Well, the Indians made it official today as team president Mark Shapiro announced he would be leaving after the year to be the president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays.
There is no question that Shapiro is an exceptional human being. He has created a caring atmosphere with the front office employees and players alike. And all in all, no one can really complain about that.
However, as we wrote last week, baseball (really, all professional sports) is judged solely on wins and losses, and it is there that we find Shapiro’s record lacking.
In 14 seasons where the Princeton graduate has either been the GM or the president of the Indians, there has been only four winning seasons and two post-season appearances.
Our opinion of the executive is based more on what he didn’t do, rather that what he did.
You see, every GM who has been around a long time will make good trades and bad trades. And perhaps, Shapiro would be judged better if one of his earliest moves, trading Bartolo Colon for Grady Sizemore (all-star), Brandon Phillips (all-star, just not here), and Cliff Lee (Cy Young Award winner) wasn’t so successful.
And maybe he would have more support had he not followed John Hart as GM, and whether you like Hart or not, he was in charge during perhaps the greatest era of baseball in Cleveland history.
But when we said he will be judged here for what he didn’t do, we mean that when the Tribe was in the hunt, Shapiro never made the big splash move.
In 2005, the White Sox got off to a great start, but the Indians were in the wild card hunt at the All-Star break. The Indians made two in-season deals, the first moving Alex Cora to Boston for Ramon Vazquez, and the last was dealing Jody Gerut to the Cubs for Jason Dubois.
Not exactly blockbuster moves. The Tribe missed the playoffs by two games, and would have made the post-season by winning just one game during the last weekend of the season.
In 2007, Cleveland was a game out of first at the break, and 1-1/2 out on July 27th, when Shapiro acquired 40-year-old Kenny Lofton for minor league catching prospect Max Ramirez, who was well regarded at the time as a hitter.
Lofton did hit .283 the rest of the season, and contributed, but it was hardly a “going for it” move.
Contrast those moves with those made by Hart at the deadline, who traded for Ken Hill (’95), Kevin Seitzer (’96), John Smiley and Bip Roberts (’97), etc. Not all of those moves worked, but there was the feeling the front office was doing everything it could to bring a title to Cleveland.
To be fair, we don’t know what deals were available to Shapiro at the time. Perhaps teams were asking for way too much for marginal players. But with baseball being the sport that it is, if you get in the post-season, you pretty much have the same shot as anyone else does. Market size no longer matters.
We have said this in regards to Terry Francona, there is a fine line between patience and stubbornness and Shapiro’s patience toward some players has hurt the team at times. Eric Wedge was kept on as manager well after he became a cliché with his “grinding” mantra.
And the franchise kept playing guys like Aaron Boone and the David Dellucci/Jason Michaels platoon after it was proven not to work. That lack of urgency still permeates the franchise, with Michael Bourn and the non-promotion of Francisco Lindor this season as prime examples.
Perhaps it was lack of support by ownership or maybe overconfidence in his building of the franchise, but people can criticize Mark Shapiro on his trade record all they want. To us, it was the moves not made which make up his legacy.