Indians Look To Gutierrez To Replace Alomar

By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - The Cleveland Indians have found a shortstop to succeed All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar.

The Indians have reached preliminary agreement with free agent Ricky Gutierrez, two sources familiar with the negotiations said Friday on the condition of anonymity. The signing, pending a physical, is expected to be announced Monday.

Gutierrez, a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs last season, would get a three-year deal worth about $11.5 million.

The Indians have been shopping for a second baseman since trading Alomar in an eight-player deal Tuesday.

Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro did not confirm the deal Friday, but said in a conference call that Gutierrez would fit the team's plans.

"I think the possibility of having two shortstops up the middle when we're trying to build around our young pitching is something that's important to us," Shapiro said.

He said his only question about Gutierrez making the transition from shortstop to second base is whether Gutierrez wants to make the move.

"With Omar Vizquel here, it's something I think he's considering," Shapiro said.

He added that he would not trade Vizquel so Gutierrez could play shortstop.

Gutierrez, 31, last played second base in 1997, when he appeared in nine games for the Houston Astros.

Last season, he hit .290 with 10 home runs, 66 RBI and 76 runs. Shapiro said he likes that Gutierrez doesn't strike out or walk often.

"Gutierrez is a tremendous clutch hitter. A tough out," Shapiro said.

He led all NL shortstops with a .986 fielding percentage in 2000. He also led the league with 16 sacrifice bunts.

Gutierrez signed as a free agent with the Cubs in 1999 after three seasons in Houston. He went from San Diego to Houston as part of a 12-player trade in 1994.

Cleveland traded Alomar, pitcher Mike Bacsik and outfielder-first baseman Danny Peoples for outfielder Matt Lawton, outfield prospect Alex Escobar, first baseman Earl Snyder and pitchers Jerrod Riggan and Billy Traber.

Notes: The Indians signed OF Karim Garcia to a one-year contract, avoiding salary arbitration. Garcia, 26, spent most of last season in the minors. He hit .311 with five home runs in 20 games for Cleveland in September.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)