Tribe adds Hernandez, Fultz to 'pen

Tribe bolsters bullpen with Hernandez, Fultz

CLEVELAND -- The Indians have given their ailing, youthful bullpen a much-needed injection of experience.

Veteran right-hander Roberto Hernandez and left-hander Aaron Fultz signed one-year deals with the Tribe on Saturday, as the club got a jump-start on the upcoming Winter Meetings. Both deals include a club option for 2008. Financial terms were not immediately available.

"We're looking to change the dynamic in the bullpen," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "[Hernandez and Fultz will] provide some outsider experience."

Neither Hernandez nor Fultz is viewed as the club's savior in the closer's role. Hernandez will likely be in the setup mix, while Fultz will primarily be a left-handed specialist.

The Indians will be the ninth big-league team for the 42-year-old Hernandez, who was drafted by the Angels in 1986 and began his career with the White Sox in 1991. He has since played for the Giants (1997), Devil Rays (1998-2000), Royals (2001-02), Braves (2003), Phillies (2004), Mets (2005), Pirates (2006) and the Mets again in the second half of this year, compiling a career record of 64-68 with a 3.32 ERA.

With the Pirates and Mets in '06, Hernandez went 0-3 with a 3.11 ERA in 68 appearances during the regular season.

Hernandez, a native of Puerto Rico, has two attributes no current member of the Tribe bullpen has -- experience in the playoffs and extensive experience closing games.

"He's a guy that can handle both good and bad outings," Shapiro said. "He's been a consistent performer throughout his career. He has strong character, he's a professional. If things do get bumpy, he can handle it and provide veteran leadership to the guys on our staff."

In 1993, Hernandez saved 21 games in the second half of the season, helping the White Sox clinch an American League Central title. He went on to make four scoreless appearances in the ALCS.

After being traded to the Giants in 1997, Hernandez appeared in all three games of the National League Division Series against the Marlins. Two years later, as a member of the Devil Rays, he saved a career-high 43 games, despite Tampa Bay winning just 69 games.

This past season, Hernandez's 3.11 ERA ranked 14th among NL relievers. He was acquired by the Mets for the stretch run to the playoffs and made three scoreless appearances in the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals.

Strong and durable, Hernandez ranks fourth among active pitchers in appearances (960) and third among active pitchers in saves (326). He is 10th on baseball's all-time saves list, but he hasn't closed regularly since 2002.

"He'll pitch in the seventh and eighth inning, most likely," Shapiro said. "There are days he could pitch in the sixth or days he could pitch ninth."

Hernandez underwent arthroscopic surgery to clean out his right knee in October. The Indians gave him a full physical before the deal was completed, and Shapiro said the club has "zero concerns" on that front.

Fultz's career has been a bit more sporadic. He's coming off an '06 season in Philadelphia, where he went 3-1 with a 4.54 ERA in 66 appearances, which tied a career-high. He held lefties to a .277 average and has been tough on them in his career, holding them to a .240 mark.

"He's a guy that has been consistently effective against left-handers," Shapiro said. "I'm sure we'll use him for more than just left-handed hitters, but our ability to get left-handed hitters out has been a problem."

Fultz could be joined in the 'pen by a second left-hander. The in-house candidates for that job are Rafael Perez, Juan Lara and Tony Sipp.

In seven big-league seasons, Fultz has put together an ERA lower than that 4.54 mark just once. That was in 2005 with the Phillies, when he went 4-0 with a 2.24 ERA in 62 appearances.

Fultz began his career with the Giants, for whom he pitched from 2000-02. He spent 2003 with the Rangers and '04 with the Twins before joining the Phils.

While with the Giants, Fultz made a total of six appearances in the playoffs, first in the NLDS in 2000, later in the NLDS, NLCS and World Series in 2002. Along the way, he went 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA.

The Phillies did not offer Fultz, a Type A free agent, salary arbitration before Friday's deadline, so the Indians won't lose any draft picks for signing him. The same is not true of Hernandez, a Type A free agent who was offered arbitration by the Mets. The Indians could lose a second-rounder for signing him.

Because the Indians have a pick in the top 15 of next June's First-Year Player Draft (they have the 13th pick overall), they are protected from losing their first-rounder.

Shapiro still hopes to add one or two more arms to the bullpen, which was, to put it simply, a problem area for the Indians in a disappointing '06.

"We do expect to sign at least one more reliever with significant closing experience," Shapiro said.

The Indians will also enter the Winter Meetings looking for a middle infielder to back up shortstop Jhonny Peralta and second baseman Josh Barfield.

In other news, the Indians named Jim Benedict a Major League scout. He spent the last seven seasons in the Yankees organization, first as an area scout, then as a special assistant to baseball operations and finally as a Major League scout. He's also worked as a pitching coordinator for the Dodgers and Expos.

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