CLEVELAND (AP) – Utility infielder Lou Merloni agreed Friday to a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians, returning to the team he played for in 2004.

Merloni, a native of Framingham, Mass., played in just five games for the Los Angeles Angels last season before tearing ligaments in his right ankle on May 1.

He will have a chance to win a roster spot in spring training, and the versatile 34-year-old may also help the Indians in their pursuit of free agent Nomar Garciaparra. Merloni and Garciaparra were teammates with the Boston Red Sox and remain close friends.

Cleveland is interested in signing Garciaparra, who played last season for the Chicago Cubs. The Indians envision him as a utility role or the club could move him into right field and use Casey Blake as a part-time first baseman, third baseman or outfielder.

The 32-year-old Garciaparra has made it known he’s willing to play any position but pitcher and catcher.

In 2004, Merloni batted .289 with four homers and 28 RBIs in 71 games for the Indians. He batted .327 against left-handers. A .272 career hitter, Merloni began his career with Boston in 1993. He has 66 homers and 124 RBIs in 414 career games.

AP-ES-12-09-05 1435EST


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