Wickman fits Cleveland's budget

Updated: November 24, 2004, 10:54 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- The Indians will again turn to closer Bob Wickman to get the last three outs for them.

Bob Wickman
Relief Pitcher
Cleveland Indians
30 0 2 13 26 4.25

Wickman agreed to a $2.75 million, one-year deal Wednesday to stay with the Indians, whose shaky bullpen without him early last season cost them any chance of winning the AL Central.

Wickman made $6.3 million last season, his fourth with Cleveland. In October, the club declined to exercise Wickman's $5 million option for next season. But after the Indians were unable to land a quality closer at their price, they decided to bring back the 12-year veteran. He can earn another $750,000 in performance bonuses under the new deal.

Having filled one of their biggest needs, the Indians are now expected to pursue a quality starter. Matt Clement, Jon Lieber, Russ Ortiz and Matt Morris are among those drawing interest.

"Certainly, this should give us the ability to be aggressive in the starting market," general manager Mark Shapiro said.

Wickman's 79 saves since coming to Cleveland in a 2000 trade from Milwaukee puts him fourth on the club's career list.

He sat out the 2003 season following reconstructive elbow surgery and missed the first three months last season.

Shapiro acknowledged that Wickman's health meant the deal had risk.

"I think what gives me confidence in Wickman is in his track record," Shapiro said. "My belief in his heart and his toughness."

While the 35-year-old right-hander was sidelined, Cleveland's relievers were just 13 of 32 in save chances. Wickman was 19-for-28.

Wickman considered retiring after last season, but after talking with his family he decided to keep playing. He also spoke with the Milwaukee Brewers, who wanted to use him in a setup role.

"We had 10 clubs that were interested," said his agent, Dick Moss. "He felt an obligation to the Indians."

Shapiro said he believes Wickman wants to retire on his own terms.

"In the contract that he very quickly accepted, he demonstrated the fact that he wanted to be here and that the most important thing to him was not money," Shapiro said.

After beginning last season on the disabled list, Wickman rejoined the Indians on July 3 and made his season debut three days later -- his first appearance in nearly two years. On July 28 he got his first save since July 20, 2002.

He went 0-2 with a 4.25 ERA in 30 appearances, finishing strongly. He converted his last 12 save chances from Aug. 5 through Oct. 3.

The club explored the free-agent market for a closer and had scheduled a visit last week with Troy Percival, who agreed to a $12 million, two-year deal with the Detroit Tigers.

To make room for Wickman, the Indians designated longtime utility player John McDonald for assignment. He batted .204 in 66 games last season.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press