6. Will John Smoltz and Tom Glavine return?

We continue our series by examining the chances of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine coming back to the Braves in 2009.

This question is really three-fold. Will they come back at all? Will they come back to the Braves? And will they be able to return from the injuries that ruined their 2008 seasons and be effective?

Chances are both pitchers will want to come back to the Braves, which puts most of the pressure on the team to come up with something fair to offer the two important parts of their history.

You have to wonder if General Manager Frank Wren really deep down wishes this era of older pitchers was over. Is he ready to move on, and does he have the ability to make that decision if he wants to?

This is not easy. These two pitchers have meant a great deal to the Atlanta Braves over the past two decades (despite Glavine's hiccup of pitching for the enemy for five years). But there will come a time when the organization has to say it's time to move on.

On the other hand, with the Braves huge need for pitching, if Smoltz and Glavine are healthy, it would not hurt to have them contribute in 2009. The Braves just can't count on them as they did, for instance, with Mike Hampton last winter expecting him to be back on the mound full-time.

Both Smoltz and Glavine have said they want to come back and pitch again, and you know they want to do it in a Braves uniform. They just don't want to end their careers with injuries, but you have to take into account how much they will be able to do.

Smoltz will most likely come back as a reliever, and with questions also surrounding the bullpen, his inclusion in the mix next spring could only make that group deeper and more dangerous. It's very unlikely Smoltz could return to a rotation, and therefore you wouldn't have to worry as much about saving a spot for him in a bullpen.

Counting John Smoltz out if very dangerous. He seems determined to prove he's not done, and the early results from his rehab have reportedly been positive. So it's worth giving him another shot, considering his competitiveness and his ability to be so dominant.

Last April Smoltz was unbelievably good, despite being about 30% healthy. He was hurting, but yet blowing people away. So if he can at least be 80% of what he once was, Smoltz will still be a productive pitcher.

He has said, however, that the shoulder pain he had was much more difficult to deal with compared to his elbow injury. But what if he is fixed? What if the surgery worked and his shoulder is strong enough to give it another go? Well, then the Braves would once again have one hell of a pitcher on the staff.

The thought of having a healthy Smoltz join Mike Gonzalez, along with the chances of Rafael Soriano and/or Peter Moylan also coming back, is pretty exciting. That could be a very strong bullpen.

Glavine is obviously not going to come back as a reliever, so if he is healthy he'd be back in the rotation. However, Wren has said the team cannot count on Glavine, and therefore he does not count in their search for two new starters. In other words, if he's healthy, they'll find a spot for him. But at this point the Braves are not even going to pencil him in as a potential starter.

It's up to Glavine to change that. If he does return and prove in March he can be a starter, the Braves would have the ability to slip him in as the fifth starter. Now that's only if the team is able to re-sign Mike Hampton as the fourth starter. The team could keep the young pitchers (Jo Jo Reyes, Charlie Morton, James Parr, and Tommy Hanson) down in Triple-A if necessary.

And if he's healthy, Glavine would not be a bad fifth starter, even if he is only giving the team six innings a start.

But here's something to consider. If Glavine returns to the rotation, is manager Bobby Cox going to be so careful with him that it will only harm the team more by having the bullpen overworked? Well, that might not be a problem as long as the rest of the rotation is piling up innings. But if Glavine is once again one of several starters not going long into games the bullpen will be once again burned out by June 1st.

Glavine had never had arm trouble to put him on the disabled list before last season. You do have to consider his age, and whether a 43-year-old can return from having elbow trouble for the first time in his career. But he's such a soft-tosser you would think if his elbow is sound, with no pain, he could get back out there.

Both Smoltz and Glavine probably won't know how good their chances are until they are able to pitch off the mound, which might not take place until January. So that puts the pressure on the Braves. Do they go ahead and make an offer to both in November or December, even though they may not know their true chances of pitching again until January?

Would Smoltz, in particular, be tempted if another team makes him an offer, if the Braves decide to wait until January?

How could Smoltz and Glavine expect the Braves to gamble big money on them before knowing whether they will even pitch again? Yes, they owe both pitchers a lot, but they've also paid them a lot over the course of time too. The Braves can't get locked into bad deals again, since that helped cripple the team with Hampton in the last few seasons.

Plus, the Braves will already have $15.5 million on the disabled list for most of the season with Tim Hudson. So if they commit big money to both of these guys, only to see them get hurt during the season, it will once again handcuff the team financially.

Expect the Braves to offer a one-year contract to both pitchers, with low base salaries and incentives. Look, if they reach the incentives and the Braves have to pay out more money, that will only mean they will be doing well. Then you don't mind paying the money to them. But you can't commit much guaranteed money up front to one 42-year-old and a 43 year old pitcher.

They also need to have agreements with both that if March rolls around and they are just not able to pitch, they will retire. The Braves do not need to be handicapped by having them try to come back all year. There needs to be some resolution by the end of spring training. If there is no progress, they need to agree they will retire instead of lingering on the disabled list all season.

It would be great if both pitchers could come back and pitch well to end their careers. Both Smoltz and Glavine know it's almost over; they just don't want to go out on that bad of a note. But they've got to think about the Braves a bit. This team can't afford to wait on old, injured pitchers anymore. If they can prove in spring training they can contribute, that'll be great. But if not, both parties need to agree to move on so it won't be a black cloud hanging over this team for an entire season.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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