Braves consider Smoltz as starter

ATLANTA -- John Smoltz could come out of the bullpen and return to the Braves' rotation next season if Atlanta loses 15-game winners Russ Ortiz and Jaret Wright to free agency.

"John could win 20 games for any good team," manager Bobby Cox told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday. "He could save 55 games or win 20 games."

"In the next few weeks I anticipate … I'm optimistic about a lot of things," Smoltz said Tuesday, choosing his words carefully. "So that's a good thing."

"The important thing to note here is John's willing to do either role," general manager John Schuerholz told the newspaper. "We have no idea what's going to happen to our roster."

In the past, Smoltz has said he'd like to return to starting, in part because of his success in the postseason, when he was 12-4 with a 2.60 ERA in 26 starts. Additionally, he would earn $100,000 per start on top of his $12 million salary in 2005, meaning he could earn $15 million-plus if he stays healthy.

Smoltz told the Journal-Constitution, "It's open for discussion. Nothing's been decided."

As a starter, the right-hander went 24-8 in 1996, winning the Cy Young Award, and won 14 or more games seven times from 1990 through '98.

He missed the 2000 season after reconstructive elbow surgery, and he became a closer in 2001.

As a closer, Smoltz had an NL-record 55 saves in 2002, 45 saves and a 1.12 ERA in 2003, and 44 saves this past season.

Ortiz (15-9), Wright (15-8) and Paul Byrd (8-7) accounted for 38 of the 68 wins notched by Atlanta starters in 2004. All can become free agents.