Friday, March 02, 2007

Found in Translation

Since the ascension of Mark Shapiro to the GM seat in the Indians’ organization, we have learned the nuances of Shapiro-speak, a language based heavily on “corporate-speak” with traces of unbridled positive thinking, and clichĂ©s. It’s like Tony Robbins meets Jack Welch, while Earl Weaver looks on.

Thus, listening to an interview with the Tribe GM becomes an exercise in translation – wading through the multitude of words to find the actual meaning. On a rare occasion, Shapiro slips and lets his true feelings known, though never by blatantly ripping a player, coach, or situation. It’s always done by a backhanded compliment. Or he throws vagaries out there, forcing us to read between the lines to determine the true feelings of the Tribe Front Office.

With that background in mind and the Shapiro-speak dictionary next to me, it was fascinating to listen to Shapiro be interviewed by Matt Underwood and Rick Manning on the Spring Training Daily (I refuse to refer to it as “STD” and can’t believe that nobody involved in the show’s naming process didn’t see that potential moniker), which is a daily program on STO from Winter Haven.

Following are Shapiro quotes, translated for your reading pleasure:

Shapiro on the bullpen:
“Experience is what we missed last year, beyond Bob Wickman, when things got tough for us.”
Obvious to anyone who watched a game last year, Mota, Sauerbeck, and Graves sucked and their inability (particularly Mota and Sauerbeck) to contribute any sort of success sabotaged the season as there was nobody in the organization ready to step in. For Shapiro’s sake, let’s hope that the names Mota, Sauerbeck, and Graves aren’t replaced by Borowski, Hernandez, and Fultz in mid-June because the youngsters (though they have some experience under their collective belts) didn’t take that quantum leap to everyday effectiveness as the 2006 season wore on.

Shapiro on Spring Training
“We have very few decisions to make; we need to evaluate the Middle Infield guys and the bullpen guys.”
As Norman Dale once famously said, “My team is on the court”. What you see right now is what you’re looking at for Opening Day. Save the Futility Infielder decision and slotting the bullpen arms, the roster is set as are the majority of the roles on the team.

Shapiro on the OF additions
“Nixon complements our lineup without the strikeouts and Dellucci adds more power, which is never a bad thing.”
Take that Big League Choo and Jason Michaels! A subtle and backhanded dig; but there’s no doubt that the comment was an indication that Choo was essentially deemed to be too strikeout-prone and an admission to Michaels’ having little power vs. RHP.

The Indians weren’t ready to accept a repeat of BLC’s 50 K’s in 175 Plate Appearances (43 K’s in 156 PA’s against RHP whom he was supposed to face in the proposed platoon before Nixon’s singing) from last year in their efforts to contend this year. The Indians will bank on the body of Nixon’s work of the past 3 years, which includes a .378 OBP vs. LHP and a mere 100 K’s over 845 Plate Appearances in that 3-year time frame (2004 to 2006).

Nor were they ready to put up with Michaels’ .354 SLG vs. RHP from a year ago, instead opting for the prospect of the average of Dellucci’s last 3 years, which includes a .509 SLG vs. RHP.

Shapiro on Contract Extensions
“Westbrook is the only prospective Free Agent with a sense of urgency. The other guys (Hafner and Sabathia) have two years left on their deals, which in baseball is an eternity. With the importance of a Hafner and a Sabathia, however, we need to determine whether there’s that right contract value two years away to extend them. We’ve initiated contact with every guy, but won’t update as we go. From here on out, we’re either going to get to the end of camp and have a deal done or we’re going to wait until the next juncture – the end of the season – to re-examine it then.
Lots here, so let’s start with Westbrook. The Indians have initiated discussions with Westbrook’s agent (from Ron Shapiro’s Agency) Michael Maas (not sure if he’s related to Kevin), and they should know relatively early in the negotiations what Westbrook is looking for.
If Maas comes to the table with a starting point of, say, 6 years for $90 Million, the Indians know that Jake doesn’t fit into their long-term plans and with good reason. The Indians are likely to offer a deal somewhere in the range of 4 years for $40 Million to $48 Million, which is a pretty fair amount for a pitcher that doesn’t really ever project as an ace and falls more into the category of “good #2-superb #3” starter. To sign a pitcher with that pedigree to a contract with 6 years attached to it or upwards of $15 Million per means you either should be fitted with a straightjacket or you already are wearing one in the form of a white turtleneck and blue blazer.

Once the Westbrook talks get their “feel”, the Indians will have a pretty good idea of whether signing Westbrook is feasible or if they need to look to spend their money elsewhere, namely on Pronk and/or C.C. Shapiro’s comments that “2 years is an eternity” means that they’ll probably feel out the situation with Hafner and Sabathia to see if the players are looking for long-term security in a familiar environment or if they’re looking to break the bank on the open market.

The “right contract level two years from now” is a pretty difficult thing to ascertain, particularly with the escalating salaries of the off-season. But, if the initial numbers thrown out there regarding Pronk or C.C. are close, the Indians will likely focus their attention on that player.
Essentially, the Indians know what amount of money they are comfortable spending on extending these 3 players. Where the players’ expectations are is the variable that the Tribe will learn during Spring Training in an effort to pound out some deals.

My favorite part of the quote, though, is that they “won’t update” the media going forward. Basically, stop asking the question, because you just got the same canned response that you’re going to get until the season starts. Leaving out any doubt that Shapiro doesn’t like to negotiate through the media, it can also be taken as a warning to the players’ agents that any attempt to curry favor with Tribe fans through the media with comments that “the Indians aren’t willing to pay market value” and take contract demands public are not going be viewed favorably.

Tribe dropped one to the Phils today, so the prospect of the undefeated Spring goes out the window.
Ah, well – we can always shoot for 162-0 once the games count.


Anonymous said...

With Hafner, barring some unknown medical concerns, I'm of the "pay him what he wants" opinion. In terms of replacement performance, there are perhaps a couple dozen Jakes, a dozen or so C.C.s...and how many Travii? Two? This is in no-brainer territory.

But as for Jake and C.C., I'm starting to wonder if maybe the best thing for the Indians isn't just to let them play out their contracts. After Sizemore-for-Colon, I doubt Shapiro will be able to snag away any more medium-developed blue-chip prospects. (Can you imagine if he tried to pull that stunt again? "Shapiro asked for WHO? Quick, make him untouchable!") That makes our veteran starters' final seasons more valuable for two reasons:

1) They're below market rate, probably much more below market rate than the comparative value of whoever we would get for them taking into account time-value of money.

2) By letting Jake and C.C. walk, we ensure ourselves two consecutive years of a high-level, first-round pick which we've been lacking of late. The Indians have depth, but their ceiling of talent is undeniably limited. It's time to start building the Indians of the 2010s, depressing though that may be.

I guess in general I'm starting to see the logic of Shapiro's plan, which is that you can't half-ass being a low-budget team. Once you decide your best bet is to put a team with 85-win talent on the field year after year and roll the dice on the division, you can't reneg and start buying your own free agents.

Paul Cousineau said...

"It's time to start building the Indians of the 2010s, depressing though that may be."

I think that may be true, but the idea seems to be to continue to build the Indians into the 2010's. A tear-down isn't coming - the players that are here will simply be replaced by (what we all hope is) ML-ready talent.

If Jake and C.C. walk (I too would let them play out their contracts because they're the type of pitchers contenders use, not trade), Shapiro's plan will be tested to see if the Millers, Carmonas, and Lofgrens can step into those roles.

I wasn't aware that the plural of Travis was Travii. You learn something new every day.