10/28/2003 8:29 PM ET
Four Rockies become free agents
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
Chris Stynes played in 111 games for the Rockies this season. (AP Photo)
DENVER -- Shopping season has officially begun for the Colorado Rockies and several of their 2003 players.
The Rockies announced that they and third baseman Chris Stynes declined a mutual option worth $1.25 million, which makes Stynes a free agent. Left-handed pitcher Darren Oliver, the club's leader in victories with 13, outfielder Mark Sweeney and catcher Gregg Zaun also have filed for free agency.
No announcement was made on pinch-hit specialist Greg Norton, who is expected to file. But after leading baseball's pinch-hitters in several categories, Norton has said he would like to return and manager Clint Hurdle has said he'd like to retain him.
The Rockies can still sign their free agents. But General manager Dan O'Dowd said recently that he expects many decisions to be made later, rather than earlier, once the free agent market is established.
It's all an attempt for the Rockies to stretch a tight payroll. They've already turned loose relief pitchers Jose Jimenez, who could have made more than $4 million through arbitration, and Steve Reed, who had a club option worth $1.125 million. Colorado still faces big arbitration decisions on left fielder Jay Payton, right-handed reliever Justin Speier, second baseman Ronnie Belliard and right-handed pitcher Scott Elarton.
Stynes, who received a $200,000 buyout, was signed as a utility player but won the third base job. He appeared in a career-high 138 games, and finished second among National League third basemen with a .972 fielding percentage in 111 games at the position. Stynes batted .255 with 11 homers and 73 RBIs. At the end of the year he was playing second base as well as third.
Oliver signed with the Rockies just before Spring Training for $350,000, barely above the big-league minimum, after being released by Boston in 2002 and finishing the year in St. Louis' minor league system. Oliver revived his career, finishing 13-11 with a 5.04 ERA.
Sweeney, a left-handed hitter, batted .258 with two homers and 14 RBIs for the Rockies. He also spent time at Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Norton led all Major League pinch-hitters with 23 hits, four home runs and 17 RBIs.
Tuesday's decisions leave Colorado six players below the limit of 40 on its Major League roster.
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