Indians keep closer Wickman

Nov. 5, 2001 at 3:22 PM
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CLEVELAND, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Realizing a failed gamble with controversial closer John Rocker, the Cleveland Indians have made a commitment to closer Bob Wickman.

New Indians general manager Mark Shapiro made re-signing Wickman his top priority and acted quickly, reaching agreement with the closer on a three-year contract with a club option for the 2005 season on Monday -- the first day players are eligible to file for free agency.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

"We are very excited about extending Bob's contract and keeping him as the cornerstone of our bullpen for years to come," Shapiro said. "Bob is a tremendous competitor and teammate who gives us a reliable, veteran arm at the back end of the bullpen."

Former Indians general manager John Hart acquired Rocker from the Atlanta Braves in June for relievers Steve Karsay and Steve Reed. Manager Charlie Manuel promptly bumped Wickman from the closer's role, handing it to Rocker. Annoyed by the demotion to setup man, Wickman vowed to leave the team as a free agent at the end of the season.

But Rocker imploded in Cleveland, managing just four saves with a 3-7 record and a 5.45 ERA. Manuel had no choice but to give the closer's job back to Wickman and the righthander responded with two wins, 12 straight saves and a 0.49 ERA in his last 18 appearances.

Wickman, 32, was 5-0 with a 2.39 ERA and had 32 saves in 35 opportunities for the Indians last season. He ranked fourth among American League closers in save percentage and topped 70 appearances for the fifth time in the last six years.

Since being acquired by the Indians from Milwaukee in July 2000, Wickman is 46-of-52 in save opportunities. Over the last four seasons, he has converted 124 saves in 149 chances, an 83.2 percent success rate.

Rocker's days in Cleveland appear to be numbered. Suspended and fined by major league baseball at the beginning of the 2000 season for derogatory comments about immigrants and minorities, Rocker clashed with fans and teammates after joining the Indians.

Rocker is eligible for salary arbitration, but the Indians can opt not to offer him a contract for 2002 which would make him a free agent. Since Hart was recently hired as general manager by the Texas Rangers, he may gamble on Rocker again and attempt to work out a trade with the Indians.

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