D-Backs designate Ortiz for assignment

D-Backs designate Ortiz for assignment

PHOENIX -- Two days ago a bunch of teammates were at Russ Ortiz's house to celebrate his 32nd birthday.

As it turns out, it was more of a going-away party.

The Diamondbacks on Tuesday designated the veteran right-hander for assignment after watching him go 0-5 with a 7.54 ERA in six starts this year and 5-11 with a 6.89 ERA last year. The D-Backs have 10 days to trade or waive him.

"We just felt like it wasn't working here for whatever reason and we needed to turn the page," Arizona general manager Josh Byrnes said.

It could well be a very expensive page.

Ortiz was signed to a four-year, $33 million contract prior to the 2005 season and if a team claims him it would assume the contract and be responsible for the little more than $20 million that is left on it.

A more likely scenario would be that Ortiz clears waivers, becomes a free agent and is able to sign with any club. The team signing him would be responsible for just the prorated portion of the Major League minimum salary ($300,000) this year with the D-Backs footing the bill for the rest.

If that happens, it would be the largest amount of money ever paid to a released player, eclipsing the mark of $16 million the Rockies wound up paying pitcher Denny Neagle last year and the $15.7 million the Angels owed pitcher Kevin Appier in 2003.

"That's the ramifications of it if we're unable to work out a trade," Byrnes said of the finances. "That's something that we're aware of and we'll have to deal with. Sometimes when you designate a player, it does initiate [trade] discussions and often times it doesn't -- so we'll see."

Ortiz was 2-1 with a 3.60 ERA in April last year, but things went downhill for him from there. He had a 7.85 ERA in May, and a 6.52 ERA in June, when he also went on the disabled list for the first time in his career with a stress fracture in his rib cage.

When he returned in August, he was 1-2 with a 10.80 ERA and then was 0-3 with a 7.23 mark in September.

"He was brought in here to be a No. 1 guy and got No. 1 starter money," said catcher Johnny Estrada, a close friend of Ortiz's. "Big contract and big expectations and that's not something he had ever had to deal with before. He was always just one of the guys. He came in here with a lot of weight on his shoulders and a lot of expectations and that's one thing he never had to deal with in his career.

"It seemed like when he didn't get off to a good start, it was kind of downward spiral from there."

After an offseason conditioning program for Ortiz, the club held out hope that he would regain the form that saw him win double-digit games from 1999 through 2004. The addition of Estrada was also seen as a positive.

But nothing seemed to help as Ortiz started the year 0-3 with a 6.91 ERA and was sent to the bullpen and then placed on the disabled list with a calf injury. After four injury-rehab starts with Triple-A Tucson, during which he tweaked his mechanics, he was activated, but allowed seven runs (five earned) in 3 1/3 innings.

The D-Backs baseball staff made the decision late Monday that the time had come to cut Ortiz loose and Byrnes and manager Bob Melvin informed him by phone Tuesday.

Despite the likelihood of having to pay Ortiz for the next two and half years, Byrnes said he didn't think it would effect the D-Backs' plans much.

"It's somewhat of a hurdle, but I think we have to spend all our dollars wisely and, obviously, we owe Russ a lot of money going forward," Byrnes said. "But the flipside is we probably have more young talent than anyone in baseball and that's a good thing as far as managing payroll."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.