ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – The Tampa Bay Devil Rays released Greg Vaughn on Saturday, giving up on their highest-paid player.

Tampa Bay will ask waivers Monday on Vaughn for the purpose of his unconditional release. If he isn’t claimed by Wednesday, and there’s virtually no chance he will be, the Devil Rays must pay his guaranteed $9.25 million salary this season.

Vaughn, 37, was in the final season of a $34 million, four-year contract. The Devil Rays would be responsible for paying $5 million of the remaining salary this year, with the rest deferred at 3 percent interest.

“The direction of the club is youth,” general manager Chuck LaMar said. “When Greg Vaughn signed that contract, we were heading in a different direction. We were headed toward a competitive, veteran type of team until the young kids are ready.”

Vaughn said he was relieved when LaMar and manager Lou Piniella told him of the decision before Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh.

“I don’t have to go out there every single time now and feel like I have to drive in three runs or get a hit every single time,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn, who has hit .217 in 14 games this spring, hit 50 homers for San Diego in 1998 but has slumped badly since.

“We gave him a lot of opportunity here this spring,” Piniella said. “If he wants to still play, I hope he catches on with somebody else. I’d like to see him get to do what he wants to do because he’s a good man and he’s worked hard here in camp.”

He missed part of last season with an injured shoulder, hitting .163 with 8 homers and 29 RBIs in 69 games. He struck out 82 times in 251 at bats.

With 352 career homers, Vaughn ranks 11th among active players. But in three seasons with Tampa Bay, he hit just .226 with 60 homers and 185 RBIs. In the two years before signing with the Devil Rays, he had 95 homers and drove in 237 runs for the Padres and Cincinnati.

Also Saturday, Tampa Bay released right-handed pitchers John Frascatore and Bob Wells.

The Devil Rays optioned right-handers Delvin James and Jason Standridge and infielders Antonio Perez and Jared Sandberg to Triple-A Durham.

AP-ES-03-22-03 1653EST

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