Indians GM Mark Shapiro Hoping Risk Earns Reward for Cleveland

Nino Colla@TheTribeDailySenior Writer IJanuary 8, 2009

Mark Shapiro's "relentless" offseason was topped off this week when he filled his final concern for the 2009 Cleveland Indians. While other teams were playing for the World Series, Shapiro was talking with reporters in an empty ballpark. He was less than satisfied.

"We need to go out and be relentless. We need to execute an offseason plan that acknowledges that we have areas to improve. We cannot, and will not, be complacent. We acknowledge we have spots where we can be better."

Then it was trendy to use quotation marks around the word relentless, as if it was a joke that Shapiro would go out and make as many moves as he did.

Remove the quotations ladies and gentlemen, Shapiro not only went out and got the job done in a year were the economy has strapped all of Major League Baseball, excluding the Yankees, he topped anything Cleveland fans had imagined.

Are they all slam-dunk moves?

Was Brad Lidge a slam-dunk move last year?

The answer to both questions at the time they happen, are simply, we have no clue.

That is the idea of a risk and really when you are dealing with free agency, from CC Sabathia down to Carl Pavano, there is some sort of risk.

You are signing a guy to a contract, even if it's for one year; you are putting a little bit of risk on the line.

A lot of teams around the league have been in that complacent state that Shapiro was talking about. While the economy is causing some of that unwillingness to give free agents not named CC Sabathia or Mark Teixeira their demands, Cleveland of all places was aggressive.

So answer me this. How does an owner that is labeled cheap and a general manager labeled as resourceful make the biggest offseason splash outside of New York?

Mark Shapiro wanted to win and he knew that if he didn't attempt to fix this team, there would be a lot of angry people.

Shapiro has his ideas and morals set, but he clearly understands that he needed to tweak them this offseason.

It wasn't major, but he realized that once and awhile he had to take a few risks.

He took his usual, low-risk starting pitching signing a little further by offering Carl Pavano a one year deal worth a guaranteed $1.5 million dollars, with the change of over $5 million in incentives.

Was it the soundest move to sign an injury riddled pitcher and give him a job in the rotation provided he is healthy?

That's debatable, as it always is when it comes to Mark Shapiro's moves. But the fact remains he did it.

There comes a point where you stop analyzing everything and sit back and say, "This is our team and it's either going to work or it won't."

Like the Carl Pavano move or not. He did it and it's his vision. You are either in or you are out.

Kerry Wood bought into that vision. Or should I say, the Indians bought him into that vision.

It's not often I get a chance to say that, so let me say it again.

The Cleveland Indians bought Kerry Wood...for a cool $20 million.

It's by far Shapiro's biggest signing of his career, and widely his most talked about around Cleveland. Never has there been an Indians team headed by Mark Shapiro, with this kind of signing.

The run of the mill pessimistic Cleveland fan will use the excuse that Kerry Wood is just going to get hurt and that it was a dumb signing.

All things equal, random pessimistic Cleveland fan, you’d find a way to make excuses about both Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes.

I'm going to take the Kerry Wood deal at face value, rather than expect the worst like many people decide to do.

The reality is that the Indians signed an All-Star closer to a two-year deal. The injury he suffered last year had no connection to the injury that forced him and his career to the bullpen.

Money-wise, was it wise?

God bless the Tampa Bay Rays, but even they proved you need to spend money to make it with their signing of Pat Burrell.The last time Shapiro vowed change after a disappointing season, he went out and signed David Dellucci, Aaron Fultz, Roberto Hernandez, and traded for Josh Barfield.

Not a single one of those players worked out as expected.

Hernandez was dumped before the midway point, Barfield is on the verge of starting his second straight year in Triple-A, David Dellucci has been injured or a waste of a roster space according to most, and Aaron Fultz had a half of a good season, got hurt and was dumped during spring training of 2008.

The one he really only took a major risk on was Josh Barfield. As long of a contract David Dellucci got, I don't think Shapiro really intended him to be more than a platoon player making more of the money in that platoon.

This year, he went out and said, I'm done with platoons and cheap relievers. I'm going out and getting myself a hired gun, a young side-armed reliever who has a few years under his belt, a versatile veteran that won't platoon a position of need, and I'll up the ante on one of my patent starting pitching signings that are aimed at being low-risk, high reward.

Do Carl Pavano-like signings hit all the time?

Certainly not, Jason Johnson was a complete disaster.

But Kevin Millwood was a complete success.

You play the game and hopefully the odds are overcome and you win.

You can knock Mark Shapiro all you want for who he got and how he got them. Trading Franklin Gutierrez, as much as I love him and his potential, for a potentially good second baseman and a relief pitcher that is still young and has done it at the major league level is a crafty move.

You can knock Mark Shapiro for signing an injury riddled starting pitcher who has had one good season in the NL. But signing him to a one-year deal that won't start paying him unless he proves he can be healthy and not just be healthy but pitch well is yet another crafty move.

You can knock Mark Shapiro for trading for a guy that has inflated numbers thanks to Wrigley Field, and is destined to suck according to many because he's going to the AL. But trading three minor-leaguers from a position of depth and not giving up a single player on the Major League roster is not just a crafty move. It's a very crafty move.

And it may not be crafty, and you may knock him for it.

But going out and signing Kerry Wood to be his closer is a very bold move that can win this team a World Series.

You may think, oh come on he's one man, that one man doesn't make the Indians a World Series team.

Oh but that is where you are right, but not thinking right.

One man doesn't make a World Series team, but he does impact this team in many aspects than just a back end arm to shut the game down.

If you put him and Joe Smith into a bullpen that already has a top-flight relief pitcher in Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis, Rafael Betancourt, and Masahide Kobayashi, you could have the makings of a bullpen that is a force to be reckoned with.

Will all of them have good years? You never know really, but it's an odd year and those odd years usually mean the Indians have good bullpens.

You throw Carl Pavano in a rotation that isn't expecting him to earn his money, you may get pleasant results.

You put Mark DeRosa a top a lineup that is getting a healthy Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, with a new-found swagger of Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera, not forgetting Grady Sizemore.

You probably have more questions than possible answers.

But that's the point of a risk. That's the point of multiple ones.

What does all of this tell you about the Cleveland Indians in 2009?

Really, not much more than you already knew. But I'm a firm believer that baseball is the funniest game out there. Just when you thought you have figured it out, something that doesn't make much sense at the time might actually make a lot of sense down the road.

You can call this a ringing endorsement for Shapiro if you want. But I'm pretty sure it's a crafty one as well.

It’s baseball, man, it has to be crafty. How else can the team that took on Brad Lidge beat the team that no one thought would sniff the lead of baseball's most explosive division?

Which leads me to the Yankees and the AL East, because everything this offseason has seemingly led to that.

Sure, the Yankees made the biggest splash this offseason.

But Mark Shaprio and the Cleveland Indians, by far made the most interesting one.


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