WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Forget the two-man race for the Indians' closer job. Keith Foulke has gracefully bowed out. Foulke surprisingly announced his retirement Friday, ending a 10-year big-league career that included stints with the Giants, White Sox, A's and Red Sox. His stint with the Indians was over before it started.
Contrary to a previous report, Foulke didn't even make it to Spring Training camp at Chain of Lakes Park. Rather, he informed his agent, Danny Horwits, of his decision to retire early this week, and, after sleeping on it for a few days, called general manager Mark Shapiro with the news Thursday afternoon. In a statement released by the Tribe, Foulke, who went 41-34 with a 3.30 ERA and 190 saves in 588 big-league appearances from 1997-2006, said his body simply wasn't ready for the grind of another season. "Over the last few weeks, while preparing for the 2007 season, my body has not responded as it has in years past," Foulke said. "I feel strongly I will not be able to perform at the level where I need to be to help the Indians this season. I am thankful for the opportunity that Mark Shapiro, Eric Wedge and the entire Cleveland Indians organization has given me. They are a class organization, and I wish them the best of luck." A World Series hero for Boston in 2004, the 34-year-old Foulke has been plagued by injuries to his right elbow, knee and back ever since. Shapiro wouldn't confirm speculation that Foulke's elbow has been giving him trouble in recent weeks, and Foulke himself was not immediately available for further comment. "It would be more appropriate for Keith [to comment on the health issue] at a time he's comfortable," Shapiro said. "There were some historical [health] issues, and one of those issues acted up again on him. It wasn't something he was prepared to go through again." Now, the Indians won't have to go through the process of determining who their primary closer will be at the outset of the season. "We no longer have a closer controversy," Shapiro said. "Joe Borowski's our closer." Rafael Betancourt, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz are all expected to pitch in setup roles, while Jason Davis, Fernando Cabrera and Matt Miller are the leading candidates to flesh out the 'pen. Youngsters like Tom Mastny, Ed Mujica and Rafael Perez, who all broke into the bigs last year, are backup options.
It's possible that several clubs, most notably the Cardinals and Rangers, will have bullpen arms to deal this spring, but Shapiro said he is going to stand pat with what he has for now. "We'll tell our scouts to pay closer attention and highlight guys we had conversations about this winter," Shapiro said. "But we would like to get a full look at our guys in camp. Those guys will get opportunities, and they'll get better looks." The Indians had added Foulke, Borowski, Hernandez and Fultz this winter to provide some depth and experience in the relief pool. They had no idea they'd have to lean on that depth this quickly, though. "Our offseason strategy, recognizing the limitations of the market, was to add depth, to add bulk," Shapiro said. "That strategy will be tested immediately with [this news], and we'll react." By coming to this decision now -- as opposed to a few weeks from now -- Foulke protected the Indians from being on the hook for his $5 million contract. He very easily could have reported to camp, fought through the pain and eventually landed on the disabled list, collecting paychecks. Foulke didn't want to take that route. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for the decision he made and how he went about it," Wedge said. "It's obviously an unusual situation, but it's something we'll handle accordingly." The Indians were hoping Foulke, who ranks 40th on baseball's all-time saves list, could handle the ninth inning as effectively as he once did in Boston. Though he lost his closer's role with the Red Sox to Jonathan Papelbon last year, Foulke put together a stretch of 11 scoreless outings in September. Still, at the end of the season, he was telling reporters he would consider retiring if he couldn't return to form as a dominant, back-end performer. Before signing him to the one-year contract in January, the Indians subjected Foulke to a complete physical examination. They knew his history and the risk involved, but their reports on him weren't enough cause for concern to steer clear of a deal. "There was certainly some risk in the signing, due to his medical history," Shapiro said. "But he did pass our physical. With that being said, we entered into the contract knowing there were some health risks involved." One day into camp, that risk became reality.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.