(Update: This was written, obviously, before Smoltz was designated for assignment.)
John Smoltz ain’t done. He’s just in the wrong line of work.
Smoltz isn’t a starter anymore. That doesn’t mean people like Dan Shaughnessy and Amy Nelson are right in saying he should retire.
Smoltz has nearly 3,500 innings under his belt. He’s not Christy Mathewson. These are his twilight years. He shouldn’t be depended upon to throw for six innings every five games. But how about one to two innings every couple of games?
In his later years in Atlanta, after years of constant injury and one entire season missed due to Tommy John, Smoltz became one of the most effective closers in the game. He’s the only pitcher ever with 200 wins and 150 saves. And seeing as how the greatest bullpen in the major leagues has been dying a slow and painful death lately, they could use the help.
The other option is some sort of platoon for your fifth starter. A combination of Smoltz and somebody else for the first six innings. Smoltz would be a good starter if they held him to some sort of convoluted "Joba Rules" where he only pitches three or four innings. It’s usually around that fourth or fifth trip to the mound that the wheels start to come off. If they can platoon first base, third base, shortstop and catcher; why not their fifth starter as well?
But middle relief seems to be the last door on Mr. Smoltz’s long career. He still has accuracy and doesn’t walk anybody; why couldn’t he come in a couple innings a week and get us out of some jams?
It would be a mistake for Theo and the gang to send Smoltz or put him on the 60-day DL, because they need him in the clubhouse. For a team that’s skidding out of control, chemistry is as important as any other aspect of the sport. And Smoltz is a born leader. The Epstein/Henry/Lucchino Conglomerate has concocted a team of Good Guys. From Dusty the MVP down to Victor the New Guy, the 2009 Sox are a collection of gentlemen who have as much fun in the clubhouse as they do on the field. And Smoltz is a part of that, filling the Elder Statesman role vacated by Curt Schilling.
Moving Smoltz into middle relief was the easy part. Now, who do does he replace? Boston no longer has Justin Masterson to jump in and close out the season as the Number Five man. In my opinion, we have three options:
• Michael Bowden – He’s already done it once this season. He came up for one day in April and pitched two scoreless innings against the vaunted Yankees. And by “vaunted” I mean, “I hate them so much.” Bowden’s been struggling a bit down in the ‘Tucket (4.94 ERA in his last 10 starts), but perhaps a change of scenery would do him some good? (Desperate Sox fan talking..)
• Junichi Tazawa – Gesundheit. Tazawa was just promoted from Portland to Pawtucket and he’s probably our next best starting pitching prospect after Bowden (If you don’t count Casey Kelley down in Greenville, as he’s only 19). As a Japanese pitcher, he’s already seen the professional level. Maybe not on line with American League hitting. But probably better than National League hitting.
• Felix Doubront – This one’s a bit of a stretch. Doubront is probably our fifth-best pitching prospect after Kelley, Bowden, Tazawa and Stolmy Pimentel (another 19-year-old). But here’s the kicker. He’s Venezuelan. So, A) he sees some of the best hitters in the league every winter and B) he’s got an instant best friend in Victor Martinez and C) I’m right. Throw Doubront out there, make Martinez his personal catcher. He wouldn’t have to worry about translators or any of that crap. Just focus on the pitching. Do what comes natural. I personally think Doubront could end up being the best pitcher out of those five young men I listed above. And I’m usually pretty darn good with hunches. Look how great Chris Carter has done this year!