Between being away from the computer for most of the day yesterday and suddenly dealing with the Matt Joyce-Edwin Jackson trade later in the evening, a couple of other Tigers-related rumblings ended up overshadowed. And one player whose shadow has loomed over the Detroit Tigers organization for more than 20 years now is John Smoltz.
Any trade of a pitching prospect for a veteran player invokes fears among Tigers fans of repeating the 1987 deal that sent Smoltz to Atlanta for Doyle Alexander. That trade took on even more significance as Detroit failed to develop a legitimate major league pitcher while Smoltz went on to become one of the best pitchers in the National League, excelling as both a starter and reliever.
Now as a free agent (albeit one recovering from surgery in June to repair a torn labrum) and the Braves unsure whether or not to bring him back for a 21st season, Smoltz might be looking homeward to close out his career where it could've began, in the state where he grew up.
From the Detroit News:
The Tigers have known for two months that Smoltz would consider returning to his old team. If Smoltz proves he can pitch, which doctors believe could occur sometime during 2009, the Tigers will consider an incentive-laden contract that could be of interest to Smoltz and his representatives, Career Sports Entertainment, of Atlanta.
Jason Beck added on the MLB.com Hot Stove blog that the Tigers have requested medical records on Smoltz, so there definitely seems to be some interest from the team. But is this truly a sincere effort from Smoltz and his people, or are they just trying to leverage interest from the Tigers (along with the Red Sox and Mets) to get a better offer from the Braves?
"We want other teams to know that he's available," Smoltz's representative Keith Grunewald said. "Atlanta is still certainly in the mix. We just want everybody to know that he's healthy and throwing well."
"We're not saying (Smoltz) won't go back to Atlanta," Grunewald said. "We're saying he's a free agent and we're an agency and it's our responsibility to find what's out there for him."
I understand the romance associated with Smoltz finally pitching for the Tigers. There's something very sentimental about a guy coming back to play for the team he grew up rooting for. A sense of bringing things full circle would also come with Smoltz wearing the Olde English D.
Of course, this wouldn't be done merely for warm and fuzzy reasons. If Smoltz does manage to fully recover and can pitch anywhere near as well as he has throughout his career, he can help the Tigers. Especially if he's willing to pitch in the ninth inning, which he did for four seasons (2001-2004) with the Braves. Smoltz averaged 38 saves during his tenure as a closer, with a high of 55 saves in 2002.
But even if he's not the closer (and the Tigers would need someone to pitch in the ninth until Smoltz is ready), Detroit desperately needs someone who can come out of the bullpen and strike out batters, and Smoltz has always been able to do that. Over his career, he's averaged almost eight strikeouts per nine innings.
But does Smoltz really want to play anywhere else after spending his entire career in Atlanta? I can't help but be a bit skeptical. Though really, I just don't want to see him sign with the Mets. Haven't they hoarded enough pitchers already this winter?