In the final installment of our series, we examine the front office and it’s hand-picked, lock-step manager. It certainly seems a long time ago that Mark Shapiro – the 2007 Executive of the Year, and Eric Wedge – the 2007 AL Manager of the year, were walking on water within the world of Major League Baseball.
Two years is normally not a long time, but in baseball years – it’s an eternity. Two years ago Fausto Carmona was a 19-game winner. Two years ago Joe Borowski was still a viable major league closer. Two years ago the Browns were considered a team on the rise. Two years ago. The Indians were one game away from the World Series.
See what I mean?
Lets start with Mark Shapiro. Stating the obvious, your red-headed General Manager obviously has the constraints of the small market payroll causing his margin for error in player evaluation to be slim. In other words, unlike the Yankees who can spend over a mistake (like signing Jaret Wright to a three year contract worth over $10 million a year), Shapiro can ill afford to swing and miss in the free agent game, or it can set back his franchise (see David Dellucci – three years, $12 million).
He has to be able to put together a quality farm system through the draft and through shrewd trades. This winter, the Indians had three major holes that needed filling: A closer, an infielder, and a left-fielder. The Indians looked at several options in the infield – 2B Orlando Hudson, SS Orlando Cabrera, 3B Joe Crede – but out of nowhere, scored what was seemingly a coup with acquisition of the multi-talented Mark DeRosa.
He gave up three minor league arms to acquire a veteran clubhouse presence who was thought to be the missing piece to the infield puzzle. As stated yesterday, the thought was to put DeRosa at second base, allowing Jhonny Peralta to slide over to third, leaving shortstop to its heir apparent, Asdrubal Cabrera. Somehow, Shapiro and his lieutenants swung and missed so badly on this, you would have thought Kelly Shoppach was holding their bat.
So in essence, the front office decision to put DeRosa at third was a major faux pas from the outset. DeRosa is now in St. Louis, Peralta is now an unhappy third basemen, and Cabrera is where he should be.
Strike One Shappy.
The left field position has been a strange one as well. Now forget that from time to time in bigger ballparks, Wedge moves Choo to left, because that doesn’t apply. During Spring training, the job seemed to be Ben Francisco’s to lose. Strangely, instead of giving Benny the PT, the decision was made from the top to make left field a revolving door of tryouts. Ryan Garko played there, so did Josh Barfield, as did Chris Gimenez. Even Jamey Carroll took his shot out there. Can I ask you a question?
You traded away your best defender in Franklin Guiterrez in the offseason to eventually pave the way for your OF of the future (AAA OF Michael Brantley). So you are essentially leaving left field in the hands of the 27-year old Francisco to get his shot. Why be screwing around with guys who shouldn’t be sniffing the outfield?
(SIDE NOTE – Franky G, always a favorite of mine, became the everyday center fielder in Seattle and has responded by heading into the all star break with .295 BA/10 HR/37 RBI/.801 OPS. Essentially, he is doubling Benny’s production while playing gold glove caliber defense. As much as I like the promise of “Sweet” Luis Valbuena, I miss Franky G.)
Meanwhile, a month into the season, Benny was forced to play center with Grady out (a position he is ill suited for) and DeRosa was the primary left fielder. In hindsight, maybe that should have been the plan from day one. But with Jamey Carroll’s broken hand and Valbuena still an unknown commodity, there was little choice. The bottom line? Left field has become a black hole for the Tribe since DeRosa’s departure.
Finally, if the Indians have “the best group of young positions players we’ve had in a decade” according to Shappy, then why aren’t we seeing them?
Strike Two Shappy.
What about that mess of a bullpen that was put together? I will not sit here and pretend to have seen this coming, because on opening day, I thought the strength of this team would be the pen. Maybe I was drinking the Shapiro Kool Aid, but what wasn’t there to like about Rafael Perez’s last two and a half year run or Rafael Betancourt’s consistency since 2005 or the potential of Jensen Lewis after watching strong finishes in 07 and 08. At the time, I thought the addition of Kerry Wood was a great move. I can’t fault Shapiro for building what I thought was the core of the pen.
What I can fault him for is not having any semblance of a backup plan or high-level prospects ready to come to the rescue if disaster struck. That is exactly what happened. Instead of young power throwing arms, the reserves brought Vinnie Chulk, Matt Herges, and Greg Aquino – three non-roster invitees, along with Luis Vizcaino, released by the Cubs in April. Other than Tony Sipp, the minors have delivered nothing. Jon Meloan, brought over in the Casey Blake trade, was a complete failure, so much so that he was sent to Tampa Bay for 32-year old 4A special Winston Abreu. The lack of depth within the organization in regards to bullpen options is shockingly thin.
Strike Three Shappy.
I won’t even get into the mess that is the depth of the starting rotation again. Click here for more on this topic.
The hand in hand relationship that Shapiro shares with his manager, the Grindmaster General has been well documented for years. On several occasions over the years, Shapiro’s failures to make his own decisions and trump his manager have been extremely costly. It was Wedge who ran Brandon Phillips off in favor of Ramon Vazquez. It was Wedge who kept giving David Dellucci at bats when it was clear that he was finished. This year, when Shapiro told Wedge he was bringing up top prospect Matt LaPorta, we were all told by Shapiro that LaPorta was “up here to play.”
Except he didn’t.
That is Wedge’s call. What is the point of bringing up LaPorta if your manager is going to leave him on the bench to rot in favor of the washed-up Dellucci? That was Wedge’s most agregious mistake of the season. Francisco was struggling in left. Sizemore was hurt in center. Kelly Shoppach can’t get over the Mendoza Line. With LaPorta up and the ability to play left and first, why would Wedge possible be playing the kid only three days a week with guys like Garko and Dellucci getting the bulk of the time?
This is where any other general manager in the game would step in and tell the manager “this kid is up here to play, now play him five days a week minimum. No discussion.” Instead, LaPorta never got in a groove with the Grinder, who is known to be loyal to his veterans to a fault, and was sent back to Columbus.
Meanwhile, Francisco and Garko still play essentially every day.
As for Wedge’s handling of the lineup… The same beef everyone has had with him holds true today. You could literally hold a contest each day guessing the Tribe lineup for the next game. I bet you wouldn’t get it right. One night, Victor Martinez is catching, the next night he is at first. One night Garko is at first, the next he is in left. One night Valbuena is at second, the next its Carroll. See a pattern here? Wedge can say that he is trying to find the right combination and trying to find these guys their roles, but how do the players like being moved around like chess pieces each night.
Readers of mine know I was a Wedge apologist for as long as I could be. I have always respected that his demeanor never changes, win or lose. But this season, he has shown frustration like the rest of us. The bottom line is that he isn’t the one blowing leads in the pen. He isn’t the one who’s starting pitching rarely lasts beyond six innings. That combination will kill any team, I don’t care who the manager is. But the message has gotten stale.
Despite the vote of confidence Wedge and his staff received from the front office just before the break, I’d be stunned if Wedge survives this offseason. They are on pace to lose more games of any Indians team since 1991, Seven years and one playoff appearance should signal the end of the Grind. But what if Shapiro does decide to keep Wedge around? Could you imagine?
Shapiro has been the darling of the national media throughout the decade, but the bloom is off the rose. It’s time for him to step out of the partnership with Wedge and be his own man. Its the only way he can save face with an eroding fan base in his adopted city of Cleveland.