The Angels cut the biggest severance check in major league history Wednesday, releasing pitcher Kevin Appier and replacing him in the starting rotation with Scot Shields, a long reliever who makes $5,000 more than baseball's minimum wage.
The Angels owe Appier $15.67 million on a contract that extends through 2004, including a $12-million salary next season. The record for most money paid to a released player was set this spring, when the Detroit Tigers cut infielder Damion Easley and paid him $14.3 million for the remaining two years of his contract, plus a 2005 buyout.
Angel owner Arte Moreno, who approved the release upon the recommendation of General Manager Bill Stoneman and Manager Mike Scioscia, said the huge sum payable to Appier will not preclude Stoneman from spending to improve the team this winter, perhaps to acquire a first baseman or outfielder. The Angels opened this season with a club record player payroll of $76 million, with Appier the highest paid at $11 million.
"Bill doesn't have any economic restrictions in the short term," Moreno said. "For the next 18 to 36 months, we're going to try to enhance the team. We don't have an endless budget, but we have budgeted capital money to invest in this team and maintain a high level of competitiveness and give us a chance to win a championship."
Appier, 35, went 7-7 with a 5.63 earned-run average. He failed to survive the third inning in three of his last five starts, as the Angels fell out of contention, and got only two outs in Tuesday's 6-2 loss to the New York Yankees.
He was visibly upset when Scioscia yanked him Tuesday. He has been critical of the handling of the pitching staff and has disputed Scioscia's oft-stated contention that inconsistent starting pitching is the primary reason for the Angels' struggles this season.
Appier did not return messages Wednesday, but agent Jeff Borris said he had been pitching with a sore elbow.
"He's been pitching hurt all year long," Borris said. "This is the most expensive case of tendinitis in history."
Scioscia and pitching coach Bud Black each denied that the criticism from Appier -- or any incident Tuesday -- prompted the release. Stoneman said that Appier mentioned the elbow soreness when informed of his release.
"By his own admission, he was able to pitch," Black said. "Every pitcher has something going on. They might not be 100%, but they're able to pitch. Kevin fell into that category."
Scioscia said that Shields, with a 1.79 ERA, had "pitched himself into this opportunity." The Angels had wanted to get him into the rotation sooner, Scioscia said, but waited until determining Appier was "highly unlikely" to recover his effectiveness.
Even before Appier's outing Tuesday, Stoneman said he had offered other teams the chance to trade a prospect for Appier while the Angels paid almost all of his salary. None bit, and now he can rest his elbow and then sign elsewhere, with the Angels responsible for all but a prorated share of the $300,000 minimum wage.
"He'll resume his career in a couple of weeks and be fine," Borris said. "He's not ready to retire."
The Angels acquired Appier from the New York Mets in a December 2001 trade for Mo Vaughn. He went 14-12 with a 3.92 ERA last season. Moreno saluted him for helping to deliver the first World Series title in club history but said it was time to move on, noting the Angels would not save any money by keeping Appier.
"We're trying to take a long-term view and not put Band-Aids on things," Moreno said.
Club executives insisted the move reflected a desire to improve the rotation this season more than to provide Shields with a two-month audition for 2004.
"If you really want to win, you go with the best guy, and that's Shields," pitcher Ben Weber said, "regardless of what anyone's salary is."
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Money Not Well Spent
Since being traded for each other in Dec. 2001, the results have been mixed at best for Kevin Appier and Mo Vaughn. Appier won a World Series ring but was released Wednesday. Vaughn has been a bust in New York and is currently out for the season with his future very much in doubt (Note: Both salary figures through next season). A look at some key numbers:
KEVIN APPIER (owed $15.67 million)
*--* Year IP H ER BB SO W-L ERA 2002 188 1/3 191 82 64 132 14-12 3.92 2003 92 2/3 105 58 36 50 7-7 5.63 Totals 281 296 140 100 182 21-19 4.48
MO VAUGHN (owed $29.3 million)
*--* Year AB H 2B HR RBI BB SO Avg OB% Slg% 2002 487 126 18 26 72 59 145 259 349 456 2003 79 15 2 3 15 14 22 190 323 329 Totals 566 141 20 29 87 73 167 249 335 438