<
>

Gonzalez might be everyday outfielder if healthy

CLEVELAND -- Juan Gonzalez hasn't been the same since he led
Cleveland to the playoffs in 2001. The Indians are giving him another chance.

Gonzalez agreed to a minor league contract with Cleveland on Tuesday that could pay him up to $2.55 million -- if the oft-injured slugger can remain healthy.

Gonzalez's production has dropped since he had 35 homers and 140
RBI three seasons ago, primarily because of injuries. But Indians
general manager Mark Shapiro said the two-time American League MVP
has been working with a trainer to overcome back problems and is close to 100 percent.

"Should he come into camp healthy and in good form, I fully
expect him to make our club and be a starting outfielder," Shapiro said.

If Gonzalez makes the Indians' 25-man roster in spring training,
he would get $600,000 and have a chance to earn another $1.65
million in bonuses based on plate appearances and $300,000 based on time on the active roster.

Shapiro said the signing involves little risk for the Indians
and has the potential to improve the team's run production.

"He's extremely positive. Extremely motivated. Excited to come
back here," Shapiro said. "He's conscious of what we're going
through right now and wants to be a part of that."

Both the Indians and Gonzalez have struggled since 2001 -- the
last time Cleveland made the postseason.

Once one of baseball's most feared right-handed hitters, the
35-year-old Gonzalez has been limited to 185 games the past three
seasons with Texas and Kansas City because of a variety of
injuries.

He played in only 33 games for the Royals last season, batting
.276 with five homers and 17 RBI. He has 434 career homers for
Texas, Detroit, Cleveland and Kansas City.

Gonzalez could take the right-field job away from Casey Blake,
who is moving there from third to make room for Aaron Boone.

If that happens, Shapiro said Blake could be moved to left
field, pushing Coco Crisp to center and forcing Grady Sizemore to
begin the season at Triple-A Buffalo.

Shapiro said he is still looking to improve the team's bench and
is talking to utilityman Lou Merloni about returning to the club.

He said even if he doesn't add another player, he's satisfied
with what the team has accomplished this offseason, signing
pitchers Kevin Millwood, Bob Wickman and Scott Elarton, infielders
Ronnie Belliard and Jose Hernandez, and trading for reliever Arthur Rhodes.

"If we are done, I feel good about what we've done," Shapiro
said.