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Braves and Maddux don't reach agreement


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Sun Sentinel:


Braves Bid Adieu to Ace Greg Maddux



AP Sports Writer

Posted December 9 2003, 1:08 AM EST


ATLANTA -- If Greg Maddux stays true to form -- and doesn't he always? -- the 300th win should come shortly after next year's All Star game. He won't get it wearing an Atlanta uniform.


The Braves bid adieu to their longtime ace, cutting ties with Maddux by declining to offer arbitration by a midnight Sunday deadline. While the decision had been expected for weeks, if not months, it still marked the end of an Atlanta era.


"You can't expect to replace a Greg Maddux, either his ability to pitch or his impact on his fellow pitchers," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said Monday. "He's one of the best pitchers ever to toe the rubber in the history of the game."


Maddux had played for the Braves since 1993 -- winning the NL Cy Young Award the first three years, setting an NL record for most consecutive innings without a walk, becoming the poster child for consistency with his streak of 15-win seasons.


He could be counted on to take the mound every fifth day, emerging from the dugout with a nonchalant stroll that masked an intense competitive streak. He was good at whatever he did, where it was golf (his off-field passion) or crossword puzzles (a familiar clubhouse pursuit).


Maddux went 194-88 with a 2.63 ERA during his 11-year stint in Atlanta. Throw in those years with the Chicago Cubs and he's got a career mark of 289-163.


At age 37, the right-hander still hopes to pitch a few more years. But the Braves cut off negotiations early in the process, unwilling to meet Maddux's salary demands after he made $14.75 million last season.


Atlanta is expected to cut its payroll by at least $20 million this season.


"There was absolutely no possibility this was going to fit into our operating scheme this year," Schuerholz said. "I would have loved to have seen him say, 'I want to stay with the Braves no matter what. I want to achieve these goals wearing a Braves uniform. I want to stay.' We all would have loved that. But our economics and his economics weren't anywhere near each other."


Maddux, who lives in Las Vegas, was vacationing with his wife and couldn't be reached for comment, according to his agent, Scott Boras.


The Braves also declined arbitration for sluggers Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez, losing two players who combined for 82 homers and 241 RBIs in 2003.


Schuerholz said the Braves had "very serious" talks with Sheffield, who is close agreement on a $39 million, three-year deal with the Yankees, a deal the Yankees insist is not final.


Schuerholz never pursued another contract with Lopez, who had spent his entire career with the Braves. Despite a career season (43 homers, 109 RBIs), Atlanta had been planning all along for Johnny Estrada to take over at catcher in '04.


Estrada was acquired from Philadelphia a year ago in a cost-cutting deal that sent Kevin Millwood to the Phillies.


That was only the beginning of the Braves' new world, which calls for the team to pursue its 13th straight division title with a much-smaller payroll.


But Schuerholz confidently predicted that Atlanta will again be a contender in the NL East, even with lower-salaried players.


"We shouldn't worry what the team's roster looks like today," he said. "We have a lot of time to work on the construction of our roster. This is a meaningless date in terms of what our team will look like on opening day. We will have a very good team."


The team is pursuing a trade or signing to fill Sheffield's spot -- Jose Cruz Jr., Jose Guillen and Jacque Jones have been mentioned as possibilities -- and the top of the rotation is still strong with Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton and Horacio Ramirez.


"I think it's going to be very interesting, and maybe very exciting for the fans," Schuerholz said. "While we have said goodbye to some favorite players over the years, I think they're going to be excited by the new look, the new mix."


The new mix doesn't include Maddux. Asked what he'll remember about the right-hander, Schuerholz paused for a moment.


"Just his consistency," the GM finally said. "Just his consistent excellence."

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