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Molina Stays, Ortiz Is Out

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

After crunching the salary numbers, the Angels rendered a split decision Monday on catcher Bengie Molina and pitcher Ramon Ortiz.

The Angels picked up the $3-million option on Molina’s contract for 2005 and declined to renew a $5.5-million option on Ortiz, the starter whose early-season demotion to the bullpen last season sparked repeated trade demands.

General Manager Bill Stoneman left the door open for Ortiz, who will be paid a $100,000 buyout, to return through salary arbitration, though there are no assurances the Angels would make such an offer to a right-hander who last season pitched a career-low 128 innings.

“Looking at his option price, we decided we would do better in arbitration,” Stoneman said of Ortiz, who made $3.1 million in 2004. “The analysis we went through suggests a much lower number than $5.5 million.”

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Ortiz, 31, who was 5-7 with a 4.43 earned-run average, would become a free agent if the Angels declined to offer him arbitration. The team must decide by Dec. 20 if it wants to keep Ortiz, who has spent his entire professional career as an Angel.

“That’s their decision, and we don’t have any comment,” said Pat Roache, Ortiz’s agent. “We’ll just move forward from here and see what happens.”

Stoneman said he would not rule out a return to the rotation for Ortiz, who was 4-5 with a 5.47 ERA in 14 starts and 1-2 with a 2.76 ERA in 20 relief appearances.

“Command got him into trouble,” Stoneman said. “If he can find the command we’ve seen from him in the past then, shoot, he can be a starter.”

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The Angels did not waver regarding Molina, who rebounded from an injury-plagued start to bat .276 with 10 home runs and 54 runs batted in in 97 games. The two-time Gold Glove Award winner made $1.9 million in his fifth full season with the Angels.

“He’s been a Gold Glove winner two out of the last three years and swings a pretty good bat,” Stoneman said.

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Stoneman said he preferred to keep Gold Glove winner Darin Erstad at first base next season rather than move him back to the outfield, solidifying the team’s need for an additional outfielder as it attempts to trade Jose Guillen.... Former Angel closer Troy Percival is mulling offers from several teams and is expected to decide around Thanksgiving where he will play in 2005, said his agent, Paul Cohen. Percival, scheduled to meet this week with the Detroit Tigers, one of six teams he’s considering, is “very excited with what he’s seen,” Cohen said.

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-- Ben Bolch

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Arbitrators ruled against the former limited partners of the Montreal Expos in their case against former controlling owner Jeffrey Loria, clearing Major League Baseball to move the franchise to Washington.

Jeffrey Kessler, the lawyer for the limited partners, said they would drop their attempt to gain an injunction to block the move. Baseball owners are scheduled to vote on the relocation Thursday in Chicago.

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In a suit filed in July 2002, the 14 limited partners accused Loria, Commissioner Bud Selig, Florida Marlin President David Samson and several others of violating federal racketeering laws, mail fraud and wire fraud in an attempt to eliminate the Expos, saying their 76% share of the Expos became a 6% to 7% stake in the Marlins. Four months later, the suit was put on hold by a federal judge, who told the limited partners to take their case to arbitration first.

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Left-hander Al Leiter became a free agent when the New York Mets declined his $10.2-million option and decided to pay a $2.1-million buyout. Leiter, 39, was 10-8 with a 3.21 ERA in 30 starts last season, his seventh with the Mets.

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St. Louis closer Jason Isringhausen had surgery on his left hip and is expected to be recovered in time for spring training. The right-hander had a career-best 47 saves last season, matching the club record and tying Florida’s Armando Benitez for the National League lead.

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A $15-million renovation has started at Dodger Stadium. The project includes moving the dugouts 20 feet closer to the field and adding about 1,600 seats at field level.


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