wrong by making the successful conversion back to the starter's role. Over the course of the next three seasons combined, he ranked fifth among Major League pitchers in innings pitched (667 1/3) and eighth with a 3.22 ERA.
Smoltz, who had been with one team longer than any other current Major Leaguer, impressed the Braves while throwing off a mound for the first time since surgery in early December. Showing the arm strength that was enabling him to throw a football 55 yards in late November, he was confident that he'd shown enough to earn a better guaranteed deal from the Braves.
But as the past few weeks progressed, he began to realize that he would likely have to prolong his career elsewhere.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.