Padres plan to release Walker

Padres plan to release Walker

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In a move that wasn't entirely unexpected, the Padres parted ways with veteran infielder Todd Walker on Monday, informing the 33-year-old that they'll request his unconditional release Tuesday.

Walker wasn't available for comment Monday, but Padres general manager Kevin Towers was insistent that the move was more a baseball decision and not a financial one -- even though the team saves almost $3 million of Walker's $3.9 million salary by releasing him before Wednesday.

"Absolutely," Towers said. "We said all along that when we break for San Diego we want to break with guys who we think will be the best 25 guys to help his ballclub win. ... This wasn't an easy decision. But, to a man, I think we all felt it was the right decision."

Walker, a .289 career hitter in 11 Major League seasons, was hitting just .225 this spring. With the addition of free-agent second baseman Marcus Giles, Walker would have been a backup at second base and first base and a left-handed hitter off the bench.

But the Padres determined that with Geoff Blum and Russell Branyan -- two players who, between them, can cover all four infield positions and are both left-handed hitters -- they essentially already had what Walker had to offer.

"Did we look at Spring Training results? Absolutely," Towers said. "That played into our evaluation. We felt there were better fits on our club than him."

By releasing Walker, the Padres owe him $987,500 in termination pay but avoid being on the hook for the full $3.95 million he was awarded last month in arbitration.

With his brother Mark -- a CPA from Newport Beach, Calif. -- representing him, Walker scored a huge arbitration victory as a panel of three arbiters awarded him a $3.95 million salary for the 2007 season. The team had submitted an offer of $2.75 million.

The arbitration victory was considered something of an upset of sorts because the Major League Baseball Players Association encouraged Walker to take the team's compromise proposal an hour before the arbitration hearing.

"The union said we were underdogs," Walker said in February. "Out of about 100 people in my camp, Mark was the only one telling me we could win -- to the point of being the enemy. I thought he was dead wrong; I'm a peacemaker. He was the sole reason we went to trial.

"It was a big, big validation for what he's done and said to me over my life in baseball. I likened it to Christopher Columbus saying the Earth was round when everybody else thought it was flat. Turns out the Earth was round."

It's not known if there will be a grievance filed on Walker's behalf by the Players Association regarding his release. The players union could possibly argue that Walker's release was financially motivated.

Pitcher Chris Young, the Padres' player representative, declined to comment specifically on the issue.

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Towers said the Padres offered Walker salary arbitration in November as an insurance policy. But that was a month before the team signed Giles to be its everyday second baseman.

Before arriving at his final decision to dump Walker, Towers put out feelers among other Major League clubs that Walker could be available in a deal, but it never got to the point where he was presented an offer.

"We had some discussions," Towers said. "We certainly put it out to our scouts in the Grapefruit League as well as here that if a team had interest we were open to some dialogue. In his situation, being a free agent, we couldn't move him without his consent until after June 1. That made it a little more difficult. But we never got to that point."

Towers and manager Bud Black met with Walker on Monday afternoon before most of the players arrived at the Peoria Sports Complex to prepare for their night game against the Royals. Towers said that while Walker was obviously disappointed he was going to be released, he handled the news with class.

"Walk's a tremendous person, a pro," Towers said. "I think anytime that you tell someone they're no longer going to be with your club -- especially after being a part of something that's special like last year -- there's disappointment, definitely. He had nothing but good things to say about Buddy, the staff and how he was treated over here. He handled it very, very well."

Towers and Black are convinced Walker's departure this late in Spring Training won't be a distraction to the rest of the clubhouse.

"The guys knew Walk got released," Black said. "I talked to a number of guys. There wasn't any issues with what happened today."

"For the most part, he'll tell you the same thing: It's the nature of the beast," said Padres pitcher Clay Hensley, one of Walker's closet friends on the team. "Obviously, he's going to be missed, but that's the way the game goes."

Walker's impending release likely means the team will keep either infielder Oscar Robles or outfielder Paul McAnulty or possibly peruse the waiver wire before setting the 25-man roster before Opening Day.

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