MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers made the most costly cut in franchise history on Monday when they released increasingly ineffective right-hander Jeff Suppan with more than $10 million left on his contract. Suppan, 0-2 with a 7.84 ERA this season in two starts and 13 relief outings, mostly in mop-up duty, was in the final season of a four-year, $42 million deal that was the richest in club history when he signed it on Christmas Eve 2006. Suppan's 2010 salary was $12.5 million, and he's also due a $2 million buyout of his $12.75 million club option for 2011. "I think we all wanted to try to extend this as long as we could because of our respect for Jeff and what he's done for the organization and the kind of person he is," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "He's one of the classiest guys I've been associated with. In the end, it does come down to performance."
Suppan, 35, is expected to seek a chance to start with another Major League team. He did not participate in interviews on Monday but did release a statement through the team. "I want to thank [Brewers principal owner] Mark Attanasio and Doug Melvin for all they have done for my family and me, especially how they handled this situation," it read. "I've played with a number of organizations and the Brewers are one of the classiest. "When I signed in 2007, I was committed to winning and to this day I still am. Nobody is more disappointed with how things have turned out. I enjoyed my time here in Milwaukee, as both a player and a member of the community. As such, I will continue my involvement with the [Brewers Community Foundation] for the remainder of the 2010 season. My commitment to this cause and the people it serves is unwavering." Suppan has donated $100,000 to the club's charitable arm in each year of his contract. "I wish the current organization, its fans and especially my teammates all the best," his statement concluded. To replace Suppan on both the 40-man and 25-man rosters, the Brewers on Tuesday will promote right-hander Chris Smith from Triple-A Nashville. Smith has been dominant for Nashville this season, compiling a 2-1 record with a 1.71 ERA and 16 saves. He's also no stranger to Milwaukee, having appeared in 35 games with the Brewers last season, during which he recorded a 4.11 ERA. Back in 2006, the Brewers out-bid the New York Mets for Suppan's services when he was coming off a successful, three-year run with the Cardinals. Suppan was 44-26 with a 3.95 ERA for St. Louis in that span, and starred in the '06 postseason, winning National League Championship Series MVP honors for his work against the Mets and then delivering a quality start in Game 4 of the World Series against the Tigers, an eventual 5-4 St. Louis win. But his performance deteriorated in each of his four seasons with Milwaukee, beginning with a respectable 2007 season in which Suppan went 12-12 with a 4.62 ERA and a 1.505 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched). His ERA and WHIP climbed in each of the subsequent three seasons, to 4.96 and 1.543 in 2008 to 5.29 and 1.695 in 2009 to 7.84 and 2.000 this season. Suppan began the 2010 season on the disabled list with a neck injury, then made two starts before the Brewers bumped him to the bullpen. Melvin was asked whether he regretted giving Suppan that big contract. "It's a fair question," he said, before offering a passionate response that began with a question of his own. "Have any of you done your homework to determine who the free agent players were that year?" Melvin asked reporters. "We could have signed Jason Schmidt. He signed for three years and $47 million. Barry Zito was seven years and $126 [million]. Gil Meche was five years and $55 [million]. Miguel Batista, three years and $25 [million]. Jason Marquis, three and $25 [million]. Vicente Padilla, two and $20 [million]. Ted Lilly, at four years and $40 [million], was probably the pitcher who performed the best out of that group. ... "When you enter into free agent contracts, it's one of the riskiest things to do. I know in the off-season, media, fans, myself included, we all get excited about the free agent people who are out there. But there are not a lot of free agent contracts with pitchers where you get the full [value]." Melvin called it "a learning experience." He also pointed out that Suppan and Dave Bush combined to 9-0 down the stretch in 2008, when the Brewers were pushing toward the National League Wild Card. They would not have ended the franchise's 26-year postseason drought, Melvin argued, without Suppan. But Monday's news nonetheless reinforced the risk-reward nature of multi-year contracts. The Brewers have one of the best long-terms deals in baseball attached to left fielder Ryan Braun, who only costs $1 million this season under an eight-year contract that runs through 2015. Then there are contracts like Suppan's and Bill Hall's. Hall signed a four-year deal following his 35-home run season in 2006 but never came close to matching that production and was traded to Seattle last year along with more than $7 million. Injuries can hurt, too. Reliever David Riske's record of durability in part prompted the Brewers to give him a three-year contract at the 2007 Winter Meetings, but he struggled through a sore elbow through much of 2008, lost almost all of 2009 to Tommy John reconstructive surgery and just this week is nearing the end of his rehabilitation assignment. Riske is drawing a $4.5 million salary this season. Melvin is not the only Brewers GM to have long-term deals look dubious in the end. Before Suppan, the most famous case was outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, who signed a three-year, $21 million contract before the 2001 season that at the time was the richest in club history. He was released on June 4, 2003 while still owed more than $7 million. "You can't always look at the money," Melvin said. "If you look at the money and what the performance is on players, you'll go crazy. We get deals with players before they are free agents. When they are zero-to-three, we get deals, and then when they are free agents, they get overpaid at times. It's just the way the system works." The Brewers will enter their series opener against the Cubs on Tuesday night with a 23-34 record, tied with Pittsburgh for fourth in the National League Central. Given the team's struggles, Suppan's hold on a roster spot had been tenuous for some time, but the Brewers waited until Monday to make the move, Melvin said, because they needed to see whether recent call-ups like John Axford, who has stepped in at closer for slumping Trevor Hoffman, and left-hander Zach Braddock and right-hander Kameron Loe could perform in the Majors. "The other guys -- Braddock, Axford, Loe -- have given us confidence that we think we can turn this around," Melvin said. "We've pitched better here recently, but we have to do it over a longer period of time. We have to keep the game close enough to give our offense a chance to win ballgames."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.