Smoltz healthy, exploring options for '09
Veteran wants to play for Braves, but open to pitching elsewhere
LAS VEGAS -- John Smoltz still desires to play his entire Major League career for the Braves. But at the same time, as he attempts to return from major right shoulder surgery, the veteran hurler is letting some Major League teams know that he could be persuaded to play somewhere other than Atlanta.
Keith Grunewald, who works for Career Sports and Entertainment, the agency that represents Smoltz, has talked to about seven teams, including the Braves, about the veteran hurler during this week's Winter Meetings.
Grunewald has provided many of these teams medical information and video of the mound session Smoltz completed in Atlanta last week.
"We want other teams to know that he's available," Grunewald said. "Atlanta is still certainly in the mix. We just want everybody to know that he's healthy and throwing well."
The Red Sox and Tigers are among the teams interested in Smoltz, who has a special connection to Detroit. Growing up in Michigan, he followed the Tigers religiously and was a part of their organization until being traded to the Braves in 1987.
"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."
Because Smoltz has thrown off a mound just once since undergoing the major surgical procedure in June, the Braves aren't currently in a position where they can responsibly tender him a contract. But they've made every indication that they are hoping to have him back in their rotation next season.
"We've said all along that we're in a situation where we'll continue to watch him throw throughout the winter and make a decision at a time when we think is appropriate," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "From our perspective, we're not there yet."
Braves manager Bobby Cox was thrilled with what he witnessed while watching Smoltz's mound session on Friday. The veteran hurler, who will turn 42 in May, wasn't even scheduled to begin throwing before December arrived.
But proving yet again to be a medical marvel, he is already throwing all of his pitches -- breaking balls, split-finger fastballs and changeups. Any question about his strength was answered a few weeks ago, when he threw a football 55 yards.
"All I can say is that he was as impressive as you could be while throwing off a mound for the first time after an operation," Cox said. "John says he's going to rewrite the medical journals on how to rehab."
Smoltz has returned from four previous surgical procedures and proved doubters wrong when he made the conversions from starter to closer and closer to starter. Now he's once again determined to beat the odds that were set in June, when Dr. James Andrews repaired his labrum and rotator cuff.
Smoltz is scheduled to throw off the mound again next week at Turner Field, in front of members of the Braves' medical staff. At that time, the club will gain a better sense of his health.
But it could still be a few more weeks before the Braves or any other team could feel comfortable enough about Smoltz's health to make him an offer.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.