Braves' Giles, Reitsma hit free-agent market
The Braves pushed hard to trade Giles during the winter meetings, but couldn't work out a deal for someone to take their leadoff hitter from this past season. So they declined to tender him a contract for 2007.
General manager John Schuerholz said he couldn't risk going to arbitration with Giles, who made $3.85 million in 2006 and likely would have commanded over $5 million for next season.
"It's not an easy decision when you're talking about somebody's who's been a key guy for our team over the years and grew up in our organization," Schuerholz said. "But it's a fact of the matter with the economics of this business. As salaries continue to rise, we've got to use our assets the best way we can to put our most balanced team together."
The 28-year-old Giles made the All-Star Game in 2003, his first full season as a starter. He wound up hitting a career-best .316 with 21 homers and 69 RBI -- all career highs.
But Giles was plagued by injuries and clearly uncomfortable when the Braves moved him into the leadoff spot for 2006, seeking a replacement for Rafael Furcal. The second baseman slumped to .262 with 11 homers, 60 RBI and 10 stolen bases, his disappointing season coinciding with the end of Atlanta's record streak of 14 straight division titles.
"You can't just look at Marcus in a vacuum. He's been a very productive player for us," Schuerholz said. "When salaries continue to rise and productivity tapers off some, an organization gets to a point where it has to measure what the return on the investment is."
In another move, the Braves also decided not to offer a contract to former closer Chris Reitsma, who missed much of last season after elbow surgery. The right-hander was 1-2 with an 8.68 ERA and eight saves before he went out.
While Schuerholz doesn't expect any further talks with Giles, the Braves might try to bring back Reitsma to bolster the depth of their bullpen -- one of the team's top priorities during this offseason. Reitsma made $2.75 million in 2006 and is hardly in line for a major increase.
"He's at a different salary level than Marcus," Schuerholz said.
Giles' agent, Joe Bick, said the Braves' decision not to tender a contract to the second baseman was no surprise, given their well-publicized efforts to trade him.
"I think Marcus had probably come to grips some time ago that he had played his last game with the Braves," Bick said. "He has no regrets. He loved the time he spent in Atlanta. He played hard for them every day. He was a good, quality player for them."
Giles can negotiate with any team, but it's clear that San Diego would be his first choice. His older brother, outfielder Brian Giles, already plays for their hometown Padres.
"We're going to look into that possibility, among others," Bick said. "I don't think the fact that a trade hasn't worked out is any reflection on his abilities as a player."
Barring another move, the Braves will go into spring training with a three-way battle for second base that includes rookie Martin Prado, converted outfielder Kelly Johnson and utility player Willy Aybar.
"Whoever it is, we feel like we're going to be solid at second base," Schuerholz said. "As tough as this decision was about Marcus, the overriding decision is what gives us a chance to put our best team on the field."
Prado batted .262 with one homer and nine RBI in limited duty for the Braves. Johnson missed most of the year with an elbow injury after batting .241 with nine homers and 40 RBI the previous season, sharing left field with Ryan Langerhans.
The Braves acquired Aybar in a midseason trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The infielder batted .280 with four homers and 30 RBI, but hasn't proven that he is accomplished enough defensively to play regularly at second base.
No matter who wins the job, the Braves aren't likely to get as much offensive production as they did from Giles. Giving up a former All-Star who's still in his 20s without getting anything in return shows just how much pressure the Braves are under to slash payroll, even coming off a sub.-500 season in which they finished 18 games behind the NL East champion New York Mets.
"While we have cut ties to a player of Marcus' caliber, that doesn't mean we're throwing in the towel on putting together a championship-caliber team," Schuerholz insisted. "It's just going to look different."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press