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Extra arm in pen forces Church out
Atlanta Braves pitcher Rafael Soriano throws to a Houston Astros batter during a spring training baseball game in Kissimme Fla., in this March 15 file photo. - photo by Associated Press
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves' surplus of late-inning relievers forced the team to part ways with outfielder Ryan Church on Tuesday.Church was designated for assignment by the Braves to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for reliever Rafael Soriano, who made a surprise decision a day earlier to accept salary arbitration.The Braves last week signed closer Billy Wagner and setup man Takashi Saito. The expectation was Soriano and Mike Gonzalez would decline salary arbitration offers and become free agents.Instead, Soriano is still with the Braves. The right-hander can't be traded before June 16 without his consent.The team added about $10 million in payroll with Wagner and Saito, and Soriano could gain a raise from $6.1 million to more than $7 million.However, despite the Braves' strained budget due to the overstocked bullpen, Atlanta general manager Frank Wren says Soriano's decision will not hinder efforts to improve the team's lineup."We knew this was a possibility and was not surprising," Wren told The Associated Press in an e-mail. "It won't change our offseason plans."Soriano had 27 saves while going 1-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 77 games for Atlanta. Gonzalez, who declined arbitration, had 10 saves.The Braves acquired Church from the New York Mets for outfielder Jeff Francoeur on July 10. He made $2.8 million last season.Church hit .260 with two homers and 18 RBIs in 44 games with the Braves and .280 with two homers and 22 RBIs in 67 games with the Mets, leaving his overall average at .273 with four homers and 40 RBIs.After batting just .250 with five homers and 35 RBIs for Atlanta, Francoeur produced in New York, hitting .311 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs.The Church-for-Francoeur trade was one of the few bright spots for the Mets this year."I haven't had too many Ws lately, so I'll take it," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said with a laugh at the winter meetings in Indianapolis. "When you haven't had too many, you take anything you can."