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Braves' Giles, Reitsma hit free-agent market

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves cut ties to Marcus Giles on
Tuesday, deciding they could no longer afford the second baseman
under their ever-tightening budget.

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.

"I think Marcus had probably come to grips some time ago that
he had played his last game with the Braves. 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' agent, Joe Bick

"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."