Ryan an option as Indians decide on closer

Updated: November 22, 2005, 7:25 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- Free agent B.J. Ryan visited with the Cleveland Indians, who could turn to the star closer if they decide not to re-sign Bob Wickman -- the anchor of the majors' best bullpen in 2005.

The Indians did their best Tuesday to make former Orioles pitcher feel wanted. The club put a photograph of him wearing a Cleveland cap on the jumbo scoreboard at Jacobs Field, and the ballpark's other scoreboards said: `"Welcome to Cleveland B.J. and Candi Ryan.''

The club confirmed that Ryan and his wife were in town to meet general manager Mark Shapiro, who had dinner with the couple Monday night.

"It was a great opportunity for us to get to know B.J. and for him and his wife to get to know the city and our staff," said Shapiro, who would not comment on negotiations.

In his first full season closing games for Baltimore, Ryan had 36 saves. The left-hander went 1-4 with a 2.43 ERA, striking out 100 in 70 1-3 innings. He has appeared in at least 61 games since 2001.

Ryan, who will turn 30 on Dec. 28, made his first All-Star team and was the best thing about a Baltimore bullpen that contributed to the club's 74-88 record and fourth-place finish in the AL East.

Along with Wickman and Billy Wagner, Ryan is one of the premier closers in this year's free-agent class. He visited the Toronto Blue Jays last week, and New York Yankees bench coach Lee Mazzilli, who managed Ryan last season before being fired, said he would like to speak with the lefty. The Yankees, though, would use Ryan in a setup role for Mariano Rivera.

If he signs with Cleveland, Ryan would take over closing duties for Wickman, who had a career-high 45 saves -- the second most in club history -- last season. Wickman has filed for free agency, but it remains to be seen how much interest there will be for the 36-year-old pitcher.

Although his efforts were not always eye-pleasing, Wickman was effective last season as Cleveland's bullpen posted a 2.80 ERA -- the lowest by any AL team since the 1992 Milwaukee Brewers.

Before fading in the final week, the Indians were in the AL playoff hunt. They won just one of their final seven games and finished 93-69 -- six behind the World Series champion Chicago White Sox.

The Indians have several other free agent pitchers who could be elsewhere in 2006. Starters Kevin Millwood and Scott Elarton and setup man Bobby Howry are all testing the market to gauge their value.

The club is expected to offer arbitration to Millwood and Howry on Dec. 7. In doing so, Cleveland ensures itself draft-pick compensation if the pitchers sign with other teams.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press