Braves release veteran Glavine
305-game winner opts against retirement for now
ATLANTA -- When the Braves signed Tom Glavine in February, they envisioned him bridging the gap to a future represented by Tommy Hanson's gifted right arm.
But when it became apparent Glavine's prolonged shoulder problems could be tying them to the past, Braves general manager Frank Wren once again found himself with the uncomfortable responsibility of parting with one of the team's greatest icons.
While John Smoltz made his own decision to leave Atlanta in January, Glavine was powerless on Wednesday afternoon when Wren surprised him with the choice to either retire or be released.
After exiting a meeting with Braves president John Schuerholz, manager Bobby Cox and Wren, Glavine opted against retirement and walked away facing the reality that he was officially saying goodbye to playing for the organization that had drafted and developed him into a 300-game winner.
"This was not easy," Wren said. "Tommy Glavine is a special guy in a lot of ways. The most difficult part was the last three or four weeks, while watching him try to come back. In our view, the comeback wasn't working."
It was a day of big news for the Braves, who also acquired All-Star outfielder Nate McLouth from the Pirates for three highly regarded Minor League prospects and announced Hanson will make his Major League debut on Saturday night. But the decision on Glavine was not easy on the team or on the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner.
While Glavine, 43, has privately expressed his displeasure with this decision, he wasn't ready to make a public comment when reached on Wednesday evening. He's still holding out hope that another organization will provide him the chance to pitch this year.
Smoltz was willing to speak out about his former teammate.
"Like a lot of things lately, they handled it, let me just say, in a very interesting way," Smoltz said. "One that leaves you scratching your head. It's unfortunate for Tommy. Obviously, you know, I'm using a very soft word of disappointed, because that ain't right. To go that far and to rehab and then right before the time, you know, do that. That's not my problem anymore. I just feel bad for a teammate of mine that I had for a long time."
Glavine's $1 million contract called for him to receive a $1 million bonus once he was added to Atlanta's 25-man roster.
"It's not a business decision from our perspective," Wren said. "It's a decision based on who gives us the best chance to win on a daily basis. We felt that Tommy Hanson has progressed to the point where he gives us the best chance to do that."
After Glavine tossed six scoreless innings for Class A Rome in a Minor League rehab start on Tuesday night, he declared that he was ready to join the Atlanta rotation. But while evaluating the four starts he's made over the course of the past month, the Braves reached a different conclusion.
Wren said reports that Glavine's fastball was reaching 86 mph were erroneous. Based on the reports he was receiving, Wren concluded the 43-year-old left-hander wouldn't find success at the Major League level.
Or at least not as much consistent success as Hanson, who will make a much-anticipated start on Saturday against the Brewers. The 6-foot-6, 22-year-old Hanson, who is regarded as the game's top right-handed prospect, has posted a 1.49 ERA and limited opponents to a .169 batting average in 11 starts with Triple-A Gwinnett this year.
"Our evaluation was that [Glavine] would not be successful," Wren said. "With the overall evaluation of the performances we saw over the last few weeks, we felt like we would have a better chance at the Major League level with our young pitchers."
When Glavine underwent a surgical procedure to repair his left elbow and remove debris from his troublesome left shoulder in August, there was reason for him to wonder if he'd thrown his last pitch. But his encouragement began to grow when he began throwing in January, and the opportunity to continue his career came in February when the Braves provided him a contract.
Wren's vision was that Glavine would make his regular-season debut on April 18, and the veteran southpaw was on course to do so before aggravating his shoulder during an April 13 rehab start with Double-A Mississippi.
Once again, immediate thoughts of impending retirement were erased when Glavine's shoulder proved to be more cooperative two weeks later. But the ensuing rehab process created a situation where he was physically ready to return at the same time that the Braves were looking to introduce Hanson to the Majors.
"We were very hopeful that there would be a different outcome," Wren said. "We were hoping that Tom Glavine would pitch for us. The reason we continued to watch him and hope that he improved was to give him every opportunity. After [Tuesday] night, we reached the final decision that it wouldn't happen."
Smoltz offered his own assessment.
"That's just not how you treat people," he said. "He didn't have a chance to fail at that level, if that was the issue or concern. It's just not how you go about it."
Glavine made his Major League debut with the Braves in 1987, and remained with the organization until beginning a five-year stint with the Mets in 2003. He returned to Atlanta last year and endured an injury-plagued season during which he made 13 starts.
While Glavine's playing days with the Braves may be complete, the Atlanta fans will never forget the fact that he notched 244 of his 305 career wins with their organization. Nor will they ever forget the jubilation he created while limiting the Indians to one hit over eight scoreless innings during the clinching Game 6 of the 1995 World Series.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.