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Paul Byrd signs deal with Indians

CLEVELAND – Free agent starter Paul Byrd is close to finalizing a $14.25 million, two-year contract with the Cleveland Indians, filling one of the club’#39;s biggest needs on the eve of the winter meetings.

Byrd, who went 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA in 31 starts for the Los Angeles Angels last season, was trying to complete a deal with the Indians, a person familiar with the negotiations said Sunday night, speaking on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet in place.

Byrd’#39;s decision to sign with Cleveland was first reported by ESPN.com, which said the sides had reached an agreement. The person familiar with the talks told the AP that there were a few outstanding issues remaining but that a deal could be struck later Sunday or Monday.

The Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore and Texas also sought Byrd.

His deal with the Indians would include an option that could raise the value to $22 million over three seasons.

Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro was to arrive Sunday night in Dallas for the winter meetings. He had been in California meeting with San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman, another of the Indians’#39; offseason targets.

Byrd, who turned 35 on Saturday, would be returning to the organization where he got his pro start. He was drafted by the Indians in 1991 and spent four seasons pitching in the club’#39;s minor league system before being traded to the New York Mets in 1995.

Byrd has been an effective major league pitcher, but not always a durable one.

He won 15 games for Philadelphia in 1999 and had a career-high 17 victories for Kansas City in 2002, but Byrd missed the entire 2003 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He went 8-7 for Atlanta in 2004.

Byrd is protection if the Indians are not be able to re-sign free agents Kevin Millwood or Scott Elarton. Millwood, who led the AL in ERA last season, would like to return to Cleveland, but his agent, Scott Boras, is seeking a four- or five-year deal.

The Indians appreciated all Millwood did for them in his first season in Cleveland, mentoring the club’#39;s young pitchers and performing at an All-Star level despite a lack of run support. However, he may have become too rich for their payroll, which is expected to jump from $42 million to $55 million next season.

Byrd, who made $4.5 million last season, fits nicely into the fourth spot of an Indians rotation behind C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook.

The 38-year-old Hoffman may be the Indians’#39; best hope of landing a dependable starter. A high-priced market for closers has forced the club to sit by and watch so far during free agency.

Hoffman is the best closer still available, but the Indians could still re-sign Bob Wickman, who saved 45 games for them last season.

“Bob is an option,” Shapiro said on Friday. “We know he wants to pitch next year.”

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