Next Big Thing is MLB FanHouse's look at emerging teams, trends and stars in 2009.
This winter, the Red Sox signed an over-40 pitcher coming off of a serious shoulder injury, but with an impressive track record of success in the major leagues. Sound familiar? It should. Boston did the same thing last winter. Then, it was Curt Schilling. This time around, it's Braves lifer John Smoltz.
The similarities between Schilling in 2008 and Smoltz in 2009 are stark. Schilling signed an $8 million, one-year deal with Boston last offseason. Smoltz signed a similar one-year pact, with a base salary of $5.5 million this year. If he hits his incentives, that deal could be worth more than $10 million.
The Red Sox are not expecting any production from Smoltz until late May or early June, and, because of their pitching depth, could get nothing from him for the entire season and still contend for a playoff spot. Schilling was also a depth signing for the Sox, and, of course, they made the playoffs last year without him ever taking the hill.
Both players represent calculated risks -- Boston's answer to the free-spending Yankees. If Schilling had been able to pitch last year, there's no doubt he would have been an asset to the Red Sox. He may have even closed the gap between the Sox and the Rays. Smoltz could be a huge difference-maker for Boston in the exceedingly competitive AL East, or he might not throw a pitch at all in 2009. Because of the size and length of his contract, Boston won't be dealt a serious blow if he doesn't.
There's an odd symmetry in seeing Smoltz follow in Schilling's footsteps. Both are among the elite pitchers of their generation, and yet both toiled in the shadow of pitchers who were even greater for significant portions of their career -- in the case of Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, and in the case of Schilling, Randy Johnson. Smoltz has 210 career wins, while Schilling has 216, leaving both seemingly short of Cooperstown, until you factor in their impressive postseason resumes.
In many ways, they're parallel pitchers, so it figures that Smoltz would fill Schilling's shoes. The only thing that would make it more eerie is if Smoltz started blogging.