December Exchange: Shapiro Making Calculated Winter Moves for Tribe

Nino Colla@TheTribeDailySenior Writer IDecember 14, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 17:  Starting pitcher Anthony Reyes #27 of the Cleveland Indians pitches against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 17, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In the MLB, the months of November and December are probably most looked at for the big name signings or the blockbuster trades that occur, thanks to the winter meetings.

But, there is a lot more in putting together a roster, even an organization, than just signing Chone Figgins or trading for Curtis Granderson.

Most fans will focus on the big trades and big signings, but general managers are spending the majority of their time trying to maneuver their roster through the many obstacles the MLB puts up.

For a team like the Cleveland Indians, in a year when they'll probably shed more money than they give out, these parts of the offseason are the most crucial.

It is most important for Mark Shapiro to come out ahead in these phases, more than any other.

Consider it mission accomplished after this past week.


Rule V Protection

After Cleveland announced their additions to the 40-man roster, there were plenty of cries about certain players.

Mark Shapiro chose to add the following to the roster, granting them protection from the Rule V Draft: Kelvin De La Cruz, Carlos Rivero, Jeanmar Gomez, Wes Hodges, Jason Donald, Jordan Brown, and Nick Weglarz.

They clearly valued protecting what they believed were their best prospects.

By choosing players like Carlos Rivero over Matt McBride, they believed protecting prospects who had the longer history of performance was more important than the one-year surge of someone like McBride.

It becomes a common criticism, as fans believe that because someone like McBride is so close and his bat has shown incredible production recently, teams will be more apt to take those players.

However, that couldn't be further from the truth.

As was the case this year, the most popular players who are selected are pitchers, especially starters who are turned into relievers.

In the end, McBride and Yohan Pino, the two most-hyped players the Indians owned, were not taken in the Rule V Draft. But the Indians did lose someone.


Chuck Lofgren Selected by Milwaukee

The Indians lost one player in the Major League portion of the Rule V Draft.

What makes Chuck Lofgren unique, though, is the fact that while he isn't currently a top prospect, he once was one of the top pitchers in the Indians system.

The left-handed Lofgren battled through personal issues a few years ago that derailed his season and, at the time, his career.

He has since battled back from those distractions of his personal life—his mother's battle with cancer—to come back and re-establish himself.

That is best evidenced by the fact that the Milwaukee Brewers selected him with the hopes of turning him into a left-handed batters specialist for their bullpen.

Considering Lofgren is a starter and that the Indians have many options ahead of him right now, Lofgren is a loss that I think they can stomach, considering it isn't guaranteed he even makes the Brewers roster.

In fact, chances are high, especially with the signing of Randy Wolf and already having a left-handed specialist in Mitch Stetter, that Lofgren gets returned before the season gets under way.

Cleveland did lose Matt Meyer and Anillins Martinez in the Minor League portion of the Rule V Draft, but neither was expected to impact prospects.


Cleveland Selects Hector Ambriz

After trading Kelly Shoppach, there was room on the 40-man roster to make an addition, if they so wished.

Cleveland did just that for the first time in a while.

Usually spectators and more often sporting "shifty-eyes," as they hope other teams don't take their prospects, Cleveland decided to join the party this year.

Considering they'll get paid $50,000 for losing Chuck Lofgren, you could almost say that they had that in-pocket to select Hector Ambriz away from the Arizona organization.

And that is exactly what they did.

Shapiro and company selected Ambriz in hopes of doing what the Brewers are doing with Lofgren.

Ambriz has been nothing but a starter since being drafted out of UCLA, and he will now try and convert to the bullpen.

He'll attempt to join former UCLA rotation-mate David Huff on the 25-man roster out of spring training.

If not, the Indians can just return him to Arizona and get half of their payment back.

No harm, no foul—especially since they could also get Lofgren back.

Cleveland also selected Brian Horwitz from San Francisco in the Minor League portion of the draft.

He'll be the veteran fourth outfielder in Columbus that the Indians needed.


Adam Miller and Anthony Reyes Non-Tendered and Re-signed

When Anthony Reyes was non-tendered a few days after the Rule V Draft, there was small outcry about why a move wasn't made sooner in order to open up a spot to protect the recently-lost Chuck Lofgren.

However, Shapiro displayed his true genius when he explained that decision with another decision.

A day after both Miller and Reyes were non-tendered, Cleveland announced that they've re-signed both to minor league deals.

By doing that, Shapiro eliminated the risk of losing both players and also opening up two roster spots on the 40-man roster.

Had he out-righted Anthony Reyes before the protection deadline, there was a chance he could have either been claimed on waivers or taken in the draft itself.

While being taken in the draft is very unlikely, some team could have snagged him and stored him on their roster if they wanted.

With Adam Miller's latest finger surgery, it became apparent that they had a move to make and that he was simply wasting a roster spot by being on the 40-man.

So, before they did the moves, Shapiro evidently talked to both Miller and Reyes and said what he had to say.

Both agreed that rehabbing with the club was probably the best option for them and agreed to sign deals after letting Cleveland clear them off the roster.

This was Shapiro's greatest moment of the offseason so far.

To maneuver his way through this situation and clear out roster spots was big.

Don't forget that he also non-tendered Jose Veras, who still could also be brought on a Minor League deal, if he doesn't find work elsewhere.


To Be Continued: Kelly Shoppach Traded

We will not fully know how to judge the Kelly Shoppach trade until we find out the returns of it, which will be later this week.

The player to be named later will be named by Dec. 20.

Because of non-tender deadlines and arbitration and the Rule V Draft, I don't think this date is a coincidence.

Clearing out Shoppach saved some cash, but this was more about opening up playing time for Lou Marson.

The Indians need to get a look at Marson before super-prospect Carlos Santana is ready to go.

They need to know if they can use him as a backup or if he's good enough to be a valuable trading chip.

Shoppach's movement was needed this offseason.

Again, it wasn't about money, but for what he would have been and—he would have been a backup or platoon player at best—the money he would have received would have been too much.


Overall Perspective

Basically, Mark Shapiro came out miles ahead in the way he navigated through the past few weeks.

People underrate just what it takes to be a MLB executive and what little things you need to do.

The wheels always need to be turning, everything has to be planned out, and accounted for.

Shapiro got through this situation by finding a young option for the bullpen, that takes very little risk in Ambriz, clearing three roster spots for whatever he may need, retaining two injured players who they're still investing time and effort into, and only losing one player, who may not be lost when all said and done.

Adding Ambriz let Shapiro let Veras go.

Losing Lofgren let him select Ambriz, and he still may get Lofgren back.

Waiting til the end let him retain both Reyes and Miller and still clear up roster spots.

You couldn't have put together a better plan of attack, and Shapiro executed it beautifully.

Give him and his staff some credit for once.

They may not be popular with the fans for some of the bigger moves they make, but all the small ones are handled with precise care.


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