Mark Shapiro is one of the most polarizing GM’s in professional sports. ‘Shap’ took over as Cleveland’s GM following the departure of John Hart, a man many identify as synonymous with the winning Tribe baseball of the 1990s.
Shapiro’s arrival and tenure as Indians GM coincided with the team’s sale to the much-maligned Larry Dolan. As Shapiro will forever be linked to Dolan, many Tribe fans are quick to associate words like “cheap” and “rebuilding” as hallmarks of his legacy.
Shapiro has the dubious distinction as being the only GM to trade away successive reigning Cy Young winners. The trades of CC Sabathia in 2008 and Cliff Lee in 2009 will live forever in Cleveland Indians infamy.
Cleveland fans were encouraged to remain patient after both deals were made, as the Tribe obtained a total of seven prospects for Sabathia and Lee. Three and four years removed from both trades, however, only Michael Brantley is an everyday player for the Tribe, and he’s had his own struggles with inconsistency.
Despite the perceived ineptitude, however, Shapiro and his protégé Chris Antonetti have laid the groundwork for a competitive young Indians team that is currently atop the AL Central.
Setting aside the Sabathia and Lee deals, I’m going to focus strictly on Mark Shapiro’s history of successful trades, many of which go unnoticed by the pitchfork-wielding mob of nay-saying Tribe fans.
So much for a happy reunion in Seattle.
When John Hart traded for a young Milton Bradley halfway through the 2001 season, he believed the Indians were getting an eventual replacement for an aging Kenny Lofton. It wasn’t long before Hart likely regretted the decision.
The cancer (whether in the clubhouse, on the field or off) disguising itself as Milton Bradley quickly showed its true colors. Bradley was cut just days before Opening Day in 2004, after the beleaguered outfielder refused to run out a fly ball in Spring Training.
That the Tribe got anything for Milton Bradley was a miracle itself, but Shapiro was able to steal away Dodgers outfield prospect Franklin Gutierrez. While “Guti” started out promisingly, he failed to reach his full potential in Cleveland.
The Tribe eventually dealt him to Seattle, receiving sidearm specialist Joe Smith in return as part of a three-team trade involving the New York Mets. Smith has been a key component of the Tribe’s “Bullpen Mafia,” and a consistently reliable reliever since his arrival in 2009.
Bradley has subsequently played for six different teams in the previous eight years, estranging teammates, managers, fans and regretful GMs along each stop of his tumultuous career.
Once upon a time, Crisp and V-Mart were Indians teammates.
The Tribe signed Chuck Finley prior to the 2000 season in hopes of bolstering its starting rotation. The “Yankee Killer” had a reputation for winning big games during his 14 seasons with the Angels. With the Tribe, however, he had just one decent season, losing twice in the ’01 playoffs to the upstart Seattle Mariners.
Shapiro dealt the aging and ineffective Finley to St. Louis as part of the Tribe’s rebuilding overhaul in 2002. For the casual observer, the news headline must have seemed like a practical joke: in exchange, the Indians were receiving Coco Crisp (this was at a time when Milton Bradley was still on the roster).
It didn’t take long for Coco to silence any snide remarks or crude jokes on his name (at least on the part of Indians fans). Crisp got his first chance at playing every day in 2004 following the dismissal of Bradley, and he made the most of it.
In the ’04 and ’05 seasons, Crisp teamed with a young Grady Sizemore to form a solid duo in Cleveland’s outfield, and helped lead the Tribe back to relevance as contenders.
Finley, meanwhile, finished the ‘02 season with the Cardinals, before retiring.
D-Lowe has been a pleasant surprise for the Tribe.
*This trade was made during the 2011 offseason, when Chris Antonetti was already in the midst of his second offseason as Tribe GM. When Shapiro became Team President following the 2010 season, he named Antonetti (his former assistant) as his successor. It’s not a reach to say that any of Antonetti’s moves are heavily influenced by his former mentor.
Immediately after the 2011 season, the Indians entered the offseason with major uncertainty in the starting rotation. Cleveland already knew it would have to go all of 2012 without Carlos Carrasco, who underwent Tommy John surgery during the 2011 season. The shaky performance of Ubaldo Jimenez during the ’11 stretch run and identity crisis surrounding Roberto Hernandez only exacerbated the rotation’s instability.
In order to address this need, Antonetti moved quickly to trade for veteran Braves starter Derek Lowe. Lowe was thrown under the bus for Atlanta’s September collapse in 2011 and written off by many (myself included) as over the hill.
Thus far in 2012, Lowe has proven his detractors wrong, turning in a quality start in six of the seven games he’s pitched. His experience and durability make him the undisputed leader on a relatively young Cleveland pitching staff.
What makes this trade especially valuable for the Tribe is that Atlanta agreed to eat two-thirds of Lowe’s $15 million salary for 2012, while the Indians only had to give up Single-A prospect Chris Jones in exchange. Jones is currently at AA Mississippi.
"Pure Rage" pitches with plenty of fire and emotion.
Mark DeRosa, or “the Beardless Casey Blake,” was brought in to be the Tribe’s everyday third baseman in 2009. While he did an admirable job in his half season in Cleveland, the Indians fell flat and initiated their second rebuild of the last decade.
DeRosa was dealt to the Cardinals for reliever Chris Perez. Although the Indians already had the grossly overpaid, infuriatingly ineffective Kerry Wood at closer, they eventually moved Perez into the role after dealing Wood to the Yankees in 2010.
Since assuming the closer’s role, Perez has converted 87 percent of his save opportunities (71-of-82), and made the All-Star team in 2011. As the stopper in the Tribe’s “Bullpen Mafia,” Perez’s fiery personality has endeared him to both teammates and fans, even if his 9th-inning antics can be stressful at times.
Hafner is still an important piece of Cleveland's lineup.
The Indians were in a difficult position during the 2002 offseason following the departure of one of the most popular players in franchise history. After Jim Thome signed with the Phillies, Shapiro dealt SP Ryan Drese and catcher Einar Diaz to Texas for 1B/DH Travis Hafner.
The trade turned out to be a huge steal for Cleveland. From 2004-2007, Hafner averaged 32 HR and 109 RBI, forming a formidable heart of the Tribe order along with catcher Victor Martinez.
For his first five years in Cleveland, Hafner helped compensate for some of the offensive production and emotional sting felt by the loss of Thome. While his power production has taken a precipitous dive in the last five years, Hafner is still a productive hitter when healthy.
Drese had one good season pitching for the Rangers in 2004, before being traded to the Nationals. Diaz bounced around with four teams over the next four seasons. Both were out of baseball by 2007.
Carlos is one of the league's best young catchers.
The square-chinned Casey Blake was a true “grinder” of a ball player: not overly athletic, mediocre in the field, and streaky at the plate. He was the kind of player you could love one minute and hate the next.
Halfway through the ’08 season, the under-performing Tribe dealt Blake to the Dodgers for catching prospect Carlos Santana. Shapiro must have been licking his chops at the time, as this remains one of the defining moves of his tenure as GM.
While Santana wouldn’t reach the majors for another two years, his eventual arrival helped spark the Indians’ promising youth movement. After a season-ending knee injury during his rookie campaign, Santana bounced back in 2011 to bash 27 HR and 79 RBI.
A very patient hitter at the plate, Carlos is the nucleus of a young Tribe team that should remain competitive for the near future. He recently signed a deal that will keep him in Cleveland through 2017.
Blake played three and a half seasons with the Dodgers before retiring after the 2011 campaign. He ultimately produced a very respectable career for a guy who wasn’t an everyday player until age 29. A career .264 hitter, Blake smacked 167 HR and drove in 616 RBI in nine full seasons.
Masterson was the Tribe's 2012 Opening Day starter.
Shapiro made a very controversial trade at the deadline in 2009, when he sent fan favorite Victor Martinez to the Red Sox for pitchers Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone. The move came just days after he dealt staff ace Cliff Lee to the Phillies, and left “V-Mart” in tears when he learned he had been traded.
To many Tribe fans still angry over the recent loss of successive aces CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee, this move was seemingly incomprehensible.
Knowing that Carlos Santana was on the brink of reaching the majors (he was called up the following June), however, Shapiro made Martinez expendable. In return, the Tribe was filling two needs by nabbing a young starting pitcher and a young potential closer.
Although Masterson was initially inconsistent after being moved into Cleveland’s rotation, he improved tremendously in the second half of the 2010 season, before turning in a dominant 2011.
Although not yet a true ace, Masterson is still the Tribe’s No. 1 and one of the best young starters in the AL. Furthermore, the 26-year-old Hagadone has recently assumed his place as the most recent initiate in Cleveland’s “Bullpen Mafia."
Martinez played for Boston through the 2010 season before signing with Detroit prior to 2011. While he is still one of the league’s best hitters, Martinez is currently scheduled to be out until September due to a knee injury.
The Indians definitley won on this deal.
The Tribe began the 2006 season with a first base platoon (a legacy of the Eric Wedge era) of Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez. Although both hit well during the season, neither represented the future of the Tribe, and both were made readily expendable in two of the greatest deals during Shapiro’s tenure. Both trades took place within a month of each other, and both involved the Seattle Mariners.
The second of the two trades saw the Tribe deal Broussard for Shin-Soo Choo, a former pitching phenom turned outfielder, who helped lead Korea to the 2000 World Junior Baseball Championship.
Choo played well from the outset of his time in Cleveland, hitting .295 in 45 games in ’06. After missing most of ’07 due to an elbow injury, Choo returned to the bigs at the end of May, and went on a tear over the next two and a half seasons. From 2008-2010, Choo hit .302 with a .396 OBP, and averaged 19 HR and 81 RBI.
He had consecutive 20-20/.300 seasons in 2009 and 2010, and led the league in outfield assists in 2010 with 14. Despite a down year in 2011 and a slow start in 2012, Choo is still a prominent member of the Indians’ lineup, and a crucial factor for sustained success.
Broussard, on the other hand, finished off a career season with the M’s in 2006, belting 21 home runs. He served as a role player in 2007 and played briefly with Texas in 2008 before retiring to pursue a music career.
Cabrera is one of the game's premiere shortstops.
The Broussard trade was one-upped by Shapiro’s deal a month earlier, when he sent 36-year-old Eduardo Perez to Seattle for 20-year-old infield prospect Asdrubal Cabrera. It wouldn’t take long to see the incredibly one-sided nature of the deal.
Cabrera made his big-league debut in August of the following season, supplanting a struggling Josh Barfield at second base. ‘A-Cab’ made an immediate impact on the upstart Indians, playing a huge role in helping lead the Tribe’s 2007 playoff run.
After alternating inconsistent and productive seasons, Cabrera has emerged as the Indians’ best hitter following a career year in 2011. A line-drive hitter with good power, the switch-hitting, slick-fielding Cabrera draws constant comparison to Tribe great Omar Vizquel. Perhaps non-coincidentally, both Venezuelan shortstops have worn No. 13 during their careers in Cleveland.
Eduardo Perez, on the other hand, finished the 2006 season in Seattle, continuing the same platoon role he shared at first with Ben Broussard in Cleveland. He retired after the season, before becoming another of the many intolerable analysts on ‘Baseball Tonight.’ The trades were two of many in a long line of terrible moves by former Mariners’ GM Bill Bavasi.
It wasn't that long ago Sizemore was one of the game's best.
The unquestioned greatest trade during Shapiro’s tenure took place in June 2002. Following a torrid start to the season, the scuffling Indians were experiencing something in Shapiro’s first year that they hadn’t in nearly a decade: losing.
Shapiro responded by dealing staff ace Bartolo Colon to the then-Montreal Expos for a package of prospects and first baseman Lee Stevens. Indians fans were stunned. Colon was halfway through an eventual 20-win season (something the Tribe hadn’t had since 1974) and finally coming into his own as an ace.
In terms of pure talent, this could have been one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history.
It took a few years for the true talent obtained to reveal itself. Cliff Lee became a member of the starting rotation in 2004, and averaged 15 wins a season over the next three years. In 2008, he produced one of the most dominating seasons in recent memory, going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, and winning the AL Cy Young.
Grady Sizemore broke into the majors in 2004 and became the Indians’ leadoff man the following season. A dynamic center fielder who was a throwing arm away from the “5 tool” label, Sizemore quickly became the Tribe’s best player. From 2005-2009, Sizemore was a perennial All-Star, averaging 25 HR, 78 RBI and 26 SB a year.
This trade may have perhaps been viewed as even better, had fate not transpired the way it did. Sizemore’s game eventually gave way to injury, Lee was traded in 2009, and Brandon Phillips was never given a proper chance to showcase his talent in Cleveland.
Eventually dealt to the Reds after the Tribe opted for Jhonny Peralta to replace Omar Vizquel, Phillips has become one of the game’s best, most consistent players. From 2006-2011, Phillips averaged 21 HR, 81 RBI and 23 SB.
Colon went on the win the AL Cy Young with the Angels in 2005, but saw his performance take a swift decline. He’s recently resumed an effective big league career following a controversial shoulder surgery in 2010.