Ryan Dempster cleared the logjam that is the Boston Red Sox starting rotation and the role of fellow pitcher Felix Doubront with a surprising announcement on Sunday when he was expected to report to spring training.
The right-hander from Gibsons, B.C., said he will not pitch this season for physical reasons and the fact he wants to spend more time with his kids.
"I had an incredible run, a chance to play 16 years in the major leagues and be around a lot of great teammates, made a lot of good friendships, great friendships," Dempster said one day before the first formal spring training workout for pitchers and catchers.
"I'm totally comfortable with it. I'm at peace with my decision."
Dempster said he spoke with the club a few weeks ago about taking the season off. Several teammates said they were shocked to learn the news.
'As you get older, going through some things, some issues I have with my neck that have made it harder and harder to throw a baseball.' - Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster
Dempster, who won eight games in 29 starts last season before Boston moved him to the bullpen late in the regular campaign and for the playoffs, was expected to battle Doubront for the fifth spot in the rotation behind Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy.
The Red Sox are expected to place Dempster on the restricted list, meaning he would not collect his 2014 salary of $13.25 million US.
"The past few years have been tougher and tougher," he said. "As you get older, going through some things, some issues I have with my neck that have made it harder and harder to throw a baseball and throw it like I'm accustomed to throw it" contributed to his decision.
Teammates on hand
Several teammates watched as Dempster made his announcement, including Lester, Buchholz, Lackey, Peavy, first baseman Mike Napoli, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, catcher David Ross and reliever Andrew Miller.
"Everybody wants to soak in their last moments of being around him," Miller said. "He's a great guy. He left quite his mark and will be remembered fondly around here."
Dempster said he spoke with the club a few weeks ago about taking the season off.
The 36-year-old signed a two-year, $26.5 million deal with Boston in December 2012.
Last August, Major League Baseball suspended Dempster five games and fined $2,500 for intentionally throwing at New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
Dempster had spent the previous eight-plus seasons with the Chicago Cubs as a starter and relief pitcher before they traded him to Texas on July 31, 2012 for a couple of minor leaguers.
He went 7-3 with a 5.03 ERA for the Rangers, Dempster's first taste of pitching in the American League.
He has pitched for 16 seasons with the Florida Marlins, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, Texas and Red Sox. He is 132-133 with a 4.35 ERA and made the all-star team in 2008 when he went 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA with the Cubs.
"There aren't too many people who could say that the time is right to walk away from a game that I love, that's treated me so well," Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow said, "and particularly when there's a pretty sizeable amount of money that's being left on the table."
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said Dempster told him of the decision about 10 days ago.
"It came out of left field," Cherington said.
Players didn't find out until Sunday.
"At first I didn't really know what to say. It caught me off guard," Napoli said. "That's how everyone wants to go out, on their own terms."