Down Under----Faced with over $60 million in red ink, defending Eastern champ and Series runner up Darwin began the sad, difficult process of trimming its roster in preparation for March's 2008 BARB Draft.
"There's no point in waiting for guys we know we aren't going to keep," manager PZ Myers said. "This way, some of these guys could still find a team that needs them, giving them a better chance of extending their career. We just have to trim the fat."
Among the big names granted their unconditional release: 3B Eric Chavez, whose chronic back woes and declining production made his $7.5 million salary dicey; LHP Mark Mulder (whose comeback from shoulder surgery hit a snag in September), and RHP Jose Contreras, whose bad body language and clubhouse demeanor had made him a mid-summer pariah. Contreras, who was due to make $9 million, will instead be looking for a fifth starter's role with any team that can afford him.
Darwin also released pitchers Kyle Farnsworth, Edwin Jackson, Yusmeiro Petit, Jeff Jeffress and Juan Salas. None were particularly effective, and minor-leaguers Jeffress and Salas had earned the ire of team officials when they tested positive for steroid usage. The Finches also let go C Jason Philips, OF Corey Patterson and OF Jose Cruz, Jr.
Myers seemed especially sad to lose Cruz, the club's fourth outfielder and top pinch-hitter who played well in the post-season. "It doesn't make sense to keep Cruisie," Myers admitted, "because he would've made $4 million but never played. We've got Berkman, Rowand and Francouer and Lastings Milledge needs a place to start getting at-bats. If Jose can't hook up with another club, the staff and I have talked about asking him back as an outfielding coach."
Despite all the trimming, the Finches are still over $120 million and want to cut another $20 million in commitments out before Draft Day. "We'll have to float some of our big-salaried guys instead of protecting them all," moaned Myers. "Tough decisions ahead."
Those tough decisions include veteran LHP Tom Glavine, still able to pitch but due to make $7.5 million; RHP Trevor Hoffman, a high-paid ($6.5 million) closer in his 40's; SS Carlos Guillen, a top-notch hitter but a defensive liability who is owed $5 million and might have to move to first base; 2B Jose Lopez, who could start for a lot of clubs but appears stuck behind higher-priced veterans like Placido Polanco, Chone Figgins and Khalil Greene; and whether or not prospects Jarrod Saltalamachia or Jeff Clement can take over behind the plate for veterans Miguel Olivo and Johnny Estrada.