Hernandez, Fultz add experience to Indians bullpen

Updated: December 2, 2006, 5:00 PM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- The Indians added some much-needed experience and depth to their young bullpen Saturday, agreeing to one-year contracts with Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz.

Aaron Fultz
Fultz

Roberto Hernandez
Hernandez

Hernandez, a 42-year-old right-hander, is guaranteed $3.5 million. The Indians have a $3.7 million option for 2008.

Financial terms on the deal for Fultz, a 33-year-old lefty, were not immediately available. His contract also includes a club option for 2008. A phone message left for Fultz's agent was not immediately returned.

Hernandez went 0-3 with two saves and a 3.11 ERA in 68 appearances for Pittsburgh and the New York Mets last season. He began the year with the Pirates, who dealt him just before the July 31 trade deadline.

Hernandez, who made three appearances against St. Louis in the NL championship series, has 326 career saves, 10th-most in major league history. But he is not expected to compete for the job as Cleveland's closer during spring training.

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"It is a possibility that he'll close some," general manager Mark Shapiro said during a conference call. "That is not the primary intent."

Cleveland had a major league-low 24 saves last season and Shapiro is exploring the free-agent market for someone to finish games. The Indians might choose not to sign a closer and conduct an open competition among their current relievers while in Florida next spring.

Shapiro said adding veterans to the bullpen should help the entire pitching staff because they'll know how to handle themselves when things don't go well.

And the Indians aren't finished shopping.

"One of the things we're trying to do is change the dynamic in our bullpen," Shapiro said. "We expect and hope to sign at least one more reliever with experience. ... There hasn't been any back-end bullpen presence that we have not been in on."

Hernandez was offered salary arbitration by the Mets, so signing him will cost the Indians a future draft pick.

Among active pitchers, the durable Hernandez ranks fourth in career appearances (960) and third in saves. He recently had minor surgery to clean out his knee, but Cleveland had him in for a physical and Shapiro said he had "zero concern there."

Fultz went 3-1 with a 4.54 ERA in 66 appearances for Philadelphia in 2006. He did not allow a run in his final eight appearances in September.

The Indians didn't have an experienced left-handed setup man on their roster for most of last season, making it difficult for manager Eric Wedge to match up against opposing teams in late-game situations.

Fultz has limited left-handed hitters to a .240 average during his career. He is 21-12 with three saves and a 4.37 ERA in 414 appearances. He made his major league debut with San Francisco in 2000 and has also pitched for Texas and Minnesota.

"Our ability to get left-handers out has been a problem," Shapiro said. "He's a guy that has been consistently effective against left-handers."

Shapiro said the Indians also are looking for a utility infielder who can play shortstop extremely well and they'll probably try to fill that need in a trade because such a player is no longer available on the free-agent market.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press