Monday, January 09, 2006

Shapiro on Shapiro

Last week, Mark Shapiro appeared on More Sports with Les Levine and was surprisingly candid and open about last season, players on the Indians’ roster, and going forward:

On Available Free Agent Bats
Shapiro said that the team knew going into the offseason that there were very few quality bats available, which is why they pushed so hard for Giles and Nomar. Unfortunately, both turned them down for less money to stay on the West Coast. Shapiro essentially said that the most important aspect of a hitter for the organization is plate discipline, which is essentially minimizing K’s, and by having productive at-bats, which can be generally gauged by OPS. So, by looking at a player’s K/BB ratio and OPS, you can determine rather quickly if a player fits the Shapiro mold.
Preston Wilson and Craig Wilson, just to name two, seem to strike out too much to be considered worthwhile contributors. Casey Blake does too, but more on that later.

Shapiro knows that this team is one bat away, and that an experienced hitter would certainly help; but for now, he has to depend on the talented hitters already in the lineup having one more year of experience. He hopes that nobody had a “career year” last year, but realizes that throwing too much money at a player (look at Burnitz’s contract) does nothing to help the team.

On the Indian Way and Manny

When asked about Manny Ramirez, Shapiro almost bristled and said that no player on the Indians would ever be like Manny, a player with his own set of rules who plays when he wants to play. He said, instead, that the philosophy is “to win with a team, not with individual superstars.” He added that some current players may become superstars because of their talent, but their makeup would never cause a problem.
He specifically identified the Indian Way as filling the team with team players who respect each other while the front office identifies available value to contend every year.

When pressed on whether Manny would sell enough tickets to justify the trade, Shapiro essentially said that the Red Sox wanted Sizemore and Peralta without picking up any of Manny’s salary. Shapiro went on to say that Manny’s negatives outweighed his positives and he could never sell enough tickets to justify his inflated salary.
Do you think he’s tired of hearing this question? From the usually political Shapiro, this was serious stuff.

On Salaries, Attendance, and the AL Central
Shapiro addressed the fact that the Tribe would have the 2nd lowest payroll in the AL Central, but said that it has nothing to do with how much is spent; it is HOW that money is spent. He reiterated what we’ve heard for a while about attendance being the equalizer for the Indians that can level the salary discrepancy in baseball to get the Tribe more in line with the Central. He also said that no one player is going to sell tickets, but winning would. The hope is that the winning of last year will bring people to the Jake, which makes sense to me. In his words, “money doesn’t solve problems, good management does.”

Shapiro said that the Tampa Bay series was the only time that he was truly disappointed in the fan base in Cleveland. Pointing out that the games were played with a potential playoff berth on the line, the Indians played in front of a less than the ML average crowd. Granted, they lost those big games, but as someone who was at all of the games, I couldn’t agree more. I was just surprised that Shapiro was as candid as he was about that one, as he usually defaults to being overly complementary of Indians’ fans.

Shapiro acknowledged that the White Sox improved their team, adding the classic caveat, “on paper”. But he said that the additions of Vazquez and Thome certainly should make the Central more competitive. When asked what he would do to counteract those additions, Shapiro essentially said, “I can’t worry about them, I have to do what I can do to make the Cleveland Indians a better team. There are certain facets of the Indians that WILL be worse than they were last year, I just don’t know what they are right now. When I find out, I will do my best to fix them.”
He also noted that the division has gotten a lot better, comparing the 93 wins of 2005 that weren’t enough to make the playoffs to the 87 wins that carried the ’97 Tribe to the World Series. The balance of power has shifted in the AL, with the Central boasting 2 (if not 3) of the better teams.

On the Lineup
Shapiro acknowledged that Sizemore and Peralta may see a bit of a down year, compared to 2005, but also said that both players are so talented and exceeded expectations so fully last year (Peralta was the 2nd most productive SS in the Majors last year), he didn’t expect the drop-off to be steep. Pointing to both players even-keeled demeanor, he identified them as fixtures in the lineup for years.
But we already knew that. The real surprise came in his descriptions of the 4 B’s:
On Boone:
Boone’s 2nd half is more indicative of the player that he is, according to Shapiro. Remember that Boone was hitting about .195 in mid-May, so his 2nd half should serve as a model for what we can expect in 2006. Shapiro also said that Boone was signed to be a bottom 1/3 of the order hitter, and was never meant to hit 3, 4, or 5 in Cleveland. As usual, Shapiro praised Boone’s makeup and defense and essentially promised that Boone would be much improved in 2006. He made no mention of Boone’s wife, Laura Cover.
On Belliard:
When discussing how the strength of the Indian lineup was up the middle (Vic, Jhonny, Grady), Shapiro corrected Levine, who had said that the Tribe got “above average” production from 2B. Shapiro quickly jumped in saying, “our production at 2B is just average.” I agree, but it was surprising that Shapiro was that quick to NOT include Jelly in that grouping.
On Broussard:
This is where Shapiro really spoke honestly and candidly, calling 2006 a “make or break year for Benny in Cleveland.” He pointed out that Broussard has shown talent in spurts, lasting anywhere from 3 weeks to a half a season. Shapiro said that “we don’t need spurts, we need consistency.” He stated that Broussard had the talent to play in the Majors, as an “average defender”, and with the obvious talent that showed up in those spurts. But without that consistency, Broussard has to be protected with a RH bat. Enter Eduardo Perez.
I was shocked to hear Shapiro so down on Broussard, even though it is deserved. Normally, again, Shapiro goes out of his way to be positive and defend his players. This was a definite turn from that philosophy and practice.
On Blake:
Shapiro acknowledged that the pursuit of Giles and Nomar were in response to Blake having a bad 2005 at the plate particularly with Runners in Scoring Position, calling it a “big drop-off” after back-to-back “good” seasons. He said that Blake is ideally a phenomenal super-utility player, versatile and athletic enough to play RF, LF, 1B, and 3B. He called Blake “a big league player, because of his versatility; but RF is a position we’d like to upgrade offensively.”
Again, there were no huge revelations here, other than Shapiro being refreshingly honest and openly critical of a player who has his warts.

On the Bullpen:
Asked how the whole closer thing went down, Shapiro explained that the FA closer market next offseason is abysmal, forcing the Tribe to look for a multiple year fit at closer. Since Wickman had essentially told the Indians that he was a one-year solution, Shapiro went after B.J. Ryan (who felt the Indians were a better fit, but offered less money) and Hoffman (to whom the Indians offered more money, but the Tribe didn’t play in San Diego). When those players rebuffed the Tribe, Wickman was more than happy to return (for his probable final year) to a place that he felt comfortable.
When asked if Cabrera was the “closer-in-waiting”, Shapiro wouldn’t put that tag on him. He stated that F-Cab certainly had the stuff, but being a closer is more mental than anything else. A player’s reaction to failure, criticism, and pressure are more indicative of whether he can become a closer in the Majors.
For this year’s bullpen, he sees the return of Rhodes and Miller bolstering the solid bullpen of 2005 to be just as strong in 2006.
Interestingly, Shapiro said that Wickman’s “tight-rope saves” had taken years off of his life. So, we’re not the only ones sucking Pepto-Bismol in the 9th.

On Prospects, Trades, and Going Forward
Shapiro identified 3 pitching prospects that could contribute in 2006: Sowers, Carmona, and Andrew Brown (as a bullpen arm). When asked about the development of Jeremy Guthrie, he said that Guthrie had not progressed as the organization thought he would, saying that Guthrie lacked deception and was still learning how to pitch at a new level.

For hitters, Shapiro said that Gutierrez was tearing up Winter Ball, but interestingly said that Franklin is a CF, “which we certainly don’t need.” He called Brad Snyder a corner OF with plate discipline (remember that term?) who just needs to work on his 2 strike approach. When asked about Ryan Garko, he pointed out that Garko had still only played 2 full years of minor league baseball, and only ½ of a season at 1B. He said that Garko needs reps at 1B, but as long as he’s not a defensive liability, he will be an asset once he gains experience. Shapiro said that Garko would get AB’s and 1B reps in Buffalo, but (with his stinging comments on Broussard) seemed to hint that Buffalo and Cleveland aren’t that far away.

On the subject of trades, Shapiro said that the front office bounce around more trades than anyone would ever believe. But, after doing due diligence, elect against them for one reason or another. He said that this team isn’t opposed to trading prospects; say at the July deadline, to fill obvious needs. The other purpose of a trade would be to trade for players further away from arbitration for more contract control. He also stressed that the Indians try to make trades that are win-win for both teams to keep all possible trade partners open for future discussion.

Shapiro said he didn’t see much happening before Spring Training (the Indians signed Todd Hollandsworth to a minor-league deal, which is nearly the definition of “not much”) because trades get more difficult as teams become more comfortable with their rosters. He didn’t rule anything out as impossible, just that they’re more difficult.

All in all, it was an enlightening and unusually candid conversation with Shapiro and helped flesh out a lot of the questions and concerns of the offseason by filling in a number of holes. Now let’s fill in that hole in RF.


Cy Slapnicka said...

how am i just finding out about Boone's wife now? look for a comeback year for him in 2006, as i'm sure he did some slump busting this winter.

the only thing i fear is a spring SI cover of "Indian Uprising II".

Paul Cousineau said...

I can't believe that you haven't heard of Boone's wife and her portfolio. When her resume was mentioned during the birth of her first child, her name hit Google search pretty quick.

Also, one of the best things I've ever seen:

I thought that my Halloween costumes have been clever. That blows it all away.

One question: Where did they have those jerseys made?