By ROB MAADDI, AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Jim Thome, the most coveted hitter in the free-agent market, agreed Monday to a six-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, two baseball officials said.
On Tuesday, the Phils scheduled a 4:30 p.m. news conference to announce the signing.
Thome, who hit a club-record 52 homers for the Cleveland Indians last season, accepted a deal worth about $87.5 million, one of the officials said on the condition of anonymity.
For the deal to become final, Thome must pass a physical.
Philadelphia is aggressively trying to improve as it prepares to move into its new ballpark in 2004.
The Phillies agreed to a $17 million, four-year contract with third baseman David Bell on Nov. 24. The Phillies also have a $30 million, three-year offer out to left-hander Tom Glavine, the top free-agent pitcher.
Phillies general manager Ed Wade wouldn't discuss whether Thome had signed.
The 32-year-old Thome turned down a $60 million, five-year offer from the Indians, the only team he has played for since he was a 13th-round pick in the 1989 amateur draft. The left-handed hitting first baseman has a .287 batting average, 334 homers and 927 RBIs in a 12-year major-league career.
Thome hit .304 with 118 RBIs, 122 walks and a .445 on-base percentage last season. He has hit at least 30 homers seven straight years and has driven in more than 100 runs in six of the last seven seasons.
While Bell takes over at third base from All-Star Scott Rolen, traded to St. Louis last summer, Thome replaces Rolen's power in the middle of a lineup that includes Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell.
Thome's arrival signals the end of Travis Lee's time as Philadelphia's starting first baseman. Lee came to the Phillies in 2000 in the trade that sent Curt Schilling to Arizona.
The Indians won six division titles and went to the World Series twice during Thome's tenure. The Phillies, meanwhile, are coming off their 14th losing season in 16 years.
Thome began his career as a third baseman, but moved to first when the Indians acquired Matt Williams before the 1997 season.
Thome hit 40 homers in 1997, 49 in 2001. Though he has had some back trouble, Thome has played at least 146 games in six of the last seven seasons.
Thome's departure leaves a big hole in the Indians' lineup and another one in the heart of Cleveland fans.
He was one of the most popular players in club history, and was recently given the Roberto Clemente Award, presented by the commissioner's office for charity work and community service.
Thome is the third slugger since 1996 to leave the Indians as a free agent, following Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez.
Indians second baseman John McDonald was saddened to hear Thome was likely leaving.
"Coming up in the Indians system, Jimmy was a guy everyone looked up to," McDonald said. "I always wanted to play next to him, and I'm just sorry I won't ever get a chance to do that again. I'm happy for Jimmy and his family, but I'm just really sorry for the Indians family."
Thome becomes the highest-paid player in Phillies history. He met with team officials and toured Philadelphia on Nov. 7, but waited nearly a month to make his decision.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)