Sources: Smoltz leaning toward Cards

John Smoltz is "strongly leaning" toward signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, two major league sources with direct knowledge of his negotiations told ESPN.com Tuesday night.

Smoltz has told friends he will decide on a team Wednesday, once his release waivers expire and he officially becomes a free agent. However, all indications were that he will choose the Cardinals over a group of pursuers that includes the Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins and Texas Rangers.

The Cardinals would like Smoltz to pitch out of the bullpen as a set-up man for closer Ryan Franklin. And while Smoltz has told clubs he would prefer to start, he has apparently decided St. Louis is the best fit.

However, it's possible Smoltz will not immediately return to the bullpen. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, citing multiple sources, said Smoltz will join the Cardinals as a fifth starter.

The 42-year-old right-hander's preference is to pitch in the National League. And he is close with both Mark DeRosa and Adam Wainwright, two former Atlanta Braves teammates who are now with the Cardinals. Both have been actively recruiting Smoltz over the last few days.

Smoltz went 2-5, with an 8.32 ERA, in eight starts for the Boston Red Sox, who released him Monday. However, in the final seven of those starts, he had a 0.64 ERA in the first two innings -- which led both the Cardinals and Marlins to conclude he would be most effective pitching out of the bullpen at this point in his career. Smoltz last pitched out of the bullpen in 2004, when he saved 44 games in his fourth and final season as the Braves' closer.

Jayson Stark is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com.