ATLANTA -- John Smoltz knows he'll pitch next season, but he isn't certain what uniform he'll be wearing.
The right-hander is still waiting to hear whether the Braves will exercise the $8 million option in his contract for the 2001 season. The deadline is a week after the end of the World Series.
"I have no idea why they're waiting," said Smoltz, who missed all of the 2000 season following Tommy John surgery on his right elbow March 23. "You tell yourself you'd love to play with one team forever, but forevers don't always happen. To say I'm not disappointed would be hiding my emotions."
Smoltz, 33, is continuing to rehab his arm and throw once a week. He plans to continue throwing for another two weeks, then shut it down until January. He is delighted with how strong his arm feels and says this is the first time in years he's thrown without pain. Barring a major setback, he should be ready for spring training.
"Pretty much the major work I have to do this off-season is on my lower body, my legs," he said. "I don't see any reason why I won't be ready to go right away in spring training."
The club's front office personnel and scouts are meeting this week at the team's spring training headquarters in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to map a winter strategy and plan for next season. Smoltz's future with the team is certain to be among the topics.
"We definitely want Smoltzie back," manager Bobby Cox said.
The Braves, who signed Smoltz to a four-year, $31 million contract following the 1996 season, will probably try and use Smoltz's 13 years in the organization and local ties to try and work out a deal without picking up his option. But, Smoltz says that strategy won't work.
"If they don't pick up the option, I'll go somewhere else, it's that simple," he said. "If they don't pick it up, it's not personal, but it's disappointing. They know what they're getting and so does everybody else."
BACKING OFF SURGERY: Chipper Jones was in so much pain last April because of bone chips in his right elbow he swore he'd have surgery following the season. But, since then the chips haven't bothered him and subsequent X-rays have shown no problem, so he has decided to forego surgery, for now.
"As of right now, no, I'm not going to have surgery," he said. "It hasn't bothered me since the time (April) in Milwaukee. It think that was something getting caught in a bad spot and not being able to work around it, at that particular time.
"But, if I start working out again this winter and I feel it, I'm going to get it done right away."
PAINFUL TO WATCH: It hasn't been easy for Cox to watch the Mets advance to within a game of the World Series, not after the New Yorkers finished second to the Braves in the National League East this season. But after watching Atlanta's offense, defense and pitching implode during a three-game sweep by the Cardinals in the Division Series, it's hard to argue that the best team isn't playing.
"We had a super year, we won 95 games," Cox said. "But we had three games where we just didn't get the job done. You want to get it done in the playoffs, but we didn't do it."
Cox said Monday that he expects his coaching staff to return intact next season.
ROSTER MOVES: The Braves made several roster moves Monday that reduced the number of players on their 40-man roster to 34. Infielder Tim Unroe, outfielders Junior Brignac and Pedro Swann, catchers Mike Hubbard and Pascual Matos, and pitcher David Cortes were outrighted to Class AAA Richmond. Cortes, who missed the 2000 season following surgery on his right elbow, was reinstated from the 60-day disabled list before he was outrighted.
The Braves also purchased the contract of pitcher Derrick Lewis from Class AA Greenville and added him to their 40-man roster. The right-hander was 7-9 with a 3.30 ERA in 27 starts last season.
BRAVES' FUTURE FACE: George Lombard is out of options and has an excellent chance to make the team as an extra outfielder next spring. The Braves were hoping he could return to the Arizona Fall League to gain additional experience, but a foot injury and his inclusion on the postseason roster forced him to miss the start of the season. Brignac, who hit .211 at Class A Myrtle Beach last season, replaced Lombard on the Mesa Solar Sox roster.
If Lombard, who put together a solid season at Class AAA Richmond, hitting .276 with 25 doubles, seven triples and 10 home runs, has recovered from his foot injury next month, he will probably go to Venezuela to play winter ball.
Top second base prospect Marcus Giles is off to a terrific start with Mesa, hitting .379 with one home run and seven RBI in his first 29 at-bats. Giles, the brother of Pirates outfielder Brian Giles, had a solid season at Class AA Greenville, hitting .290 with 17 home runs and 62 RBI, but the question is, will he ever get a chance to play in Atlanta? Barring a trade, there's no opening on the infield for him.
Reliever Billy Sylvester posted some astonishing numbers at Myrtle Beach last season, going 3-0 with a 0.79 ERA while allowing only 16 hits in 45 2/3 innings, but he's finding Arizona Fall League hitters are several steps up from Class A batters. The 24-year-old right-hander has been battered with 12 hits and 14 earned runs (22.24 ERA) in only 5 2/3 innings with Mesa, which won only three of its first 13 games.
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