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Foulke signs with Indians, getting chance to close

CLEVELAND -- Keith Foulke wants to be a closer again. The Cleveland Indians will give him the chance.

The free agent reliever finalized a $5 million, one-year contract with the club Thursday, a deal both sides hope turns into a longer partnership. Foulke's deal includes about $2 million in performance bonuses and a mutual option for 2008.

Bothered by assorted injuries the past two seasons in Boston, Foulke lost his closer's job last year when the Red Sox decided to go with rookie Jonathan Papelbon. Foulke went 3-1 with a 4.35 ERA but no saves in 44 games and missed two months with elbow tendinitis.

However, the 34-year-old made 11 straight appearances in September without giving up a run, a stretch that encouraged the Indians, who had a major league-low 24 saves in 2006, to take a long look at him as an option to close games in 2007.

Earlier this week, the Indians had Foulke take a physical before finalizing his deal. He will compete in spring training with Joe Borowski for the club's vacant closer job.

"Between those two guys we feel we have the answer, and we're going to utilize spring training to figure that out," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "I don't think calling it a competition is the right word in this case. Both guys have been successful in the role, both guys have experience in the role and we feel like we can work it out."

Both Foulke and Borowski could be used to close games this season, Shapiro said, but that one of them will enter the season as the closer with the other in a primary setup role.

Foulke is the fourth veteran reliever signed to a one-year deal by Cleveland this winter, joining Borowski, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz. Only Fultz, a left-handed setup man, lacks closing experience.

Shapiro's top priority this offseason was to fix a suspect bullpen that blew games and prevented the Indians from contending one season after they won 93 games. Cleveland finished 78-84, 18 games behind first-place Minnesota in the AL Central.

"It was a very limited market of alternatives for the bullpen," Shapiro said. "Given the market, I feel like we have addressed it with a good combination of guys. We've added some experience, some stability and some track record -- a group of guys who can anchor the back end."

Foulke's agent, Dan Horwits, said Foulke was impressed with Cleveland's dogged interest in him.

"Cleveland pursued Keith for the entire offseason and that meant a lot to him," Horwits said. "The Indians also have a good, experienced team capable of making it to the playoffs and Keith knows once you get there anything can happen."

Two years ago, Foulke helped the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years.

After saving 32 games during the regular season, the right-hander went 1-0 in the postseason and was on the mound when Boston completed its four-game sweep of St. Louis to win it all.

Foulke made $7.5 million with the Red Sox last year, but they did not pick up his club option after the season. He rejected a $5.25 million player option to stay in Boston.

He also has pitched for San Francisco, the Chicago White Sox and Oakland. Foulke was an All-Star in 2003 when he led the AL with 43 saves for the Athletics.

Shapiro said the Indians are continuing talks with free agent starter Mark Mulder, who also has been negotiating with Texas and St. Louis. Mulder had shoulder surgery in September and isn't expected to ready to pitch at the start of next season.

"We've made an offer and we're having active conversations and negotiations," Shapiro said. "It's in his court."