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Tribe goes cautious route with Borowski

Indians go cautious with Borowski

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Tribe's medical report on Joe Borowski wasn't any more assuring than the Phillies' assessment of that same player.

The Indians aren't blue-skying themselves into thinking Borowski's throwing arm is free of risk.

After all, this is the same Borowski who missed the better part of 2004 with a partial tear in his right rotator cuff and two months of '05 with a fractured right forearm.

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Keep in mind, though, that it's also the same Borowski who saved a career-high 36 games last year, logging 69 2/3 innings pitched over 72 appearances.

So with the risk and the performance equally in mind, the Indians took the relatively cautious route Wednesday in signing the 35-year-old Borowski to a one-year, $4 million contract with a club option for 2008.

"Your medical assessments factor in not only what your medical report says but also what the guy accomplished last year," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "This guy's accomplishments last year were tremendous. We felt his confidence and his strike-throwing would be a good fit for our bullpen."

It's a bullpen the Indians have been working overtime at the Winter Meetings trying to repair. And while Borowski may or may not be the savior in the closer's role, he'll at least be a late-inning option for manager Eric Wedge.

"[The Indians] told me I would be pitching at the tail end of the game," Borowski said. "Whether that's the eighth or ninth inning, I've always stated in the past that it doesn't matter. I've never once said my job is going to be [closing] and that's all I'm going to do. As long as I'm pitching with the game on the line, it's fine."

Borowski was on the verge of signing a two-year deal with the Phillies just last week to be the setup man for closer Tom Gordon. When the medical report had the Phillies rethinking that deal and changing their offer to a one-year commitment, Borowski considered his other options.

That's when the Indians stepped in.

"Once we found out [the Phillies deal] wasn't going to work out," Borowski said, "I felt the best fit was with the Indians."

No, the Tribe wasn't guaranteeing Borowski a ninth-inning job. But if the club isn't successful in signing any other late-inning options (namely Eric Gagne, Keith Foulke or Octavio Dotel), he's the clear-cut favorite for that role.

And while the possibility to close isn't the deal-clincher, it's still an attractive opportunity to Borowski.

"I think any reliever who loves that adrenaline and that pressure wants to close," he said.

When given that opportunity, Borowski has been productive. He's saved 80 big-league games in 101 chances, good for a 79.2 percent conversion rate. In 2003, his 33 saves helped lead the Cubs to the playoffs and an eventual NLCS berth.

Borowski hasn't notched these achievements with a blazing fastball, but he has a strong slider that he can use on both sides of the plate, and he throws strikes.

"He's not a guy that overpowers you," Shapiro said. "But this guy has the composure and the mentality to pitch the ninth inning and pitch it effectively."

And that made the less-than-inspiring medical report easier to stomach.

"This is a market that's full of risk," Shapiro said. "In some guys, the risk is in the contract, sometimes the risk is medical. This is an offseason where you pick what the risk is. I can't answer what Philly saw that we didn't see, but we feel on a one-year deal a much more tolerance for risk. In this case, we felt what Joe brings to the table was worth the risk."

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

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