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Published: Tuesday, 1/9/2001

Gonzalez could be Indian today

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CLEVELAND - Free agent outfielder Juan Gonzalez is close to signing a one-year contract with the Cleveland Indians and could finalize the deal today if he passes a physical.

Gonzalez arrived in Cleveland last night and is scheduled to be examined by Indians doctors today, according to a baseball management source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The 31-year-old Gonzalez, a two-time American League MVP, would likely play right field and bat cleanup as a replacement for Manny Ramirez, who signed with the Boston Red Sox last month. The contract is expected to be worth about $12 million.

Gonzalez's questionable back is the only thing holding up the deal. Gonzalez has had back problems in the past and was diagnosed with a herniated disk following last season, his first with the Detroit Tigers.

“I've been working very hard on my back in Puerto Rico and my back is ready,” Gonzalez told WUAB-TV upon his arrival in Cleveland. “I'm positive.”

“There are still a couple of hurdles left to get over,” Indians assistant general manager Mark Shapiro said yesterday. “We're making progress. It's not a foregone conclusion, but we're getting a lot closer.”

Last week, Gonzalez told a newspaper in his native Puerto Rico that he liked the idea of playing in Cleveland because he likes to hit at Jacobs Field and because he's close friends with second baseman Roberto Alomar and outfielder Wil Cordero.

Gonzalez's 12 homers and 36 RBIs at Jacobs Field are the most by an opposing player, and he has hit .344 (45-for-131) in 30 games at Cleveland.

Indians fans have been grumbling ever since the club lost its bidding war with Boston for Ramirez and the departure of popular catcher Sandy Alomar, who signed with the Chicago White Sox.

With a one-year deal, Gonzalez would be motivated to try to have a big season so he could cash in as a free-agent next winter.

Gonzalez last year rejected an eight-year extension from the Tigers worth about $143 million.

Gonzalez would be the second significant signing by the Indians this winter. In November, the club signed outfielder Ellis Burks to a $20 million, three-year deal as insurance in case Ramirez left.



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