By Spencer Davies
Mark Shapiro joined the Indians a player development director in 1991, even he probably had no idea how he would eventually ascend the corporate ladder to become the team’s full-time general manager in November 2001.
Joining an organization with near-championship pedigree at the time, Shapiro took the reigns from John Hart, a man that built Cleveland’s greatest core roster of all-time in the mid-90s.
The first three years under Shapiro were forgettable, as the Tribe had a losing record in each season, something that didn’t happen since the period of 1991-1993.
In 2005, Shapiro put together a solid roster that was barely held out of the playoff race. Coco Crisp, Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner were some upstart, fresh names that helped the team attempt to form a new identity. Shapiro was named Executive of the Year by Sporting News, and nothing but good could be in store for the future, right?
But the following season was a huge disappointment, as Shapiro traded Crisp—who was coming off of a career year—for Guillermo Mota, Kelly Shoppach and highly-touted third base prospect Andy Marte.
This would be the first of many moves that left fans asking, “Why?”
2007, however, would be a different story. The Indians were somehow injected with new life after the down season, as five of their players—Victor Martinez, Ryan Garko, Peralta, Sizemore and Hafner—each had over 20 home runs.
The starting rotation was the best it had been in years, featuring ace C.C. Sabathia, the formerly named “Fausto Carmona”, veteran Paul Byrd, Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee. The bullpen was fantastic, due to the Rafaels, right-hander Betancourt and southpaw Perez, who were the best setup men in baseball.
Kenny Lofton would join the party at in late July, and new shortstop sensation Asdrubal Cabrera contributed right off of the bat when the team needed him to the most in August.
But, the “Cleveland Curse” struck again and most of you know how that one ends.
In a very similar situation to 2006, the expectations were through the roof for 2008. Yet, just like it happened two years previously, the Tribe fell flat. In a shocking mid-season move, Shapiro once again shipped out a big name.
Cy Young winner and fan favorite C.C. Sabathia was sent to Milwaukee in exchange for more prospects—Rob Bryson, Zach Jackson and the core piece of the deal, Matt LaPorta.
Thankfully, the Indians received a player to be named later that’s been the most consistent baseball player for the team in quite some time, Michael Brantley—but that’s a moot point.
I could detail the seasons after, and I could talk about the other deals. Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, the list goes on. It simply didn’t work for Shapiro to make these decisions.
He just did not have the skills to evaluate talent, current and future. Here’s a list of his first-round draft history:
2001- Dan Denham, Alan Horne, J.D. Martin
2002: Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Whitney, Micah Schilling
2003: Michael Aubrey, Brad Snyder, Adam Miller
2004: Jeremy Sowers
2005: Trevor Crowe, John Drennen
2006: David Huff
2007: Beau Mills
2008: Lonnie Chisenhall
2009: Alex White
2010: Drew Pomeranz
Besides the no-names that probably aren’t even in baseball anymore, the “highlights” of his drafts were a decent journeyman starter in Guthrie, an infielder that plays better when put in right field in Chisenhall and a starter turned reliever in Pomeranz.
This thankfully stopped when Shapiro was promoted to president of the team in October 2010, and Chris Antonetti was named the replacement and permanent general manager.
And for a quick tidbit, here’s Antonetti’s short (and arguably already somewhat successful) draft history:
2011: Francisco Lindor
2012: Tyler Naquin
2013: Clint Frazier
2014: Bradley Zimmer, Justus Sheffield
Hiring Terry Francona after the mess that was Manny Acta was also smart.
Antonetti’s free agency moves haven’t been so great—see Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn—but his under-the-radar moves have landed the Tribe names such as Trevor Bauer, Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes. And as most know, Abraham Almonte is off to quite a start with the organization as well.
As team president, Shapiro has made decisions involving the stadium and a better fan experience. He did a great job with renovations and overall design chances to the park. That’s not blowing hot air, he really did. But as far as baseball decisions go, he just didn’t cut it.
It was officially announced Monday morning that Shapiro will be headed to Toronto to take over as president and CEO of the Blue Jays. To him, I say congratulations.
I also say congratulations to the Indians, because Shapiro’s decision means that the organization will finally get a breath of fresh air in their front office.
Antonetti will probably be the one to take Shapiro’s seat to oversee the team, meaning assistant general manager Mike Chernoff will probably take his spot as the new general manager moving forward.
The philosophy of the team may remain the same, or it may change. But the attitude and hungriness of the organization could be altered altogether.
The team is already moving on in the right direction with youth, as we’re all seeing right now in this recent surge. And if getting a glimpse of the future has been entertaining to you so far, just wait until the others make their way up, because the future is bright. I’ve seen it myself.