Tim Kurkjian got me thinking.
Since I moved down here in '95, I've maintained that John Schuerholz continually shot himself in the foot with the way he constructed his rosters. Plenty of starting pitching and a few big bats for the lineup were always his points of emphasis. I'll be the first to admit that his strategy was certainly a fine way to start...and easy to do when you're bankrolled by Ted Turner and / or Time Warner.
The bench & the bullpen, though, were never more than a passing thought, despite the fact that those two areas always seemed to bite the Braves in the backside in the post-season. Had the Braves sacrificed some starting pitching for some bullpen depth over the past decade, they'd probably have won more than 1 World Series in the past 14 years.
(And I still can't believe that Bobby Cox didn't get fired for the way he handled Glavine down the stretch in 2002. The Braves won the NL East that year by 19 games. Yet Cox continued to ride Glavine like the race was neck & neck down to the wire. On 9/24/02, Cox left Glavine in for 123!!! pitches in a meaningless game against Philly. Then folks wondered why Glavine was a dog in the 2002 post-season. But I digress.)
Wohlers had a decent stint in the back of their pen - which is worth noting, beacuse Wohlers in the bullpen was the one time the Braves went all the way. I thought Schuerholz finally figured it out when he moved Smoltz to the bullpen. Not only did they have a lights out closer, but they had one who was used to throwing 200+ innings a year instead of the 70-80 that most closers usually go. Pick up a decent set up guy or two, and Braves games effectively would have become 6 inning games (a la the 1990 Reds and the Nasty Boys).
Smoltz was pretty much automatic during his stint in the pen. But the Braves panicked and moved him back to the rotation. They got by ok last year, but the chickens have come home to roost this year. The Braves bullpen is 17 for 35 in save opportunities so far in 2006.
The last time Atlanta saw this much combustion, Sherman was on his way to Savannah.
Meanwhile, Smoltz is 5-5 as a starter.
If Smoltz was sitting in the back of the pen, converting just 80% of his save opportunities, the bullpen would be 28 for 35 instead of 18-35. During his 3 year stint as closer, Smoltz was 144-157 (91.7%) in save opportunities. 91.7% in 2006 gets the Braves 32 saves in 35 chances. It also puts them right in the hunt for the NL East as we head into the 2006 All-Star break.
If I ran the zoo, Smoltz would go into the off-season knowing that he's the 2007 Closer as of right now.
My other line of thought is that if the Braves want to rebuild, then by all means, they need to rebuild. Smoltz would certainly command a decent return. Let me preface this with my personal opinion that I'd be shocked if Smoltz was traded. But if I was in Wayne's shoes, I'd call Schuerholz & put this on the table:
Renteria & Smoltz to the Reds for Felipe Lopez, Eric Milton, Joey Votto, and one of Bruce, Wood or Bailey. Maybe the deal doesn't ultimately shake out like that, but it's a starting point for some conversations.
I'll be the first to admit that it's a steep price to pay. But it's a deal that can address some needs on both sides of the ledger.