Pavano is guaranteed $1.5 million and a spot in the rotation for 2009, with the possibility to earn another $5.3 million in performance-based incentives. The incentives don't kick in until Pavano notches at least 18 starts. The deal does not include an option.
"If he's healthy, he'll be in our rotation," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "And we expect him to be healthy."
To ensure as much, the Indians, who designated first baseman Michael Aubrey for assignment to make room for Pavano on the 40-man roster, subjected Pavano to a physical evaluation Tuesday and were satisfied with the results.
But Pavano, who turns 33 on Thursday, obviously comes with more than his fair share of injury concerns, given that he appeared in a grand total of 26 games for the Yankees over the course of a four-year, $39.95 million contract.
The right-handed Pavano's 2005 season was cut short at 17 starts because of rotator cuff tendinitis. He missed all of 2006 because of a variety of ailments, including a bruised buttocks he suffered in a Spring Training game. He was on the disabled list at the start of the season, and he had bone chips removed from his right elbow midseason. He was expected to return to action in late August, but he suffered a right rib fracture in a car accident and didn't immediately reveal the injury to the Yankees.
In 2007, Pavano made two starts -- including the start on Opening Day -- but his season was again cut short, this time by Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.
Pavano finally saw more extensive action at the tail end of the '08 season. He made seven starts in the last two months of the season, going 4-2 with a 5.77 ERA in 34 1/3 innings of work. He did, however, leave one start early because of a stiff left hip.
Shapiro insisted that Pavano should be ready for action in '09.
"He's physically strong, in great shape, he's worked hard and he's focused," Shapiro said. "It will be important for us to work with him to maintain his health. Obviously, this is a guy who's had Tommy John surgery. Hopefully that took care of the bulk of his issues."
There are other issues, as well. In 2007, Mike Mussina, Pavano's teammate with the Yankees, openly questioned Pavano's commitment to the team and desire to play. After the '07 season, the Yankees asked Pavano to accept a Minor League contract to make room on their 40-man roster, and he turned them down. His reluctance to reveal the car accident and rib injury in '06 also drew the ire of the organization.
When it comes to those issues, Shapiro expressed no concern.
"I don't think we'll have to worry about it," Shapiro said. "I think we're getting this guy at the right time. It was a tough situation with where this guy was in New York. It was tough for him to justify the contract he had. We're providing the right environment for him to be successful."
Of course, Pavano was once quite successful. He didn't get that large contract with the Yanks by accident.
Originally taken by the Red Sox in the 13th round of the 1994 First-Year Player Draft, Pavano was traded to the Expos in the 1997 swap that brought Pedro Martinez to Boston. Pavano spent four and a half years with the then-Expos before he was traded to the Marlins, where his career really blossomed. He went 12-13 with a 4.30 ERA for Florida in '03 and 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA in the postseason, as the Marlins captured the World Series crown.
The following year, Pavano went a career-best 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 31 starts, setting up his free-agent deal with the Yankees.
"He's physically poised to have a season like that," Shapiro said, referring to '04, "and that's a guy who could have a big role in our starting rotation."
The rotation is now set in three spots with reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee, right-hander Fausto Carmona and Pavano. Right-hander Anthony Reyes is a strong candidate for a job, with left-handers Aaron Laffey, Dave Huff, Jeremy Sowers, Zach Jackson and Scott Lewis -- all of whom have Minor League options -- potentially in the mix for the fifth spot.
Shapiro is no stranger to deals such as the one given to Pavano. In 2005, the Indians took a chance on the oft-injured Kevin Millwood with a low-guarantee, incentive-laden deal, and he ended up going 9-11 with a league-leading 2.86 ERA in 30 starts in his lone season with the Tribe.
The Indians considered several similar reclamation projects, including Kris Benson, but Shapiro said Pavano's current physical condition set him apart from the pack. Pavano came to town Monday and had dinner with Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge and took his physical Tuesday.
While signing Pavano doesn't saddle the Indians with an exorbitant contract, it does put to rest their Major League free-agent activity.
"We'll continue to be creative," Shapiro said. "But at this point, we would not expect addition to our payroll without subtraction. There are still some things we could do, as far as bringing other guys in the mix [with Minor League deals] or potential trades, as well."
As for taking Aubrey, a first-round pick in the 2003 Draft, out of the mix, the Indians had little choice in the matter. Like Pavano, Aubrey was often bit by the injury bug, and that has yet to allow him to showcase his natural talent. The Indians have depth at first base, so they feel they can stomach the loss of Aubrey, who must now be exposed to waivers.
"This guy, when he is healthy, hits," Shapiro said of Aubrey. "It was a tough call emotionally, but from a standpoint looking at it objectively, with the depth we potentially have at first base, it just made the most sense."