ATLANTA - After three extraordinary years, the Atlanta Braves said farewell to Andres Galarraga Thursday.
The club did not offer arbitration to the first baseman and four other players and have lost the right to negotiate with them until May 1.
In addition to Galarraga, the Braves did not offer arbitration to Greg McMichael, Reggie Sanders, Rudy Seanez and Walt Weiss. Arbitration was offered to Andy Ashby (signed by the Dodgers), Bobby Bonilla, John Burkett, Wally Joyner, Scott Kamieniecki and Terry Mulholland, who have until Dec. 19 to accept or reject the offer and can negotiate with the Braves through Jan. 8.
By offering arbitration to Ashby, the Braves will receive the Dodgers' first-round pick in next June's amateur draft, as well as a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. Bonilla and Joyner are likely to accept the offer, while Kamieniecki and Burkett are uncertain. Mulholland has reportedly received an offer from the Rangers and he's unlikely to return.
The decision not to offer arbitration to Galarraga was difficult, team officials said. The first baseman was a fan favorite, as well as a clubhouse leader, but the club couldn't justify paying him the $8-$10 million he would have received in arbitration.
"It's hard because you'd love to have a guy like that back," assistant general manager Frank Wren said. "He's a special person and that made the decision difficult."
Galarraga, who was named the Comeback Player of the Year for hitting .302 with 28 home runs and 100 RBI after missing the 1999 season because of cancer, said he hoped to finish his career with the Braves. But, he was unwilling to take a big pay cut from last season's $8 million salary and club officials decided not to risk an arbitration award that might have forced them to trade another high-salaried player.
Now the question is, who will play first base? The Braves head into this weekend's winter meetings in Dallas still in the Alex Rodriguez and Mike Hampton Sweepstakes, but if they don't come away with either one, they might go after free agent first basemen Rico Brogna or David Segui.
Mark Grace, who had some interest in playing in Atlanta, priced himself out of the Braves' plans. The veteran first baseman didn't want to take a pay cut from last season's $5.3 million salary and will likely sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Diamondbacks.
If the Braves sign either Rodriguez or Hampton, which would squeeze the last nickel from their budget, they might stay in-house to fill their first base vacancy. The team is considering two scenarios, both involving Chipper Jones.
If Jones remains at third base, instead of shifting to the outfield, rookie Wes Helms will be given a shot at first base, with a veteran like Joyner as his mentor/backup. If Jones moves to left field, left fielder B.J. Surhoff will shift to first base and Helms will play third, his natural position.
Luis Sojo and Dwight Gooden are staying with the New York Yankees.
Sojo, whose ninth-inning single drove in the go-ahead run in Game 5 of the World Series against the Mets, agreed Thursday to a $500,000, one-year contract.
Gooden, another of the eight players the Yankees added after spring training, agreed to a minor league deal.
Jay Buhner will return to Seattle for his 14th consecutive season with the Mariners, agreeing Thursday to a $1.85 million, one-year contract.
Buhner, 36, had a $1.45 million base salary last season, when he hit .253 with 26 home runs and 82 RBIs in 112 games for Seattle.
He lost his starting right fielder's job with the Mariners last month when the team signed free agent Ichiro Suzuki. Buhner is expected to back up Suzuki in right, play some in left field and play a few games at first base behind John Olerud.
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