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Archive for Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Veteran Alomar joins White Sox

Chicago signs catcher after Johnson returns to Florida Marlins

December 19, 2000

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— Watch out for that season opener, Cleveland Indians. Sandy Alomar Jr. already has it circled on his calendar.

After 11 seasons in Cleveland, the veteran catcher agreed to a $5.4 million, two year deal Monday with the Chicago White Sox, the Indians' biggest rival in the AL Central.

"I thought that I was going to be an Indian forever," Alomar said. "It was very hard for me to see I wouldn't finish my career in Cleveland. But if I'm going to do it, I may as well do it for a competitive team and show the Indians they made a mistake.

"Opening day is going to be in Cleveland. It's going to be very exciting to play against my fellow teammates."

Alomar replaces Charles Johnson, who earlier Monday agreed to a $35 million, five-year contract with Florida.

Alomar's deal was announced about an hour after the Marlins held a news conference to introduce Johnson.

"It was very evident right off the bat that he was looking for a term and a dollar amount that did not fit within our plans," said Ken Williams, the White Sox general manager. "We got a great acquisition in Sandy."

A six-time All-Star, Alomar was a fan favorite and a major piece in Cleveland's renaissance. The Indians were baseball's biggest joke when he arrived there in a trade with San Diego in 1989.

By 1995, Cleveland was in the World Series. Two years later, Alomar had a magical year, batting .324 with 21 homers and 83 RBIs. He hit safely in 30 straight games, and was the MVP of the All-Star game at Jacobs Field.

He homered off New York's Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the AL playoffs as Cleveland made it to the World Series again.

"We think that he's going to add a tremendous amount of leadership, defense and big-game experience to our club, and also serve as a positive influence on two catchers that are still developing," Williams said.

If Alomar had his way, he'd still be an Indian. He's played alongside younger brother Roberto the last two years, and he makes his offseason home in Cleveland.

But after reducing his role last season to develop Einar Diaz, Alomar said the Indians lowballed him during negotiations. After making $2.7 million last year, Cleveland initially offered Alomar a package worth nearly $8 million over three years, but it included deferred money. The club's final offer of $6.5 million none deferred was rejected.

With talks stalled, general manager John Hart traded for Eddie Taubensee last month, effectively letting Alomar go.

"This is probably the most difficult situation that I had to make in sports in my career," Alomar said. "Not only because I have to leave my brother ... but I've been involved with the city for 11 years. "It's going to be a hard move."

Kansas City, Los Angeles and Toronto also showed interest, and Williams said Alomar could have made more money elsewhere. His new contract calls for salaries of $2.9 million and $2.4 million. He can earn $325,000 a year in bonuses.

Alomar, whose father Sandy Sr. is a coach with the crosstown Chicago Cubs, is a lifetime .276 hitter with 93 home runs and 459 RBIs. He's thrown out almost 28 percent of runners attempting to steal, and won a Gold Glove in 1990.

Last year, he hit .289 with seven homers and 42 RBIs for the Indians, and threw out 21.9 percent of runners.

"It's a fresh start for me," Alomar said.

Johnson, 29, is also getting a fresh start

A day after signing a deal that could bring Florida a new ballpark, the team added a new catcher. Johnson, 29, broke into the major leagues with the Marlins in 1994 and was a starter on their 1997 World Series championship team.

"My heart has always been in Florida," he said Monday. "In my heart I really wanted to come home."

Johnson, from nearby Fort Pierce, Fla., was traded by the Marlins to Los Angeles in 1998 in a deal involving Gary Sheffield and Mike Piazza.

A career .249 hitter, Johnson hit .304 with 31 home runs and 91 RBIs this year with Baltimore and Chicago.

The signing came a day after the Marlins announced an agreement with Miami-Dade County and city officials on a $385 million, retractable roof stadium in downtown Miami.

Agent Scott Boras said Johnson took a 25 percent pay cut to sign with the Marlins. He had been negotiating with two other teams when Florida general manager Dave Dombrowski approached him during the winter meetings to inquire about the Gold Glove catcher.

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