PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The assignment was to pitch an inning of relief Monday and Tuesday. And Duaner Sanchez found that odd at this stage of Spring Training.
"I've never done that," he said Monday afternoon. And by afternoon Tuesday, he still hadn't. Rather than watch another inning from a pitcher they no longer regarded as the asset he once was, the Mets released Sanchez early Tuesday.
The decision, made late Monday, caught Sanchez by surprise and prompted a degree of disbelief in a clubhouse that had assumed he was one of the five definites -- he, Francisco Rodriguez, J.J. Putz, Sean Green and Pedro Feliciano -- in a bullpen that has yet to be defined fully. As late as Monday afternoon, before the meeting, manager Jerry Manuel suggested he liked Sanchez's experience as a New York reliever, and pitching coach Dan Warthen said, "I consider [Sanchez] part of our team."
Now the 29-year-old right-handed reliever, such an integral part of the club's success in 2006, is merely part of the Mets' history. When general manager Omar Minaya explained the decision Tuesday morning, he noted he had consulted with Manuel and Warthen, but he spoke in the first person.
"He's been getting better, but I didn't think Duaner could get to where we need him to be," Minaya said. "Where he was last year and now ... I didn't see enough improvement. ... We do have some young guys who are coming on, at least that we feel good about in camp right now. ... I just felt like if he's not going to be on the team, let's make a decision on this now and, at the same time, give him the opportunity to be with another club."
If Sanchez saw the timing of his release as a positive, he didn't say. Indeed, he said nothing as he left camp. Sanchez exited Minaya's office, his eyes moist, and immediately exited the clubhouse, his belongings still in his locker. Not only is he out of work, for now, Sanchez is out $1,405,687, too. Because the release preceded March 15, the Mets were obligated to pay only one-sixth of his $1,687,500 salary for 2009. The money was a consideration in the club's decision.
"We can wait around longer," Minaya said. "But we felt like, if we know [that release was likely], and this is where he's at, why don't we just do it now -- in his best interest and in our best interest."
Reporters had broached the issue of job security with Sanchez on Monday. He appeared and sounded carefree.
"I can reach back for more if I have to," Sanchez said, aware that his velocity was a factor in the club's concern. "But I didn't think that was what I had to do. I'm still trying to get my changeup and my breaking ball ready. I want to get comfortable first throwing those, then I'll get the velocity. I haven't been trying to impress somebody. I didn't know I had to do that.
"They should know what I can do. ... I know I have it. I've got no problem with that. I just don't want to come out of the chute throwing hard. That's not me. I want to make sure that when I reach back, I know I have it there. But I want to locate the ball, too. They know what I can do. I know what I can do. "I'm just trying to build up my arm, so it can be like '06."
Sanchez, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner made the Mets' 2006 bullpen special. But that changed when Sanchez suffered a dislocated right shoulder in a taxi accident in Florida in late July '06. He missed the remainder of the season, and his absence prompted the Mets to import another reliever. They traded Xavier Nady to the Pirates for Roberto Hernandez and Oliver Perez.
Sanchez incurred the wrath of manager WiIlie Randolph last year when he arrived at camp overweight and then reported late to workouts. He suffered a fracture of a bone in the front of his shoulder when he resumed throwing and didn't pitch until mid-April.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.