Rohlicek on his Release

MESA, Ariz. -- Left-hander Russ Rohlicek was understandably a little surprised when the Cubs told him he'd been released last week.

Rohlicek had just completed a 35-minute exercise run when Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita and Pitching Coordinator Les Strode pulled him aside and gave him the news.

"They said I wasn't what they had expected," Rohlicek said. "It's not really something you can argue with them about. I don't really care what reasons they give you, because they're probably not the real reasons anyway. I said 'Hi' to Oneri that morning at 7, then we ran a 30-minute run and at 8:25, they released me. Couldn't they have told me that before?"

From the onset, the timing of Rohlicek's release appears odd. No official press release was made to announce his release despite numerous others with regards to current roster moves made in minor league camp. Nor was he out of options upon entering the year.

The 26-year-old was 3-1 with a 4.33 ERA in 55 appearances at Iowa a season ago during his first year on the Triple-A circuit. Those aren't overly bad numbers considering how hitter-friendly the Pacific Coast League generally is.

Acquired in the trade that sent Tom Gordon to Houston in 2002, Rohlicek posted a stellar 2.09 ERA in 60 appearances at Double-A West Tenn in 2004 as setup man to closer Jermaine Van Buren.

The previous year, he was 2-3 with a 2.41 ERA at Class-A Daytona in 41 appearances. Both years, he held opposing hitters to sub-.200 batting averages and was expecting to get an audition with the major league squad this spring.

In addition, Rohlicek had represented the Cubs in the prospect goldmine known as the Arizona Fall League as recently as 2004. He was even on the Cubs' 40-man roster last season.

"I came to Spring Training in minor league camp, which was a little disappointing in and of itself," Rohlicek said. "I never got a chance to throw for the Triple-A squad here at all, never got into any games. I had been working on a splitfinger-fastball and thought I was making progress. Rick Tronerud thought it was coming along pretty good and so did [Iowa Pitching Coach] Alan Dunn."

The news is puzzling not only to Russ, but the Rohlicek family and many of his friends in the organization.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to any of us," Rohlicek said. "First, they practically give Van Buren away to Boston in the off-season. Here's a guy who was [MiLB] Relief Pitcher of the Year, and then as soon as he gets up to the big league club, they trade him for literally nothing. Then you have guys like Raul Valdez, who had an ERA of six and he's invited back to big league camp. It's confusing."

Confusing or not, it's the nature of the business in this case. "I don't like it, but I guess things happen that way," are the words Johnny Cash once sung that seems to fit Rohlicek just right at the moment.

He doesn't regret his time with the Cubs or anything that may have transpired leading up to his release. His only wish is that the timing had come sooner this spring rather than later.

"The problem now is that I've been released so late into camp that teams are making cuts instead of making jobs," Rohlicek said. "I've had a couple of clubs call me, but they're very wishy-washy about it. The Texas Rangers actually offered me a job on the recommendation of [Rangers Director of Player Development] Scott Servais."

Rohlicek also believes there was more to his release than what the Cubs were letting on.

"To be honest, I think I made somebody at the big league club mad," he said. "I don't know how. I don't know who. Of all the people that were with me this spring, I even asked Ryan Dempster about it. All of them were as surprised as I was, so I don't really know who I could have offended. I don't have any reason not to name names if I had them, because [ticking] off the Cubs right now would do zero to hurt me."

Rohlicek says he got the sense that something wasn't right from the beginning.

"My first week in camp," he said, "they called me in and said I was going to have to work really hard to make the club. I thought I'd been doing great. I think someone had their mind made up. They do that with a lot of guys. They invite X amount of players to camp and there's at least a dozen of them who have no chance of making any club."

Where Rohlicek goes from here is completely up to him. In addition to baseball, the left-hander and Long Beach State University alumnus also works in real estate part-time during the off-season. He says he even sold a house to Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Tim Buss and also recommended one to Fleita.

Rohlicek said, "I've got kind of a bitter taste in my mouth. Like I said, if they had their mind made up from the beginning, let me go find a new job pitching. I've been doing real estate for quite a while and it's one of the mitigating factors into my decision because I can make quite a bit of money there. Now I'm looking at making even more money with all of this free time.

"I'm 6'6" and I'm a left-handed pitcher who throws in the low 90's. If they don't want me in their organization ... well, I had a job offer before I even got home from the park."

In spite of the initial shock, Rohlicek wanted to personally thank his fans and supporters through his years as a Cubs prospect.

"Cubs fans have always been great," he said. "I get letters all the time. It was a fun ride, and I'm just disappointed that it ended like this. The cities that I was in -- West Tenn, Des Moines -- it was fun. Regardless of what their reason was, the fans were great. Most people in the organization were."


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