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01/26/12 5:23 PM EST

Tribe inks veteran Wheeler to Minors contract

CLEVELAND -- The Indians continued to pad their bullpen depth on Thursday, signing free-agent reliever Dan Wheeler on a Minor League contract. The deal includes a non-roster invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club.

Wheeler -- one of 20 non-roster invitees currently slated to be in camp -- will compete for a spot in Cleveland's bullpen. As things currently stand, the Tribe's strong relief corps will have one job, and possibly two, up for grabs this spring.

The Indians' bullpen, which ranked first in the American League Central with a 3.71 ERA last season, is anchored by All-Star closer Chris Perez, with right-hander Vinnie Pestano and lefty Tony Sipp serving as the primary setup men. Behind that trio is right-handed sidearmer Joe Smith and left-hander Rafael Perez.

Two other bullpen candidates from Cleveland's 40-man roster include righty Frank Herrmann and lefty Nick Hagadone. This winter, the Indians also added relievers Jeremy Accardo, Chris Ray and Robinson Tejeda to the mix on Minor League contracts. Hector Ambriz, Chen Lee and Tyler Sturdevant have also been invited to camp.

Wheeler, 34, has some closing experience and he has been especially effective against right-handed batters (.218 average) over the course of his 12-year career. Over the past four seasons -- spent with the Rays and Red Sox -- the righty fashioned a 3.49 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP over 250 appearances.

Over 577 career games, Wheeler has a 3.88 ERA and 43 saves across 628 1/3 innings between stints with the Rays, Mets, Astros and Red Sox. His 466 appearances dating back to 2005 rank as the fourth-highest total by a pitcher during that seven-year time period.

Last season, Wheeler was 2-2 with a 4.38 ERA in 47 games for Boston. He struck out 39 over 49 1/3 innings, and had a 0.84 ERA in 10 games against AL Central teams. The reliever missed two weeks in May due to a left calf strain. A right forearm issue ended Wheeler's season on Sept. 8.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.