Tribe Locks Up Lawton For Next 4 Years

CLEVELAND (AP) - Outfielder Matt Lawton, acquired by Cleveland in the eight-player deal that sent All-Star Roberto Alomar to the Mets, signed a four-year, $27 million contract Monday with the Indians.

"I'm very excited," Lawton said. "This is a big day for my family. I've always played on one-year contracts, so knowing I'm here for four years takes a load off my back. It's like being in high school, you just go out and have fun playing."

The 30-year-old Lawton said he had talked with his agent before the trade about becoming a free agent after next season. Cleveland was at the top of his list.

"I got my wish a lot earlier than expected," he said.

General manager Mark Shapiro, who started Cleveland's makeover by trading Alomar last week, said the Indians are more comfortable having Lawton.

Lawton has a .324 career average against Cleveland and had a career-high six RBI-game at Jacobs Field in 1999 while with Minnesota.

"We grew to respect Matt over the years, and he is now one of our core players," Shapiro said. "He brings great energy and passion to the game."

Lawton was an All-Star in 2000 when he hit .305 with 13 homers and 88 RBI for the Twins, who traded him to the Mets last July for pitcher Rick Reed.

"That was a shock," Lawton said. "I never got comfortable there, but I'm coming back to the AL Central. That's my comfort zone."

Lawton struggled in New York, hitting .246 with just three homers and 13 RBI after batting .293 with 10 homers and 51 RBI to help the Twins into first place early in the season.

Lawton said he is fully recovered from being hit in the face with a pitch by Cincinnati's Dennys Reyes on June 8, 1999. His right eye socket was fractured in several places and he did not return to the lineup for nearly six weeks.

"I shouldn't have come back that year at all," Lawton said. "I was afraid of the ball. It took a while to get over that. There's no problem now."

Lawton's contact hitting and good speed will be a drastic change from what fans grew accustomed to seeing from the Indians' two previous right fielders -- sluggers Manny Ramirez and Juan Gonzalez.

"I'm a different type of right fielder," Lawton said. "I won't put pressure on myself to hit 40 homers, but I think I can hit a few more at Jacobs Field.

"I've always loved hitting there. Left-handed hitters love it. I'm not a pull hitter, but the ball just seems to keeping going when you hit it to right center."

Lawton said he intends to use his speed more, too.

"If I have a healthy year, I think I can steal between 35 and 40 bases," he said. "It depends on the situations. All I want to do is help my team in anyway they want me to help."

Lawton also believes the Indians can repeat as AL Central champs even though they won't have Gonzalez's power or Alomar's solid all-around play.

"As well as the Twins started last year, this is the best team I've ever started a season with," Lawton said. "We're still a division-winning type of team."

Also Monday, the Indians signed free agent infielder Ricky Gutierrez for three years. He'll replace Alomar at second base.

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