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Braves stunned by Smoltz's decision

| Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009

ATLANTA -- Bobby Cox has been through this before.

Tom Glavine left. So did Greg Maddux and Andruw Jones.

Still, the longtime Atlanta manager sounded as though he took a shot to the gut when John Smoltz called this week to deliver the stunning news: He was signing with the Boston Red Sox after 21 years with the Braves.

"He said, 'I appreciate pitching for you.' I was like, 'John, holy cow, what are you doing here?"' Cox said Friday, remembering his call from Smoltz earlier in the week. "It really hit me then. You hate giving up one of your best guys. He'll be a Hall of Famer for sure."

The 41-year-old Smoltz had spent his entire big league career with the Braves, but that run came to an end when he agreed this week to a $5.5 million, one-year contract that could be worth another $5 million in bonuses based largely on how much time he spends on Boston's active roster.

The Braves weren't willing to guarantee that kind of money to an aging pitcher coming off major shoulder surgery, which led to a departure with bitter overtones -- not unlike Glavine's decision to sign with the New York Mets in 2002 after 16 seasons in Atlanta.

The Braves' proposal was for $2 million -- and the bar to reach some $8 million in possible incentives was much higher than Boston's proposal. Smoltz went so far as to issue a statement saying "there were large discrepancies between the offer from the Braves and offers from other teams."

"We were all surprised. We had hoped John would remain a Brave," general manager Frank Wren said. "But as we approached this offseason, we made it very clear to everyone that we did not want the same thing to happen to us that happened to us last year. We had to focus on rebuilding the pitching staff with players who had some certainty of being able to start the season healthy for us."

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