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Archive for Thursday, October 25, 2001

Cleveland won’t keep Gonzalez

Burba, coaches out; cost-cutting Tribe might show Lofton, Rocker door as well

October 25, 2001

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— Retooling a division-winner whose season ended in disappointment again, the Cleveland Indians decided Wednesday not to exercise their options on All-Star Juan Gonzalez and pitcher Dave Burba.

New general manager Mark Shapiro, who announced a series of moves to save money, also indicated the team's future will probably not include reliever John Rocker or center fielder Kenny Lofton.

Manager Charlie Manuel was retained, but three members of his staff, including pitching coach Dick Pole, will not be back.

Gonzalez signed a $10 million, one-year contract last season with a $14 million option for 2002.

"The magnitude of a Juan Gonzalez contract or any other high-dollar free agent is not a realistic acquisition for the Cleveland Indians," Shapiro said.

Gonzalez, a three-time All-Star, hit 35 home runs for the Indians, batted .325 and drove in 140 runs, second in the American League behind the Mariners' Bret Boone.

The 32-year-old outfielder, signed to replace Manny Ramirez after he left for Boston, came to Cleveland after one year in Detroit and 11 with Texas. With 397 career homers, he provided a power-hitting strongman in the middle of the lineup. He now becomes a free agent.

"Very clearly, the lineage of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Juan Gonzalez is over," Shapiro said, referring to three sluggers who have roamed the Indians' outfield over the past decade.

Manuel said he is ready for the challenge of fielding a team that has to manufacture runs rather than rely on power.

"If we have to play small ball, little ball, whatever you call it hit-and-run, steal bases, take more chances that's what we'll have to do," Manuel said.

Owner Larry Dolan said Cleveland's cost-cutting moves return the Indians to the strategy of maintaining a balance between veterans and homegrown players moving up from the farm system. That strategy built a perennial contender after decades of futility. The Indians have not won a World Series since 1948 and lost this season to Seattle in the division series.

Lofton, who hit a career-low .261 in his 10th year with the team, will probably also become a free agent in the offseason, said Shapiro, who takes over the Indians' GM job from John Hart.

Lofton, 34, has been the team's starting center fielder since 1992, except for one year he spent with the Atlanta Braves in 1997.

Shapiro said he hopes the team can sign a new deal with closer Bob Wickman, which would make controversial Rocker expendable.

Rocker was one of the top relievers in the National League when the Indians got him in a trade with Atlanta in July. However, he pitched poorly for the Indians and was involved in several conflicts with fans and teammates.

He had just four saves for Cleveland, going 3-7 with a 5.45 ERA.

Burba, 35, who was in double figures in wins each of his four seasons in Cleveland, began the 2001 season in the starting rotation, but he struggled and was moved to the bullpen late in the summer. He finished the year 10-10 with a 6.21 ERA.

Cleveland declined a $1.3 million option on veteran reliever Scott Radinsky. The team exercised a $1.5 million option on reliever Ricardo Rincon, who appeared in a career-high 67 games and posted a 2.83 ERA.

The Indians exercised Manuel's contract option and announced that bench coach Grady Little, third base coach Joel Skinner and bullpen coach Luis Isaac had been asked back.

Pole, along with hitting coach Clarence Jones and first base-outfield coach Ted Uhlaender, were all dismissed.

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