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Indians GM says new Tampa Bay Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach can be a starter

ST. PETERSBURG — As the Rays decide what role, if any, newly acquired catcher Kelly Shoppach will play, the general manager who traded him said he can be a front-line starter.

"I absolutely think he could be an everyday catcher," Indians GM Mark Shapiro said from Cleveland. "His greatest strength is obviously his power. He's got great power to all fields. When this guy makes contact, good things happen."

Indeed, Shoppach's 32 homers over the past two seasons match Minnesota's Joe Mauer for second most among AL catchers, and his average of one homer per 16.38 at-bats in that span is tops among all major-league catchers.

But when Shoppach doesn't make contact, he tends to strike out: 231 times in 201 games in 2008-09, and an average of once every 3.05 plate appearances that is the worst of all catchers.

Shoppach, 29, is also strong behind the plate, with a good arm. "Pitchers love to throw to him, he calls a good game, he breaks down hitters well," Shapiro said.

The Indians dealt him to make room for younger catchers and save the $2.5 million or so he'll make via arbitration. There are a couple of names in play as the player to be named; Shapiro said "we'll get a player we like" who could be on their 25-man roster.

Wagner joins Braves

ATLANTA — The Braves took another major step toward solidifying their pitching staff for next season, agreeing to a $7 million, one-year contract with closer Billy Wagner.

Next up: the offense.

"The bullpen is one of the areas we needed to upgrade to get where we want to go," Braves general manager Frank Wren said during a news conference. "Billy was at the top of our list. The first day of free agency, we gave him a call."

Wagner, 38, missed most of last season after Tommy John surgery. He returned to the Mets on Aug. 20, reached 96 mph in his first appearance, then was traded to the Red Sox five days later. He posted a 1.98 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 132/3 innings for Boston.

The signing was Atlanta's second big move of the offseason. Tim Hudson re-signed to give the Braves six established starters and likely set up a trade to bulk up the offense, possibly at next week's winter meetings.

PLAYOFF EXPANSION: Players would like to see the division series expand to a best-of-seven when their next labor contract starts in 2012, Michael Weiner said in his first news conference since replacing Donald Fehr as the union head.

"There is a lot of sentiment for a seven-game division series," Weiner said. "I think a properly constructed post­season schedule could accommodate three seven-game series but still have it extend over a shorter period of time than what happened this year."

Weiner hopes the postseason can be shortened next year and was happy to hear commissioner Bud Selig say he will try to cut off days. Four extra days off were added in 2007 at the request of television broadcasters. As a result, the Angels and Yankees played eight games in the first 20 days of the playoffs.

A'S: Right-handed reliever Joey Devine agreed to terms on a one-year contract worth $557,500. Devine was projected as the team's closer for 2009 but missed the season after Tommy John surgery in April. He posted a 0.59 ERA in 452/3 innings in 2008.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Indians GM says new Tampa Bay Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach can be a starter 12/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 3, 2009 8:38am]

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