In a stunning move, the Atlanta Braves released 305-game winner Tom Glavine on Wednesday, just when it seemed he was ready to return to the big leagues.
The 43-year-old Glavine, who was coming back from shoulder and elbow surgery, threw six scoreless innings for Class-A Rome on Tuesday night and proclaimed himself ready to pitch in the majors again.
Instead, the Braves cut him, another move that figures to draw the ire of Atlanta fans after the team failed to re-sign John Smoltz during the offseason.
Glavine described himself as "very surprised" in a text message to The Associated Press.
General manager Frank Wren said the decision had nothing to do with a $1 million bonus that Glavine would have received for being placed on the major league roster. Instead, the team felt it had a better chance to win with a younger pitcher in the rotation.
"This was not a business decision," Wren said. "This was a performance decision."
Top prospect Tommy Hanson will be called up Saturday to start against Milwaukee. Glavine, meanwhile, hasn't decided whether he wants to try to hook on with another team.
"Not sure about pitching," he said in his text.
Glavine was still trying to deal with what appeared to be another bitter split from the Braves.
"We gave him the option, 'If you want to retire, you can retire as a Brave,'" Wren said. "He asked us to release him."
The Braves made another major move Wednesday, acquiring All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth from Pittsburgh for three prospects: outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.
Wren said Glavine's impressive performance in the minors had no impact on the team's assessment of his ability to pitch in the big leagues.
"We've been evaluating him the last four weeks and everyone felt we had a better chance to win at the major league level with one of our younger pitchers," Wren said. "The pitching line is irrelevant when you're pitching in low A-ball. The line is not relevant as to whether you can get major league hitters out."
The Braves closed the clubhouse before the game. When team spokesman Brad Hainje finally poked his head out less than hour before the first pitch, he said Glavine had already left Turner Field after meeting with Wren, manager Bobby Cox and team president John Schuerholz.
Hainje said Cox and the players would not comment until after the game, though third baseman Chipper Jones said just before batting practice that he was looking forward to Glavine's return.
"This is the perfect platform for him to finish it out," Jones said. "If he comes in and helps us win some ballgames, pitches solid baseball down the stretch, I think he would be much more inclined to call it a career on a positive note."
Glavine was the winningest active pitcher in the majors with a record of 305-203. While he and his agent, Gregg Clifton, did not immediately return phone messages, the fact that Glavine asked to be released clearly indicates that he still wants to pitch after missing most of last season with the first major injury of his career.
"I think he was taken aback a little bit," Wren conceded.
Glavine pitched his first 16 seasons for the Braves, then signed with the New York Mets before the 2003 season after negotiations with Atlanta turned bitter.
The left-hander pitched five seasons for the Mets, then reconciled with the Braves. Glavine returned to Atlanta with a one-year deal in 2008, intent on closing his career with his original team.
He pitched only 13 games before his season ended with an elbow injury that required surgery. He also had some minor work done on his shoulder, and negotiations on a return to the Braves dragged on beyond the start of spring training.
Glavine finally signed a $3.5 million deal that included a $1 million bonus when he was placed on the active roster and $1.25 million each for 30 and 90 days on the active roster.
He never made it back _ at least not with Atlanta.
Shortly before his first scheduled start, Glavine began feeling pain in his shoulder. He admitted that retirement was a possibility, but two weeks of rest left him feeling much better. He made two rehab starts for Triple-A Gwinnett, throwing five shutout innings in his second appearance, and added to his scoreless streak at Rome.
Wren said the numbers didn't matter.
"The comeback was not working," the GM said. "Our evaluation was he would not be successful."