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Indians pick up aging Anderson

CLEVELAND – Brady Anderson won’t hit 50 home runs in a season again, but he was a bargain the Cleveland Indians couldn’t afford to pass up.

Anderson, released last month after 14 years by the Baltimore Orioles, signed a one-year deal Thursday with the Indians, who had been shopping for an outfielder and leadoff hitter. The deal includes club options for 2003 and ’04.

Baltimore released Anderson after he batted just .202 – 59 points below his career average – with eight homers and 45 RBIs last season.

“I’m betting on the fact that this is a player who has a lot of pride and a strong desire not to end his career on last year’s numbers,” Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro said.

Anderson, who turns 38 in January, has played most of his career in center field, but will play left field for the Indians.

The Orioles ate the final season of a five-year, $31 million contract Anderson signed after the 1997 season. The Indians would have to pay $200,000 of Anderson’s salary, with the Orioles picking up the remaining $3.8 million for next season.

Shapiro has been told by owner Larry Dolan to trim more than $10 million from the team’s $90 million payroll.

“With the financial constraints … this is the best we can do,” Shapiro said.

Signing Anderson is a cost-effective move with potential for large dividends if he can return to pre-2001 form, Shapiro said.

In 2000, Anderson hit .257 with 19 homers and 50 RBIs. He batted .282 with 24 homers, 81 RBIs and scored 109 runs in ’99.

Shapiro said batting coach Eddie Murray thinks most of Anderson’s problems last season were mechanical and can be fixed. Shapiro said Anderson is healthy, still plays hard and will remain a presence at the top of the lineup.

“I like the fact he’s not a high strikeout guy. That complements our lineup well,” Shapiro said.

Anderson replaces longtime leadoff hitter Kenny Lofton, who hit a career-low .261 in his 10th year with the team and is now a free agent.

Although the 34-year-old Lofton is younger and faster than Anderson, he will also be more expensive, Shapiro said.

With Anderson leading off, Indians manager Charlie Manuel could bat center fielder Milton Bradley near the bottom of the order, taking some pressure off the 23-year-old, Shapiro said.

The Indians also could benefit from Anderson’s leadership in the clubhouse. Despite his dreary 2000 season, Anderson remained a positive influence with the Orioles.

Last year, Cleveland took a similar chance with Marty Cordova, signing him to a minor league contract before training camp.

Cordova, a former AL Rookie of the Year, resurrected his career in Cleveland by batting .301 with 20 homers and 69 RBIs. Cordova recently signed with the Orioles.

“We hope that it is this year’s Marty Cordova,” Shapiro said of Anderson’s signing.

The Indians couldn’t afford to keep Cordova, who signed a three-year, $9.1 million deal with the Orioles this week.

Anderson had his best year in ’96 when he batted .297 with 50 homers and 110 RBIs. It was the first time in his career he had hit more than 21 homers in a season, and he hasn’t hit more than 24 since his breakout year.

To make room on their 40-man roster, the Indians designated pitcher Steve Woodard for assignment. Woodard went 3-3 with a 5.20 ERA in 29 games last season.

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