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Indians waiting on Thome

CLEVELAND — Mark Shapiro’s heart must jump every time the phone rings.

Cleveland’s general manager is nervously waiting to hear from free agent first baseman Jim Thome, who is weighing contract offers from the Indians and Philadelphia Phillies.

Right now, silence is all that Shapiro is hearing.

“There’s no protocol,” Shapiro said from the general managers’ meetings in Arizona. “We made a proposal and we have not heard back.”

Thome, the top slugger in this year’s free agent market, received a reported five-year, $75 million offer from the free-spending Phillies on Tuesday — the first day teams could make money proposals.

Philadelphia’s deal dwarfs the Indians’ offering, a four-year package believed to be worth between $40 and $48 million. While he waits to hear from Thome or his agent, Pat Rooney, Shapiro has been planning for life with and without Cleveland’s career home run leader.

“It’s our responsibility,” Shapiro said. “We have to prepare for both alternatives.”

Shapiro said he has “no idea” about what might be included in Philadelphia’s offer to Thome, who hit 52 homers last season for the Indians.

At Thome’s request, the Indians made their offer to Thome on Oct. 31, days before the 31-year-old was wined and dined by the Phillies, who gave him a tour of their new stadium set to open in 2004.

Shapiro said Rooney promised to get back to him after he received the Phillies’ offer.

Rooney did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

The Indians have until Dec. 7 to offer Thome salary arbitration. If he accepts, they can negotiate with him until Jan. 8. If he rejects it, the club would lose his rights until May 1.

Shapiro said the Indians have not set a deadline and plan to raise their offer to Thome when the time is right.

“We’ve left some room for creativity,” Shapiro said. “We’ve left some room to better our offer. We did not initiate our offer to be a drop-dead offer.”

Since the beginning of last season, Thome has maintained that Cleveland is his first choice and his decision will not be based solely on money.

Shapiro is counting on that.

“The only thing they [the Phillies] can offer Jim more of is money,” he said. “If it comes down to that, we’ll probably lose the player. I still feel Jim Thome is a player who valued more than that.”

While Indians’ fans wring their hands waiting to hear about Thome’s future, so is Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel. Vizquel has been monitoring the Thome negotiations from his home in Issaquah, Wash.

“Jim Thome is the whole season for us,” Vizquel said by phone, “for our fans, for the front office. They have to try and sign him no matter what.

“I hope and pray that he signs.”

Shapiro knows that if Thome leaves, some of Cleveland’s fans will bolt as well.

The Indians drew 2.6 million fans last season, down from 3.1 million in 2001.

Losing Thome would lead to an even bigger drop for the rebuilding Indians.

“We’re going take a hit whether we sign him or not,” Shapiro said. “The only way we’re going to get fans back is with a winning team, and we hope we can do that with Jim Thome.”

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