Phils Sign Closer Jackson

The Philadelphia Phillies signed baseball's top free-agent closer Wednesday, agreeing to a $3 million, one-year contract with Mike Jackson after a lengthy delay for medical tests.

The deal contains numerous bonuses depending on Jackson's health and how often he pitches. If a right elbow or shoulder injury doesn't put him on the disabled list at the end of next season, he would be guaranteed at least $7 million over two years, with the Phillies holding an option that could make the deal worth $11.25 million over three seasons.

In addition, if he earns the performance bonuses, he would get $14.25 million during the three years.

"If he makes the same number of appearances as he has the past few years, he'll reach those bonuses," Phillies general manager Ed Wade said.

Jackson, who began his major league career with the Phillies in 1986, was Phillies' second major acquisition of the offseason, following a trade with San Diego for right-handed starter Andy Ashby.

Jackson, who had 79 saves the past two seasons with Cleveland, reportedly agreed to a deal last Tuesday. But the Phillies waited until team physician Dr. Michael Ciccotti could examine Jackson and a radiologist could examine MRIs of the 34-year-old right-hander's shoulder, knees and elbow.

Jackson said he was surprised at the attention his health has gotten.

"I'm healthy. I'm in the best condition I've been in since in '94," he said during a telephone conference call.

Jackson had 39 saves in 43 chances last season the third-highest percentage in the American League. He was 3-4 with a 4.06 ERA in 72 games.

The deal guarantees Jackson $3 million next season with $1.5 million in performance bonuses based on games pitched. The Phillies hold an option with identical terms for 2001, and the option would become guaranteed if Jackson doesn't finish next season on the DL because of an elbow or shoulder injury.

Philadelphia has $5.25 million option for 2002 with a $1 million buyout.

The St. Louis Cardinals were thought to be offering Jackson a $12 million, three-year contract and called a news conference Nov. 19. At least one St. Louis official said it was to announce Jackson's signing, but the team called off the news conference without an explanation.

Despite concerns about his elbow, Jackson ranked among the AL leaders in appearances the last four years and hasn't been on the disabled list since 1995. He has pitched in more games in the 1990s than any other pitcher.

"He gives everything he's got," said Phillies manager Terry Francona, who once played on a Venezuelan winter league with Jackson. "He makes everyone in front of him better, because there's an end in sight. He makes everyone's job easier even mine."

Jckson said he began seriously considering the Phillies after reading a letter from Wade three weeks ago explaining how well Jackson would fit into the Phillies' roster.

The signing left the AL Central champion Indians without a proven closer. Cleveland may try setup man Paul Shuey in that role.

Jackson was picked by the Phillies in the January 1984 draft and made his major league debut with Philadelphia in 1986. He was 3-10 for the Phillies in 1987 and traded after that season to Seattle.

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