Smoltz To Return To Rotation?

The offseason is only a few days old and the yearly "Smoltz back to the Rotation" rumors are once again making their early rounds. However, this year may prove to finally be the year in which we see John Smoltz make his return to the rotation that's been without him since late 2001.

Ever since John Smoltz made his infamous move from the Atlanta Braves' starting rotation to the bullpen in late 2001 rumors have swirled about potential returns to the rotation, where he had spent his previous 10 seasons as a Cy Young caliber starter stacked behind Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

However, the Braves have been wary of moving Smoltz back into the rotation for a variety of reasons: His massive success as a reliever - racking up an amazing 144 saves in just three fulltime seasons as the teams' closer. Another, and perhaps somewhat more obvious reason being the condition of his arm. Some tend to forget that John Smoltz was originally moved from the starting rotation in 2001 because management was concerned about the durability of his arm (witnessed by a weak run at returning as a starter in 2001, and again two seasons later in late 2003 and 2004 - even as a closer). The question is, can he handle making the transition from a closer to a starter once again?

Smoltz insists that his arm is in superb condition, and he could resume starting whenever given the chance. It's something that he's wanted to do ever since experimenting as closer those several months in 2001 and subsequently deciding that his true passion lay with starting.

This week, with three members of the Braves 2004 starting rotation (Russ Ortiz, Jaret Wright, Paul Byrd) having filed for free agency, John Smoltz may finally be looking at his chance to return to the starting rotation.

"In the next few weeks I anticipate . . . I'm optimistic about a lot of things," Smoltz said Tuesday, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constition which hinted at the strong possiblity of Smoltz returning to the rotation.

And on Friday, former Cincinatti Reds' GM, now turned ESPN Analyst, Jim Bowden, reported that John Schuerholz and Co. believe with near certainty that Smoltz will start in 2005.

The Braves find themselves in an interesting conundrum if they do decide to move Smoltz back into the starting rotation. One of the biggest issues with the switch is that Smoltz would make $100,000 per start in addition to his $12 million salary. A full season as a starter could turn that $12 million into $15 million very quickly.

Another issue involved would be who would replace John Smoltz as the most dominating closer in the Braves history? Would the Braves consider moving phenom Jose Capellan and his 100 MPH fastball into the bullpen? Roman Colon? Or would they go out and make a free agent acquisition such as Armando Benitez and Troy Percival?

An already interesting twist to what promises to be an offseason for the ages.

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