The Braves released underperforming outfielder Melky Cabrera and 40-year-old reliever Takashi Saito, not wasting any time making a couple of offseason moves that had been expected.
Saito was a key member of the Braves’ strong bullpen, posting 2.83 ERA with 69 strikeouts in 54 innings after signing a one-year contract last winter. The Japanese veteran missed most of the final month of the season with recurring shoulder soreness, but has said he might continue pitching.
Although he doesn’t have the six years of major league service normally required for free agency, his contract stipulated that Saito be released after the 2010 season, Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
The Braves signed Saito to be their primary setup man and backup closer to Billy Wagner. Saito was used almost exclusively as a setup man, and manager Bobby Cox adjusted his pitching pattern at midseason to give him more rest between appearances after Saito had shoulder soreness before the All-Star break.
Wagner retired after the season, and the Braves could have rookies Craig Kimbrel and left-hander Jonny Venters in the closer and setup roles next season. Wren said last week he might sign an experienced veteran to help out in the bullpen, but also indicated the Braves could go with what they have for key relief roles.
Cabrera, 26, hit .255 with a career-low four homers, 47 RBIs and a .317 on-base percentage in 147 games (458 at-bats) for the Braves, who got him from the New York Yankees last winter as part of the trade for pitcher Javier Vazquez. He played some at all three outfield positions, though not particularly well at any.
If the Braves had kept him, the arbitration-eligible Cabrera could have expected a raise from the $3.1 million he made in 2010. Wren said Tuesday that the Braves always viewed at Cabrera as a one-year player for them, and the team released him to create room on its roster.
The Braves got Cabrera, lefty reliever Mike Dunn and top pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino from the Yankees in the deal for Javier Vazquez, who went 10-10 with a 5.32 ERA in a disappointing 2010 season for New York. Vazquez was the Braves’ ace in 2009, going 15-10 with a career-best 2.87 ERA.
Lefty reliever Boone Logan was the other Brave sent to the Yankees in that five-player trade.
The Braves have also dropped backup catcher J.C. Boscan from the major league roster. The journeyman made his big-league debut in September at age 30. He could be re-signed to a minor league deal by the Braves.