08/24/07 9:32 PM ET
Wickman designated for assignment
Former teammates speak about move to part ways with closer
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Surrendering Dunn's walk-off homer in Thursday's 12-inning loss to the Reds may have served as the final straw, but Wickman's tenure with the Braves had been on shaky ground for a few months and this wasn't simply a product of his occasional on-field struggles.
Knowing that he wasn't the most popular clubhouse figure and realizing his selfish intentions to only be primarily used in save situations, the Braves surprised many on Friday, when they designated Wickman for assignment.
"It was a decision that they wanted to make," Jeff Francoeur said. "I guess last night was kind of [the last straw]. It just kind of put it over the top."
If a team claims Wickman while he's on the waiver wire over the next 10 days, the Braves can attempt to complete a trade with that specific club. If he goes unclaimed, they'll release him and officially end this relationship that began so well last season, and then progressively soured this year.
Braves manager Bobby Cox, who delivered the news to Wickman via phone on Friday afternoon, had little to say about the decision other than, "I just want to try something else."
But Andruw Jones was willing to provide a clearer picture of why the Braves were willing to part ways with Wickman, who posted a 3.92 ERA in 49 appearances and converted 20 of his 26 save opportunities this season.
"We need guys who are willing to pitch and aren't just waiting for one situation to come up," Jones said. "If it wasn't a save situation, [Wickman] wasn't happy about [pitching]. It's not fair to the team. It's not fair to the manager the way [Wickman] was going about his business."
As for Chipper Jones, he chose to be a little more diplomatic with his response. But at the same time, he saw many instances when Wickman reacted unfavorably when asked to pitch in games that the Braves were leading by more than three runs -- consequently preventing him from potentially earning a save.
"Bobby is one that if we're winning a game, he doesn't want to let it slip away," Chipper Jones said. "If that means bringing a closer in with a four- or five-run lead against a team with a very potent lineup, then so be it. It's no secret that Wicky really didn't want to pitch in those games."
Although Thursday night's appearance was one in which he couldn't earn a save, multiple Braves players said that any postgame frustrations he expressed were aimed at the results and not his assignment.
But Chipper Jones said via body language, comments and actions, there were plenty of other instances when Wickman expressed his displeasure about being asked to hold leads in non-save situations.
"Because you were treated a certain way elsewhere, doesn't mean you're going to be used the same way here," the veteran third baseman said. "Wins are important. Certain games are more important than others. If we need a win, Bobby [Cox] is going to make sure that we get it. If that means the closer is pitching with a four-run lead in the ninth, then that's the way it's going to be. It's never been a problem with any [other Braves closers]."
When Wickman posted a 1.04 ERA in 28 appearances and converted 18 of his 19 save opportunities after being acquired by the Braves from the Indians on July 20 last year, there weren't too many complaints about his gruff personality.
But while posting a 5.03 ERA and blowing six of the 20 save opportunities he's had in his past 39 appearances, Wickman's personality became more of an issue.
Some players were upset when he told ex-teammate Jarrod Saltalamacchia that they'd have a better team if the Braves ended up sending him to the Rangers for Mark Teixeira. In another instance, Wickman infuriated an outfielder when he asked, "Did you lose that in the lights?" after a shallow single fell in the outfield grass.
"We talk, and we have fun, and we do what we need to do," Andruw Jones said. "You guys, [the media], could see it. He was just by himself. It's the way he wanted to have it, and we understand that. But when we put the uniform on together, we want to be as a team."
In fairness, Wickman often befriended younger relievers and was willing to serve as a mentor when necessary. But he never seemed to be a comfortable fit in the Braves' clubhouse.
"Wicky was always good to me," said Chipper Jones, who admitted he rarely said more than "hi" or "bye" to the veteran closer. "He always treated me with respect. So I can't really say anything bad about him."
With Wickman out of the picture, Cox plans to use a closer-by-committee. Octavio Dotel, who has the most experience as a closer, is still battling shoulder soreness, and when he might return remains in doubt.
Rafael Soriano will be given a chance to win the closer's role. Peter Moylan and Tyler Yates will also be asked to gain a greater responsibility. As for Joey Devine and Jose Ascanio, who were both promoted to the Atlanta roster on Friday, they'll attempt to match the same success that Manny Acosta has realized over the past couple weeks.
"Those guys all got the talent, and I think they're young and hungry," Andruw Jones said. "We need guys who want to go out there and pitch. If you don't want to pitch you shouldn't be here."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.