Fernando Valenzuela, Pete Incaviglia and Oddibe McDowell are still better than some major leaguers. But are they worth keeping?

Apparently not. All three got cut this week and, because of the business of big money, they may not be the only players on baseball's bubble."I'm not surprised," Cincinnati general manager Bob Quinn said. "I think you're going to see more of it. As younger players come along and get experience, the established players are going to be expendable."

The Braves released McDowell, who batted .243 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs in 113 games last season. By putting McDowell, 28, on waivers before opening day, Atlanta owed him $229,000, rather than his full 1991 salary of $925,000.

"No question about it. Nobody wants to pay for mediocrity," Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said. "Mediocre players are pricing themselves out of the market."

No one, not even the owners, gets too upset about how much true stars get. But when the in-between players make millions and skew the salary spiral, then there's trouble for both sides.

Valenzuela, 30, pitched 10 seasons for the Dodgers and was one of the most popular players in team history. He was 13-13 with a 4.59 ERA last year and struggled this spring, prompting Los Angeles to put him on waivers.

Valenzuela was scheduled to be paid $2.55 million this season. If he is not claimed for $1 by another team, the Dodgers will owe him $630,000.

"I wouldn't describe it as a trend, but one has to acknowledge that with salaries today, that's a bigger factor than it's ever been," Dodgers general manager Fred Claire said.

Rookie Jim Neidlinger might take Valenzuela's spot on the pitching staff.

"Sometimes you stay with a fellow because there's nobody there to take his place," Milwaukee general manager Harry Dalton said. "But if you have a couple of kids in the system and you think maybe this fellow is too much, too soon, but the other fellow is a million dollars too heavy, you speed your timetable along and bring the kid up."

Incaviglia, 27 next Tuesday, hit 24 homers and drove in 85 runs for Texas last season. He has hit at least 20 home runs in each of his five years for the Rangers.

Incaviglia had a $1,675,000 salary for this season. Instead, he got $414,000 for 45 days of termination pay.

The Rangers said an argument between Incaviglia and manager Bobby Valentine led to the outfielder's release. But Incaviglia's agent claimed the move was made purely for financial purposes.

Agent Ron Shapiro said: "There appears to be a clear trend that clubs are dealing with marginal players differently, depending on contract values involved."

The Basic Agreement says players can be cut because of poor performance. It does not mention whether a big salary can be a reason for release.

"I fully intend to explore that with the players' association," Attanasio said.

Pittsburgh general manager Larry Doughty said money was the main concern when reserves Wally Backman and R.J. Reynolds were not re-signed during the winter.