If John Smoltz had picked the other finalist for his services in August, he could be pitching in the National League championship series for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The 42-year-old right-hander said he has zero regrets after signing with the team the Dodgers swept in the division series. The St. Louis Cardinals plugged Smoltz into their rotation and are considering bringing him back with a one-year deal that could allow the pitcher to exit with a season that lives up to a career destined for the Hall of Fame.
"St. Louis was just a better personal fit for me," Smoltz said. "At the time Los Angeles had a bigger stronghold on the playoffs, but I saw what St. Louis was putting together. It was a lot of fun to be a part of. One more run, gosh, that would be great."
The Cardinals believe Smoltz has plenty left.
"He definitely wants to pitch," manager Tony La Russa said. "I definitely think he can pitch. It's going to be a matter of economics and you never get everything you want, but I speak personally that there's a lot to the organizational view that John Smoltz was impressive."
Smoltz figures he'll be on the back burner at the start of free agency while the big-ticket players like Matt Holliday grab the headlines. Smoltz was way on the back burner last offseason while recuperating from shoulder surgery, getting a $5.5 million contract with the Red Sox in March.
Certainly, the Cardinals have more pressing matters. They want to sign Holliday, who cost the franchise three top prospects, to a long-term contract, and are negotiating an extension for two-time NL MVP Albert Pujols.
But if general manager John Mozeliak calls soon, Smoltz said he won't need a lot of persuading.
"This would be a great fit," he said. "This would be a scenario that wouldn't take too many minutes to make a decision."
Smoltz is the only pitcher in major league history to reach 200 victories and 150 saves. He turned back the clock with the Cardinals the last month and a half of the season, winning only once in seven starts but more importantly recapturing his mechanics after a disastrous stint with the Red Sox.
Smoltz had a horrid 8.32 ERA with Boston that led to his release. He nearly halved that number with St. Louis, posting a 4.26 ERA with four quality starts, and had five strikeouts in two innings in his lone postseason appearance.
Coming off shoulder surgery that postponed his 2009 debut to late June, Smoltz is hoping to establish himself from opening day instead of playing, in his words, a game of catchup. Barring a setback, and if the price is right, Smoltz could challenge for a spot in a St. Louis rotation that could have two openings.
None of his starts with the Cardinals lasted longer than six innings, but Smoltz said "I'm not just a six-inning guy." His days of throwing 95 mph consistently are gone, but he looks forward to using more than two decades of experience to get the job done in what he describes as "paint, cut and spin."
"I know exactly what I can do and I'm going to dominate that way," he said.