Chipper will miss playing with Smoltz

Chipper will miss playing with Smoltz

ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones made a recruiting pitch to Derek Lowe early Wednesday evening, a few hours before being startled by the reality that he'll no longer be able to call John Smoltz a teammate.

While playing together for the past 16 seasons, Jones and Smoltz became two Braves icons. At the same time, they developed a brotherly bond within which they didn't always see eye to eye.

In fact, when he first learned late Wednesday night that Smoltz had decided to end his long tenure with the Braves and sign with the Red Sox, Jones' frustrations were aimed toward the veteran hurler.

But within the next hour, after getting the opportunity to speak with Smoltz, Jones came to understand why the 41-year-old right-hander was moving on despite a desire to spend his entire Major League career with the Braves.

At the same time, Jones became frustrated with the fact that worries about a surgically-repaired right shoulder and approximately $3 million prevented the Braves from re-signing Smoltz.

"Of all the gambles that we've taken that didn't pan out over the years, this is one gamble that you want to take," Jones said. "For a couple of million dollars, I'm sorry, I just don't understand this."

Smoltz was lured to Boston with a guaranteed $5.5 million contract that includes incentives that could increase his 2009 earnings to $10 million.

Multiple sources have indicated that Smoltz was upset that the Braves were only willing to offer a guaranteed $2 million contract that included incentives that could have increased his earnings to the $7 million neighborhood.

The Braves were concerned about the amount of damage Dr. James Andrews found while repairing Smoltz's right shoulder in June, and the fact that he's attempting to return with that shoulder being bound by five screws.

Smoltz's departure adds to the frustrations the Braves have encountered this offseason. Because of various events, some of which were out of their control, they have been unsuccessful in their previous attempts to land Jake Peavy, A.J. Burnett and Rafael Furcal.

"We played most of this past season without Smoltz and we got used to not having him out there on the mound," Jones said. "The hope of having him back this season gave us some hope that we'd be able to salvage something out of this season.

"People always come up to you at this time of year and say, 'How you looking?' I've always been optimistic. Right now, you find that difficult to do and this is the first time in my career that I've ever felt that way."

Hot Stove

For more than two months, Smoltz has privately said that he felt the Braves would take him for granted with the assumption that he would eventually take their offer and spend his entire Major League career with one team.

Acquired from the Tigers on Aug. 12, 1987, Smoltz made his Major League debut with the Braves midway through the 1988 season and had previously ignored previous offers to leave Atlanta. No other current Major Leaguer had been with one team longer.

Over the course of the past 21 seasons, Smoltz notched a Major League record 15 postseason wins, set the franchise record for saves and strikeouts and became recognized as one of the most celebrated professional athletes the city of Atlanta has ever known.

Along the way, he thrived on the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong. After returning from Tommy John elbow ligament surgery in 2001, he made a successful conversion to the closer's role and notched a National League record 55 saves during the 2002 season.

In 2005, Smoltz once again proved his doubters wrong by making the successful conversion back to the starter's role. Over the course of the next three seasons combined, he ranked fifth among Major League pitchers in innings pitched (667 1/3) and eighth with a 3.22 ERA.

"John Smoltz has earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt," Jones said. "If he says he can come back and pitch, he deserves the chance. If you want to gamble on a player, John Smoltz is the guy you want to gamble on."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.