CINCINNATI -- Aaron Harang knew it was time to move on.
The Cincinnati Reds declined to exercise their contract option for the right-hander on Wednesday, making him a free agent. The NL Central champions also declined shortstop Orlando Cabrera's option but decided to keep right-hander Bronson Arroyo and left fielder Jonny Gomes.
The move with Harang was no surprise. His option called for a salary of $12.75 million, too pricey for a pitcher who struggled the last few seasons and lost his spot in the rotation. Instead, the Reds paid a $2 million buyout.
"Obviously it was a high option," Harang told The Associated Press in an interview from his home in San Diego. "With the struggles I've had the past couple years and a few injuries and stuff, I just had a feeling that was going to happen and probably end my tenure with the Reds. It was kind of to be expected.
"It's sad in a way, but I guess maybe it's a way of telling me it's time to move on and go somewhere else and see if I can get things back on track," he said.
The 32-year-old pitcher started his career with the Oakland Athletics in 2002, came to the Reds in a trade the following year and was the cornerstone of the rotation during a franchise losing streak that lasted nine years. He went 16-11 in 2006 and 16-6 the following season, even though the lineup was in constant flux.
"It's not easy being on a team where it was like a revolving door in the clubhouse," Harang said. "You didn't have the same teammates all year round. You were just getting to know guys and they'd get sent out and somebody else was coming in. But I went out and tried to do my best with what I'd have behind me."
His performance fell off the last three years. Harang went 6-17 in 2008, 6-14 the following year. He made his fifth straight Opening Day start last season, but back spasms cost him two months. He struggled when he returned and was demoted to the bullpen.
Manager Dusty Baker allowed him to start the final regular-season game against the Milwaukee Brewers, a gesture that touched Harang. He dabbed away tears after the game.
"I think it was kind of a way of informally letting me know that I probably wouldn't be back," said Harang, who was forced to leave in the third inning because of a blister. "But it was a nice gesture on Dusty's part, getting me out there to get a send-off. He gave me a copy of the final game card, stuff like that. It's a good memory to be able to leave Cincinnati that way."
Harang finished with a 6-7 record and a 5.32 ERA.
"He made many significant contributions to the club and the community," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "He was a very popular guy and he did a great job. We got to the point where we felt we had pitching depth to move on."
Cabrera would have gotten $4 million next year under his option. Instead, the Reds bought it out for $1 million. Cabrera batted .263 with four homers in 123 games. Strained abdominal muscles limited him at the end of the season.
Paul Janish is the top shortstop left on the roster. Jocketty will decide what to do at the position after the club gets a better idea of its payroll. He didn't rule out bringing Cabrera back.
Arroyo was the top starter last season, going 17-10 with a 3.99 ERA. Jocketty began talks on a contract extension with Arroyo before the season ended. The Reds had to decide his contract option on Wednesday -- Arroyo will get $11.5 million next season -- and will continue discussions about adding more years.
Gomes was one of the Reds' top hitters early in the season, when it played its way into contention. He batted .266 with 18 homers and 86 RBIs in 148 games. He'll make $1.75 million next season. If the Reds didn't exercise the option, he would have become a free agent rather than eligible for arbitration.