As Tom Glavine continues to make progress in his recovery from elbow and shoulder surgery, the only certainty is that he hopes to be pitching somewhere in 2009.
If the Braves don't have a spot for him on their staff, he's keeping an open mind.
Glavine has made it clear to Braves management that his first choice is to return to Atlanta this year to pitch for manager Bobby Cox. But agent Gregg Clifton said Thursday that Glavine is so encouraged by his rehab, he's prepared to consider other opportunities if things fail to work out with Atlanta.
"Tom is in a great position mentally," Clifton said. "He's ahead of schedule in his rehab, and he's ahead of where he would normally be in his preparation for the upcoming season. Obviously, he'd love to have an opportunity to remain with the Atlanta Braves, and we'll see where that takes us. But he's not precluding the possibility of playing somewhere else in 2009.
"It all comes down to the desire to play. Tom has the desire. He just wanted to make sure it was at a level that he wanted to play at."
Until recently, it appeared that it might be Atlanta or nowhere for Glavine, who shut it down to have surgery in August after going 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA in 13 starts. Dr. James Andrews made some minor repairs to Glavine's rotator cuff, cleaned out scar tissue in his elbow and fixed a small hole in his flexor tendon. The elbow damage was less severe than Glavine and the Braves had anticipated.
Glavine recently completed a long-toss program and plans to begin throwing off a mound in the next day or two. He's convinced he's ready to come back from a difficult 2008 season, during which he allowed 11 homers in 63 1/3 innings, had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1-to-1 and posted a 7.06 ERA at Turner Field.
At the moment, Glavine is a back-burner personnel issue for the Braves, who are trolling the free-agent market in an effort to upgrade their starting rotation.
The Braves are in the mix for Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami, and recently stepped up their efforts to sign Scott Boras client Derek Lowe. The Braves expressed no interest in Lowe during the winter meetings in Las Vegas, when the word was he wanted a five-year deal for $16 million or more annually.
But those contract numbers have failed to materialize for Lowe. And with the Mets hesitant to stray too far from their three-year, $36 million offer, sources said the Braves are convinced they can be very competitive in the bidding for Lowe.
After losing out to the Yankees in the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes and getting burned in the Rafael Furcal negotiating fiasco before Christmas, the Braves are intent on maintaining a low profile in their discussions with Lowe and Kawakami, sources said.
Atlanta already has Jair Jurrjens and the recently acquired Javier Vazquez at the top of its rotation. Until the Braves make another move, the other starting candidates include Jorge Campillo, Charlie Morton and Jo-Jo Reyes. The Braves are also expecting big things from hot prospect Tommy Hanson, who struck out 163 batters in 138 minor league innings last year and was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League.
The Braves have maintained for several months that they were interested in having Glavine and Smoltz back in 2009. But the team was hesitant to rely too heavily on two starters over age 40 and get burned if they suffered a recurrence of their health problems.
"We can't find out in spring training that their surgery didn't fix the problem, and now we're stuck and we say, 'Uh-oh, what do we do now?'" Braves general manager Frank Wren said in September. "We can't be in that position. I've told both of them that, and they understand that."
Wren, who has yet to talk to Clifton about Glavine this offseason, reiterated that game plan Wednesday night before news broke that Smoltz was headed to Boston.
"Our focus has been to put our club together, then evaluate their rehabs and see how they would fit after we put our club together," Wren said when asked about Glavine and Smoltz.
Glavine, who cited family concerns last year upon returning to Atlanta from New York through free agency, could be limited by geography in assessing career options beyond the Braves. His focus would probably be on teams that play in the East and hold spring training in Florida.
One possibility is the Washington Nationals. Glavine has a close and long-standing relationship with Nationals president Stan Kasten from their days in Atlanta. Although the Nationals traded for Scott Olsen earlier this offseason, signed former Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera to a one-year, $2.6 million deal and have been hesitant to spend much money on free agents, they could have room in their rotation for another starter.
Jerry Crasnick covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com.