LOS ANGELES, CA -- Having already made several upgrades, the Cardinals are down to two areas of need: right-handed setup relief and the back of their starting rotation. On Wednesday they made a move that could address either, or at different times, both.
Right-hander John Smoltz, an eight-time All-Star and the all-time leader with 15 postseason victories, has agreed to a deal with St. Louis for the remainder of the season, the club announced.
The agreement, for a prorated balance of the Major League minimum of $400,000 -- with the Red Sox committed to pay the balance of his $5.5 million contract -- includes incentive clauses for postseason awards.
"We feel that this is an opportunity to strengthen our pitching staff," Cardinals vice president and general manager John Mozeliak said in a statement. "When you have an opportunity to bring the expertise and experience of a future Hall of Famer to your club, it's easy to see why we are excited about the prospects of what John Smoltz can do to improve our team's chances as we approach the stretch drive."
It's unclear what role Smoltz will fill, but one entirely conceivable scenario would have him starting for the Cardinals down the stretch, and then moving to the bullpen when and if they make it to the postseason.
St. Louis has seized control of the National League Central, holding a six-game lead over the Cubs with just under seven weeks remaining in the regular season. Any moves the Cards make at this point are likely to be focused as much on bolstering the team for October as for making it to the finish line. It's possible for St. Louis to use a fifth starter as few as six times between now and the end of the season, thanks to six remaining off days.
Still, come Sunday, that fifth-starter spot comes up again, in San Diego. The Cardinals have not announced a pitcher for that game, though Mitchell Boggs took the last turn, on Tuesday night against the Dodgers.
Smoltz has been throwing in Atlanta, and recently threw about 100 pitches in a simulated game.
The Cardinals had acknowledged interest for several days in the 42-year-old veteran, who pitched for Atlanta from 1988-2008 before signing with the Red Sox as a free agent over the winter. He struggled in Boston and was designated for assignment before being placed on release waivers. In eight starts with the Red Sox, he went 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA, though some of his peripheral numbers were quite strong. Smoltz struck out 33 against nine walks in 40 innings.
There were some strong indications he might be better suited to pitch in relief. Smoltz's performance was worse as he got deeper into games, and he was much more effective against right-handed hitters than lefties.
Smoltz, 212-151 with 154 saves and a 3.30 ERA in his career, is one of only two pitchers to have had both a 20-win season and a 50-save season -- the other being Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. Smoltz is the only pitcher in Major League history to top both 200 wins and 150 saves.
However, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Smoltz would like to continue pitching beyond 2009, and to do so as a starter. Thus, everyone's wishes could be fulfilled with a two-part arrangement. Smoltz could position himself for a starting job somewhere in 2010 by pitching well for St. Louis down the stretch. Then he could help the Cardinals win in the playoffs by setting up for closer Ryan Franklin.
Smoltz went 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA and 276 strikeouts in 1996 and won the National League Cy Young Award.