Tribe, Nixon agree on one-year deal

Nixon signs one-year deal with Indians

CLEVELAND -- Trot Nixon picked the team. His 5-year-old son, Chase, picked the number.

When Nixon's one-year, $3 million deal with the Indians, which was announced Friday, was finished, he asked Chase to pick out a jersey number for him.

Initially, Chase picked 32, his dad's age. But when Trot reminded the boy he'll be turning 33 in April, Chase upped his selection a digit.

"It's kind of cool, too," Nixon said, "because 33 was my high school baseball number."

This might feel like a fresh start reminiscent of those high school salad days for Nixon, whose entire professional career, to this point, has been spent with the Red Sox, the club that took him with the seventh overall pick in the 1993 draft.

For the Indians, however, the addition of Nixon is about adding an experienced face to a youthful lineup.

Just last week, general manager Mark Shapiro had what he thought was the roster that would report to Winter Haven, Fla., for Spring Training. But in studying the Tribe's likely lineup, which would have slotted 24-year-old Shin-Soo Choo in right field against right-handed pitching, Shapiro saw a young group prone to strikeouts and in need of a more consistent on-base presence.

Enter Nixon, who will bump Choo out of that role and likely bat in the two-hole.

"I feel better about our lineup now," Shapiro said. "I was a little bit concerned about the depth to the lineup. Knowing we have Trot against right-handed pitching -- a low strikeout and high on-base guy -- makes me feel better."

The 32-year-old Nixon's heart and hustle are unquestioned. What is questionable at this stage in his career is his ability to hit for power and stay healthy.

After clubbing a career-high 28 home runs in 2003, Nixon has hit just 27 homers over the last three years -- a span of 838 at-bats. That decline might be attributable to the wealth of time he's spent on the disabled list in recent years.

A hardnosed player who isn't afraid to run into walls or dive for balls, Nixon has exposed his body to injury and paid the price. He missed all but 48 games of the '04 season because of a herniated disk in his back and a strained left quadriceps, a month of '05 because of a left oblique muscle strain and more than a month of '06 because of a right biceps strain and ensuing staph infection on his elbow.

"Sometimes you run into those situations," Nixon said. "For any hitter, the time you spend away from the game, batting practice and facing live pitching, you're going to lose a little bit."

And while he acknowledges that he needs to be careful to prevent further injury, Nixon said it simply wouldn't be his nature or his style to play the game without the tenacity that has led to those bangups.

"I can't change the way I play," he said. "The ability that God has given me and the motivation to develop from my high school years to now... it's hard to turn that off."

Nixon, a left-handed hitter, is coming off a season in which he hit .268 with eight homers and 52 RBIs in 114 games.

For his career, he has compiled a .366 on-base percentage and .478 slugging percentage, while batting .278 with 133 homers and 523 RBIs. He has a keen eye at the plate that has limited him to 115 strikeouts over the last two seasons, and he's never struck out more than 113 times in a year.

That eye should be beneficial to an Indians team that led the AL with 1,204 strikeouts last season.

Assuming Nixon does take over the two-hole against right-handers, the Indians can now bat Casey Blake and David Dellucci at the Nos. 5 and 6 spots.

"This significantly allows us to deepen our lineup," Shapiro said. "This wasn't a trade. We didn't have to give up any young players, and it gives us depth."

It also gives the Tribe's a playoff-tested commodity.

In the 2004 World Series, Nixon hit .357, and his two-run triple in Game 4 provided the final runs of the sweep of the Cardinals. In Game 3 of the 2003 Division Series against the A's, his pinch-hit, two-run homer in extra innings spared the Red Sox from elimination in a series they went on to win.

The signing of Nixon presents a clear hurdle to Choo.

Acquired in the July trade that sent Ben Broussard to the Mariners, Choo batted .280 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 49 games over the last two months of the '06 season.

Dellucci, Jason Michaels, Grady Sizemore and Blake are all in the big-league outfield mix, so Choo could very well be bound for Triple-A Buffalo. But given Nixon's injury history, nothing is for certain.

"This doesn't take away Choo's ability to impact the club at some point this year," Shapiro said.

Nixon is the sixth free-agent acquisition by the Indians this winter, joining Dellucci and relievers Joe Borowski, Keith Foulke, Aaron Fultz and Roberto Hernandez. The club injected more than $30 million into its payroll this winter.

Goodbye Guthrie: To make room for Nixon on the 40-man roster, the Indians designated right-hander Jeremy Guthrie for assignment. So they have 10 days to trade or waive him outright.

Guthrie was the Indians' No. 1 pick in the 2002 First-Year Player draft, and they thought highly enough of him to give him a four-year, Major League contract.

But Guthrie's is a career that has yet to reach its potential. He has compiled a 40-36 record and 4.40 ERA in 101 appearances, including 97 starts, in the Minors. In 16 Major League appearances, all but one of which came out of the bullpen, he has put up a 6.08 ERA.

With Guthrie out of options, the Indians had to make a decision on his future. The club simply doesn't have a spot for him in their big-league rotation or bullpen, so they will attempt to trade him to another club.

Shapiro acknowledged that Guthrie's slow progression is as attributable to the team as the pitcher.

"It might have been a slight miscalculation on us on how advanced he was when we drafted him," Shapiro said. "He has the talent, intelligence and character. We speeded up the time frame. We still feel this guy will be a solid Major League pitcher at some point, but our time clock on him ran out."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.