Blue Jays release Thomas after slow start to 2008 season

TORONTO -- Slumping designated hitter Frank Thomas was released Sunday by the Blue Jays, who cut the 19-year veteran one day after he became angry for being taken out of the lineup.

Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi told ESPN's Peter Gammons that the release of Thomas was "by mutual consent. He doesn't want to be here if he's not going to play much, and we don't want him to be unhappy. He handled it with class, and I appreciate that."

Ricciardi and Thomas met in the clubhouse early Sunday.

"Our best opportunity is to put other guys in the lineup at this point," Ricciardi told The Associated Press. "Obviously, reduced playing time is not something that he was interested in. In order to let him go forward and get on with his career, I think it's fair to do it at this point."

The move leaves the Blue Jays on the hook for $7,081,967, the remainder of his $8 million salary this year in the $18.12 million, two-year contract the 39-year-old Thomas signed in November 2006.

Thomas was hitless in his past 13 at-bats and had gone 4-for-35 since homering in three straight games April 5-8. Known as a slow starter, he batted .167 with three homers and 11 RBIs for Toronto this year.

Last season, Thomas hit .277, leading the team with 26 home runs and 95 RBIs.

"I don't know that we have the luxury of waiting two to three months for somebody to kick in because we can't let this league or this division get away from us," Ricciardi said.

Ricciardi said the Blue Jays offered Thomas "a lesser role playing two or three times a week," but weren't surprised the veteran slugger chose not to accept.

"Out of respect for his career, it's not fair to him to sit around and become a part-time player," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "I know he wasn't going to be happy with that and you can definitely understand."

Center fielder Vernon Wells praised management for finding a quick resolution to the situation.

"I think it's better for [Thomas], too," Wells said. "He gets a chance to have more time to possibly pick up with another team, with us it may give some of our younger guys a chance to come up.

"We haven't been the best team so far this season. We definitely have some improvements to make."

Toronto beat Detroit 5-3 Sunday to improve to 10-9, 2½ games behind Boston in the American League East.

With Thomas gone, outfielder Matt Stairs and catcher Rod Barajas will split time at DH for Toronto. Catcher Robinzon Diaz was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse after Sunday's game to give the Blue Jays an extra option behind the plate on days when Barajas starts at DH.

Thomas' deal included a $10-million option for 2009 that would have kicked in automatically if he made 376 plate appearances this season. On Saturday, Thomas said the Blue Jays had benched him to prevent him from reaching that mark.

"It's pretty obvious," Thomas said Saturday. "Sixty at-bats isn't enough to make that decision. I'm angry, I know I can help this team. My career isn't going to end like this."

Thomas did not shake hands with his teammates following Toronto's 3-2 victory over Detroit on Saturday and left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters.

"If you know Frank, he's an emotional guy," Ricciardi said Sunday. "He wears his heart on his sleeve. I would be disappointed if a player didn't have a reaction that he cared. That wasn't really that important to me."

Ricciardi said Thomas was more calm when they met Sunday, adding that the contract was not part of their discussion.

"That never came up," Ricciardi said. "I told Frank our decision is based on performance and his decision is based on not being able to be in the lineup."

He reached the 500-homer plateau on June 28 against Minnesota's Carlos Silva.

Thomas has 516 career homers, placing him 18th on baseball's career list. He also has 264 career home runs as a designated hitter, the most in baseball history.

With a career average of .302, Thomas is one of four players in baseball history with at least a .300 average, 500 home runs, 1,500 RBIs, 1,000 runs and 1,500 walks. The others are Mel Ott, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

Also Sunday, the Blue Jays assigned third baseman Scott Rolen (broken finger) to Class-A Dunedin to begin a rehabilitation assignment. Ricciardi said Rolen will play third base Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before being re-evaluated.

Acquired from St. Louis in an offseason trade that sent Troy Glaus to the Cardinals, Rolen fractured the middle finger on his right hand during a fielding drill in spring training, and has yet to play for Toronto this season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.