Damion Easley became the most expensive player cut loose in baseball history when the Detroit Tigers released him yesterday with $14.3 million still owed on his contract.

The 33-year-old infielder is in the fourth season of a five-year, $29.9 million contract. The Tigers must pay him $6.5 million this year, $6.5 million in 2004 and a $1.3 million buyout of an $8 million team option for 2005.

"It's a very tough decision for everybody involved," Tigers President Dave Dombrowski said. "He's a quality individual. He's done a lot for the organization. It's a lot of money."

Easley was bumped from his starting job last Saturday when Tigers Manager Alan Trammell decided to use youngster Ramon Santiago as his starting second baseman this season.

"It's definitely not a proud day, I can say that," Easley said. "It's somewhat of a relief to know what my fate was. I knew it wouldn't be able to work out. I knew that 100 percent they were going to let me go."

Detroit obtained Easley in a July 1996 trade with the Angels and he was an American League all-star the following season.

Easley was Detroit's regular second baseman through 2001, but injuries limited him to just 85 games last year, when he hit .224 with eight homers and 30 RBI in 304 at-bats. Easley hit .256 this spring with three homers and five RBI.

The record for the most money owed to a released player was set just last Saturday, when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays cut Greg Vaughn, who is guaranteed $9.25 million this year.

* CARDINALS: Rick Ankiel was optioned to Class AA Tennessee, delaying his return to the major leagues. Ankiel, being converted from a starter to a reliever, was inconsistent this spring in his bid to earn a spot in the Cardinals' bullpen.

Ankiel made nine appearances of an inning or less, allowing eight runs and nine hits while walking nine and striking out nine. He did not allow a hit or a walk in just two of those innings.

* BRAVES: Atlanta placed pitcher Paul Byrd on the 15-day disabled list because of a sore right elbow. The move was made retroactive to March 21. Byrd, supposed to be the Braves' fourth starter, will be eligible to be activated April 5.

* PHILLIES: Mike Mussina struck out seven over five innings and Bubba Trammell homered as the New York Yankees beat Philadelphia, 2-0, in the final major league spring training game at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Fla. The Phillies will move to a new facility a few miles away. Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, who started the first game at Jack Russell in 1955, threw out the first pitch.

* MARLINS: Florida released 35-year-old outfielder Al Martin after he refused to sign a form that would have given the club advance permission to demote him to the minor leagues. A few hours later, Martin signed with Tampa Bay.

Yankees catcher John Flaherty scoots past Phillies batter Tomas Perez to chase pitch in dirt. Flaherty threw out David Bell at third. Yankees won, 2-0.