ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals parted ways with reliever Kyle McClellan on Tuesday, granting the right-hander his unconditional release one week before the organization must set its 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 Draft.
With McClellan again eligible for arbitration and the Cardinals unsure about the status of his right arm, the organization opted to cut ties now. It ends a relationship that began in 2002, when the Cards selected McClellan, a St. Louis-area native, in the 25th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.
"Any time you come off an injury, you know it's never a good situation and especially when you're at the point where I am with being arbitration eligible," said McClellan, who had braced for this possibility. "You understand that. And then you also look at the young arms they have coming up and the exciting potential they have, and you see there might not be a place for you."
McClellan made his Major League debut in 2008 and made 245 appearances (including 17 starts) over the next four years. Last winter, he and the Cards avoided arbitration by agreeing on a one-year, $2.5 million contract.
But arm troubles limited McClellan to 16 appearances in 2012, and he was not nearly as effective as he had been in previous years. He landed on the disabled list with a right elbow strain in mid-May and then underwent shoulder surgery in July to address a slightly frayed labrum and a split shoulder capsule. It was determined that the compromised shoulder was also causing the elbow problem.
The procedure ended McClellan's season.
McClellan said he did not get an indication that the Cardinals would explore re-signing him for less than he'd be owed if the club had gone through the arbitration process.
"There are definitely no hard feelings on my part," McClellan said. "Unfortunately, it's part of this game. You'd like to think you could be there forever, but it doesn't work out that way most of the time. It's definitely an interesting time for me. I'm sad to be leaving the only organization I've ever known. On the other side, it's an exciting time to see what's out there and get a fresh start."
He is also eager to show other clubs that his arm is strong. McClellan began his throwing program two weeks ago -- which was two weeks ahead of schedule. The righty most recently threw long toss at a distance of 90 feet. He'll continue throwing on flat ground through the end of the month, building up to a distance of 150 feet.
McClellan plans to visit with Cardinals head physician Dr. George Paletta in early December to make sure his arm is still responding well. He'll take the month of December off and then resume throwing in January.
"It's going really well," McClellan said of the rehab process. "Every indication from the rehab staff is that they fully expect me to be healthy in Spring Training, and that's something I'm excited about because I haven't been healthy for a year."
As a free agent, McClellan said he will pursue opportunities to both start and relieve, believing he can be an asset to another club in either role.
With McClellan gone, the Cardinals' 40-man roster has 36 players on it. That gives the organization several open spots which can be used to protect eligible players from next month's Rule 5 Draft. Those Minor League players must be added by Tuesday, Nov. 20.
The Cardinals also now have five remaining arbitration-eligible players to settle contracts with this winter. That list includes right-hander Jason Motte, right-hander Edward Mujica, third baseman David Freese, right-hander Mitchell Boggs and left-hander Marc Rzepczynski.
The club has until Nov. 30 to tender a contract to these players. If any are not offered a contract, they, too, enter free agency.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.