Tribe retains three key arms
Byrd, Borowski and Fultz have 2008 club options exercised
CLEVELAND -- The Indians are still waiting on new information regarding starting pitcher Paul Byrd, his use of human-growth hormones, and Major League Baseball's decision on whether or not Byrd will face a suspension.So with the clock ticking on Byrd's 2008 team option, which would have expired Wednesday, the Tribe's deep thinkers had nothing but baseball to bear in mind. Ultimately, the Indians decided Byrd, a 15-game winner in '07, is worth keeping around. And the same goes for American League saves leader Joe Borowski and situational left-handed reliever Aaron Fultz. All three pitchers had their '08 options exercised by the Tribe on Tuesday. The Indians will pay Byrd $8 million, Borowski $4 million and Fultz $1.5 million next season. Retaining the 36-year-old Byrd, in the wake of the revelation that he spent nearly $25,000 on HGH and syringes from 2002-05, will certainly spark headlines. But general manager Mark Shapiro doesn't anticipate the move will negatively affect his club next year, even if Byrd is suspended. "We have no concern at all that he was a distraction or will be," Shapiro said of Byrd. "Looking at his on-field contributions and the teammate he's been in our clubhouse and the person he's been off the field in our community the last two years, it was a decision we were very comfortable with. It's safe to say we considered very carefully and in a detailed fashion every component of the decision." Byrd is expected to meet with MLB to discuss his use of HGH, though that meeting has yet to take place. Before Game 7 of the AL Championship Series against the Red Sox, Byrd told reporters he took the drugs, which were banned by baseball in '05, under doctor's orders to combat an HGH deficiency. He has not commented publicly since. "It's still in [MLB's] hands," Shapiro said. "I don't have any more information." Nor would Shapiro divulge details of conversations he's had with Byrd since the season ended. If Byrd is suspended for any length of time, the Indians would not have to pay his salary for the duration of the suspension. The Indians are banking on the veteran Byrd continuing to provide the clubhouse leadership he has displayed over two seasons with the club. While his '06 season, in which he went 10-9 with a 4.88 ERA, was considered a disappointment, Byrd rebounded this year, posting the fewest walks per nine innings (1.31) in the AL and tossing a pair of complete-game shutouts, en route to a 15-8 mark and a 4.59 ERA in 31 starts. Shapiro knows his club has other starting options for the last two spots of the rotation in left-handers Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers and Cliff Lee, but he believes in the value of depth. "What seems like an area of depth today could quickly be a concern tomorrow," Shapiro said. That logic also applies to the bullpen, which was a strength for the Indians this season in large part because of Borowski's work as the closer. "He's as good a teammate and competitor as we've ever had," Shapiro said of Borowski. "His contribution was one of the key differences between this year and last year." Still, stock up on the antacids, because the 36-year-old Borowski has a flair for the dramatic. Over the course of saving 45 games -- a mark that fell just one shy of the single-season club record set by Jose Mesa in 1995 -- Borowski compiled a 5.07 ERA. He was the first reliever in history to lead his league in saves with an ERA over 5.00. Opposing batters hit .289 off him, including a .296 mark with runners on, and he blew eight save opportunities. While excited to be coming back to the Tribe, Borowski admitted he'd like to improve on those numbers. "Personally, I wasn't like, 'Oh, this is the best year I've ever had,'" he said. "As far as save numbers, yes, it was. Would I have liked to have had other [statistics] lower? Of course. In the long run, am I pleased with my season? Yes, I am." Two disastrous outings drastically affected Borowski's numbers. He squandered a four-run lead with two outs in the ninth in a game at Yankee Stadium on April 19, and he blew a two-run lead against the A's, giving up five runs with two outs in the ninth at McAfee Coliseum on May 13. If it were possible to remove those two outings from Borowski's '07 ledger, he would have had a 3.78 ERA for the season. "I wish it was golf and you had a couple mulligans," he joked. "If you take those away, I'm pretty happy with my numbers overall. But you can't do that and you live with what you have." The Indians, by and large, are expected to live with the team they had at the end of '07, and that includes the 34-year-old Fultz, who was 4-3 with a 2.92 ERA over 49 appearances this year. Fultz allowed 14 of 45 inherited runners to score, and he was on the disabled list from June 24 to Aug. 1 with a muscle strain on his right side. The emergence of left-handed rookie Rafael Perez diminished Fultz's role. As with the rotation, though, Shapiro is looking to stockpile as much depth as possible in the 'pen. "Looking at the limited alternatives in free agency and knowing the variability of bullpens and how Aaron pitched prior to being hurt," Shapiro said, "we knew it was a good decision [to bring Fultz back]."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.