By CHRIS ASSENHEIMER
CLEVELAND â€” Carl Pavano will get the opportunity to resurrect his career in Cleveland.
An injury-prone bust after signing a lucrative contract with the New York Yankees, Pavano agreed to a one-year deal with the Indians on Tuesday â€” both parties hoping the right-hander can return to the form he displayed when he won 18 games for the Florida Marlins in 2004.
Pavano, who turns 33 Thursday, will come to spring training with a guaranteed spot in Clevelandâ€™s rotation and a $1.5 million contract that can climb to $5.3 million with performance enhancements. But he must remain healthy to keep his starting job, something he has been unable to do for much of his 11-year big league career.
â€œIf heâ€™s healthy, heâ€™ll be in our rotation, and we expect him to be healthy,â€ said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, who has coveted a veteran starter to join his staff all offseason.
Shapiroâ€™s optimism is prompted by the battery of physical tests the Indiansâ€™ medical staff performed on Pavano, and the pitcherâ€™s ability to return from Tommy John surgery last year and make seven starts for the Yankees (4-2, 5.77 ERA).
The rest of Pavanoâ€™s tenure in New York was forgettable at best.
He arrived in the Bronx after signing a four-year contract worth just under $40 million, a season after going a career-best 18-8 with a 3.00 in 31 starts for the Marlins. Pavano wound up drawing the ire of the Yankees and their fans when he made just 26 appearances and was the focus of a handful of negative off-field incidents.
One included broken ribs that Pavano suffered during an injury-plagued 2005 season, which he sustained in a car accident that he failed to reveal to Yankees officials. It came a year after right shoulder problems limited him to 17 starts during his debut season in New York.
Pavano also refused to accept a minor league assignment with the Yankees following the 2007 season, with the team hoping to free up a spot on its 40-man roster, and was criticized by veteran pitcher Mike Mussina, who questioned Pavanoâ€™s desire to pitch.
â€œI donâ€™t think weâ€™ll have to worry about that,â€ Shapiro said. â€œWe thought heâ€™d benefit from a fresh start. Itâ€™s obviously been a tough go of it for him in New York.
â€œI think weâ€™re getting this guy at the right time and can offer him the right environment to be successful.â€
There is no option included in the agreement, with the performance bonuses only exercised once Pavano makes 18 starts. It is a similar contract to the one the Indians constructed for Kevin Millwood, when the veteran arrived as a free-agent injury risk prior to the 2005 season, and proceeded to lead the American League with a 2.86 ERA.
Itâ€™s been a busy winter for the Indians, who filled their biggest offseason need in acquiring closer Kerry Wood, a back-end reliever in Joe Smith and a third baseman in Mark DeRosa. Pavano would seem to be the final piece, but Shapiro wouldnâ€™t say he was finished, hinting that a trade was still a possibility.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t say thatâ€™s it,â€ he said. â€œBut without any subtraction to our payroll, there will be no additions.â€
To make room for Pavano on the 40-man roster, the Indians designated first baseman Michael Aubrey for assignment. Like Pavano, Aubrey, Clevelandâ€™s first-round draft choice (11th overall) in 2003, has had trouble staying healthy. He made his big league debut last year for the Indians, batting .200 with two home runs and three RBI in 15 games, but was considered expendable with the wealth of depth the club possesses at first base.
Travis Hafner had his problematic right shoulder examined by Dr. James Andrews and was cleared to begin â€œpre-hitting activities,â€ which the Indians hope translates into the designated hitter swinging a bat by the middle of this month. Andrews performed arthroscopic surgery on Hafnerâ€™s shoulder in October.
The Indians are hopeful Hafner will be at close to full health this spring. He followed up a subpar 2007 season with an injury-filled one in â€˜08, when he hit just .197 with five homers and 24 RBI in 57 games.
Assenheimer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 440-329-7136.
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