General Manager Mark Shapiro expects the 2008 Indians to look a lot like the 2007 Indians. Which, if you throw out the last three games of the season, could be a pretty good thing.
General Manager Mark Shapiro expects the 2008 Indians to look a lot like the 2007 Indians.
Which, if you throw out the last three games of the season, could be a pretty good thing.
“My basic desire is to not make many changes,” Shapiro said. “This game leads you to the temptation of making decisions based on short-term evaluations. The body of work is 96 wins. My hope is we’ll benefit from the final failure and build off the success of the 96 wins.”
That final failure still stings: three consecutive losses to Boston in the American League Championship Series that cost the Indians a trip to the World Series. Neither Shapiro nor Manager Eric Wedge could offer an explanation of how their team could, individually and collectively, collapse with the finish line in sight.
“I kind of look at it like, we won three in a row, they won three in a row,” Shapiro said. “(Josh) Beckett beat us. He was dominant. The last game was much closer than the score reflected. We played a bad game between those two, which is going to happen.”
“I know we fell short,” Wedge said. “I know that better than anybody. They (the Red Sox) are still playing. We’re not. That’s all that matters. All the other stuff is just rhetoric.”
The Indians and Red Sox tied for the best record in baseball, so Shapiro doesn’t feel pressed to implement major changes over the winter. That doesn’t mean some tweaking isn’t possible.
Let’s go shopping
The first order of business will come 10 days after the World Series, when the team must decide whether to pick up the contract options of Paul Byrd ($8 million), Joe Borowski ($4 million) and Aaron Fultz ($1.5 million).
An agreement must also be reached with third baseman Casey Blake, who is eligible for arbitration but not yet eligible for free agency.
Next comes free agency. Shapiro characterized this winter’s crop as, “not a very good one.”
When the Indians formally bid farewell to Trot Nixon and Kenny Lofton, the holdovers for the corner outfield spots are David Dellucci, Jason Michaels and Franklin Gutierrez. In 574 combined at-bats last season, that trio produced a .273 average, 15 home runs and 75 RBIs.
One might theorize an upgrade is in order for at least one of those two spots.
“One of the greatest benefits of heading into an offseason without the need to fill definitive slots is we can take an opportunistic view of the offseason,” Shapiro said. “We can look at trades that can make us better, short-term and long-term deals, and examine free agency. Our expectation would be that, if we’re open-minded, an opportunity will present itself.”
Shapiro said the infield will return largely intact. Asdrubal Cabrera will play “a prominent role,” but that role won’t be at shortstop.
Instead, it appears Cabrera and Josh Barfield will battle for the starting second baseman’s job during spring training.
“Jhonny Peralta is our shortstop next year,” Shapiro said. “Casey Blake will be back here next year, playing third base.”
A utility infielder who can hit is always a plus. Cabrera could fill that role very capably if Barfield is able to win his job back.
The starting rotation’s situation is clouded by Major League Baseball’s investigation into Byrd’s use of HGH, but the faces are otherwise familiar. The late-inning relief pitchers will all return, but the Indians could pursue a veteran with some closer’s experience as insurance for Joe Borowski.
Big money for the big man
After Shapiro is done nosing around the free-agent market, he must then tend to business at home again — working out a long-term deal for C.C. Sabathia, whose contract expires at the end of the 2008 season.
“My hope and my expectation would be that it’s not an issue when we get to spring training,” Shapiro said.
A young left-hander coming off a career year (19-7, 3.21 ERA) might have appeared unquestionably unaffordable a few weeks ago. But Sabathia’s postseason flop, the presence of two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana on the 2009 market and the possibility of the Indians fielding a contender may conspire to drop Sabathia’s price to Cleveland’s level of affordability.
“The only question there’s ever been is — understanding the magnitude of his success and what that means in a free-agent environment — is there a business deal that makes sense for both him and for our ownership that can be struck?” Shapiro said.
“That’s the question we’ll look to address over this offseason.”
Even if an agreement can’t be reached, Shapiro said it would be unlikely the team would immediately look to trade Sabathia.
“My inclination is to put the best team possible on the field,” Shapiro said. “It’s hard for me to see if there’s a team that has the best chance at winning without C.C. on it.”
Here they come again
The Indians, even without spending at all on a free agent, would still see their Opening Day payroll increase from $60 million to about $70 million next season.
That increase should be offset somewhat by increased ticket sales fueled by the club’s first postseason berth since 2001. Indians Vice President for Public Relations Bob DiBiasio said 5,200 new fans have purchased or upgraded partial (20 games) or full season-ticket plans for 2008 since the 2007 season ended.
Shapiro was asked whether he could, in fact, simply retain the same team for another run at the ring.
“I would feel good about that,” Shapiro said.
How good? Let him count the ways.
“They won 96 games, they’ve got track records, they’re not declining age-wise, the majority of them are entering their prime or are in their prime, they play exceptionally well as a team, they pick each other up, there’s still upside for a lot of guys who didn’t have their best seasons this year, and there’s depth,” Shapiro said. “There are concrete reasons why we could feel good about bringing this same group back.”
Reach Repository sports writer Andy Call at (330) 580-8346 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.