And I still think he has something left.
The Red Sox, though, decided it was no longer in their best interests to wait and see if Smoltz could turn it around. It’s hard to argue with an 8.32 ERA, and his outing last night against the Yankees was truly awful after a decent first two innings.
At this point, the guess is that Smoltz will call it a career. No contender is going to want to put him into their rotation now, and he’d probably have to accept a minor league contract if he wanted to give it another try next year. As much as he has to go through to pitch, it’s just not worth it.
I expected much better based on Smoltz’s rehab work and early appearances. His velocity did increase a bit in his first few starts before dipping recently. He still averaged 91.4 mph with his fastball, according to Pitch F/X data. That’s only down one mph from what he averaged in his final few years with Atlanta. It’s a significant drop, but not enough to ruin a pitcher. Also, his slider was still an extremely effective pitch.
The problem was that it took more effort now for him to throw that average fastball. That he was putting more into every pitch took away from his command. It wasn’t manifesting itself in the form of walks — he had just five in seven starts before piling up four yesterday — but he missed over the heart of the plate so often and 91-mph fastballs without much movement tend to get hit hard when they’re not spotted precisely.
Smoltz can still get strikeouts with the slider and splitter, but he’s a six-inning pitcher, one who was going to remain awfully prone to giving up homers against quality offenses. I really hope that we see him again in the majors — given his history, counting him out would be an awful idea — but it may well be that we all watched a Hall of Famer’s last stand last night.
There’s this idea out there that the owners have been eating the players’ lunch at the bargaining table in recent years because the players are, generally, rich and happy and maybe don’t care about a lot of the stuff the previous couple of generations of players did. There is probably some degree of truth to that. The difference between a good deal and a bad deal, in both collective bargaining and on the free agent market, is way less dire now than it used to be and thus the urgency may not have been there over the past several years the way it was in 1981 or 1994.
But it goes too far to say that such a mindset is universal among players. Or that it’s a mindset which, even among those who hold it, will always persist. Players may not have been as vigilant about labor matters over the past several years as they used to be, but they’re not idiots and, at some point, the owners are gonna push ’em too far and they’ll respond.
As we find ourselves in the second straight offseason in which teams simply don’t seem all too keen on signing free agents, it’s starting to happen already.
Earlier this week Dallas Keuchel tweeted out some things critical of the current market and teams’ approach to it (and took another swipe today). This afternoon Giants third baseman Evan Longoria chimed in on Instagram, posting a picture of Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and saying the following:
We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.
Most of that is common sense, the sort of which we’ve been arguing for around here for some time. Fans should care about good players and winning baseball games, not whether or not their front office can get a great bargain for its own sake. It may be interesting to talk about payroll and salaries and wins/$, but the point of baseball is to win, right? When so many teams seem rather uninterested in that, it’s a problem that all of the interesting analytical insights can’t really make up for.
The second part is worth keeping your eyes on. Maybe players have not been on a war footing the likes of which their predecessors were in the 1970s through the 1990s, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get back there if pushed. As is abundantly clear, the owners are pushing. Salaries are dropping in both an absolute sense and, especially, compared to baseball’s revenues. Players are getting a smaller piece of the pie than they have in a while and ownership seems quite pleased to see that continue.
If players are saying stuff like this publicly, it means that players are talking about it amongst themselves privately. The last two years have likely served as quite a wakeup call for them, and they seem to be waking up. Evan Longoria is. Dallas Keuchel is. So are some others. If current trends continue, more and more will wake up.
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2021 season. What happens over the rest of this offseason and the next two is going to determine the mood of the players. The mood of the players, in turn, is going to dictate the tenor of negotiations. If they were to begin right now, those negotiations would be very, very rocky.