PHOENIX -- In making the surprising decision to release veteran right-hander Claudio Vargas on Tuesday, the Brewers set their starting rotation for Opening Day. Vargas was 3-1 with a 3.86 ERA in five Spring Training starts and was thought to be a favorite for one of the three unsettled spots because he was out of Minor League options. Instead, Dave Bush, Carlos Villanueva and Manny Parra will round out the starting rotation, in that order, behind Opening Day starter Ben Sheets and No. 2 man Jeff Suppan. Manager Ned Yost announced his rotation as "95 percent" set, though he said left-hander Chris Narveson drew some votes during a Tuesday morning meeting of club officials, and that an injury over the final four Spring Training games could change things. Villanueva's selection as the No. 4 starter was of particular interest, since his debut will come in the sold-out, April 4 Miller Park opener against the Giants.
The Brewers tried but were unable to find a team interested in trading for Vargas, who turns 30 in June and was due $3.6 million in 2008. He already cleared outright waivers, meaning all 30 teams could have had him for $20,000, and will be on release waivers until Thursday, meaning a team could claim him for $1 but would be on the hook for his full salary. Assuming he clears, Vargas will be a free agent free to sign a new contract with any club. There was a financial component to the timing of the move. Wednesday is the deadline to request release waivers on a player and owe only a quarter of his salary, so the Brewers will owe Vargas only $900,000. But Yost and general manager Doug Melvin billed it as a baseball decision, not a financial one. Club officials ranked Vargas seventh on the depth chart among the starting pitchers, behind the five who will break camp in the starting rotation plus right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who is rehabbing a knee injury and is expected back in the big leagues in mid-April. Keeping Vargas would have limited the team's options when Gallardo returned to action. "It was very, very heavily debated," Yost said. "But it always came back to [the fact] that [Vargas] was the seventh guy on our staff, in all of our discussions and all the things that we talked about." Yost had preached depth all spring but now the team is gambling that its starters will stay healthy. With left-hander Chris Capuano likely out for the year with a torn elbow ligament, the top backup options at Triple-A will be Narveson and Zach Jackson, both left-handers with little Major League experience. As he packed his locker and said goodbyes just before noon on Tuesday, Vargas had already spoken with his agent, Bean Stringfellow, about what comes next. Stringfellow also represents former Brewers closer Francisco Cordero, who spurned an offer from the Brewers last winter for a richer deal with Cincinnati.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.