My Reaction to Mark Shapiro’s Q and A

The Indians closed the first half on Sunday afternoon, suffering a 2-0 loss, and falling to a 42-46 record. The Tribe finds themselves 11 games in back of the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central Division and 5.5 games in back of the Wild Card, with five teams to pass to reach the last playoff spot.

If the Indians want to win 88 games, giving themselves a chance to make the playoffs, they’ll have to go 46-28 after the All-Star Game. Only the Royals, St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates have played at that kind of pace through the first half.

It’s been a season of ups and downs, and while fans want to look up at the playoffs, they have to realize that it isn’t very far down either. The Tribe is just 2.5 games away from the worst record in the American League.

And in many ways, for the team on the cover of Sports Illustrated to start the year, this season has been a lot more rock bottom than on their way to the top.

As newsworthy as the Tribe’s end of the first half was a Q&A with Mark Shapiro, written by Akron-Beacon Journal’s Marla Ridenour. It’s a great story everyone should read. What’s nice about sports is that everyone has an opinion about their teams and they don’t necessarily match up with the next fan. Arguments and opinions about sports is one of the things that make being a fan great.

While I read Ridenour’s story, I had many opinions, like many other fans have tweeted and mentioned. I thought it would be great to share my thoughts to some of Shapiro’s comments and welcome you to share yours in the comments.

Shapiro on Building a Team: The reality is we don’t have the luxury of building the perfect team and we can’t necessarily address every hole. We build the best team we can. That’s not always a reflection of what we know to be a weakness or our philosophy.

My Thoughts: I think every general manager or team president could make this statement. When you have 30 teams competing for one trophy, everyone is trying to get better and everyone has a weakness. That’s common sense, really. No one is truly satisfied with their team and always are looking for ways to get better. Shapiro even continues and stresses that they are always looking for ways to get better. What concerns me is the openness to admit that they can’t necessarily address every hole. I’m sure Shapiro could counter that just as I did, admitting that when all 30 teams are competing, it’s tough to ever have the perfect team. What bothers me is this could also be interpreted that they know Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn have been major disappointments, but they can’t do anything to fix or move away from the problem. The holes are in the roster and their budget, and depending on how you want to interpret that comment, it could mean that fans are going to have to ride out their contracts through the end of 2016 before a major overhaul can be made to the position player side of the roster.

Shapiro on Defensive Struggles: I think Michael Brantley has battled through probably some more issues than we’ve been public about or he’s talked about. That’s not his nature to make excuses. His struggles physically have probably had a bigger impact on our defense than anyone would have ever expected. He’s been an impact defender in left field. This year it’s been a challenge for him physically. That and we expected (Carlos) Santana, who played well defensively last year once we moved him to first base, to be better this year and he has not been good. Those have been probably the two biggest surprises. We’re getting about what we expected from Michael Bourn, from regardless of who plays in right field, better than we would have expected from Kip (Jason Kipnis) at second base — he’s been good.

My Thoughts: If you’ve watched Michael Brantley run the bases, you know his back isn’t right. To steal an Eric Wedge line, the guy is grinding, trying to help this team as best as he can. But, to start any conversation about the Indians’ defensive struggles with Brantley is insulting and unfair. Michael Bourn and Carlos Santana have been the two major eyesores to the team defense. Furthermore, if Brantley is perceived as part of their defensive problem, why do they continue to make lineups with he in center field and Mike Aviles in left field?

The epicenter of the Indians defensive struggles is with Bourn. I wrote about this extensively last week. Good teams are built up the middle and center field is one of the most important positions on the field and Bourn is one of the worst in the game. Shapiro seems to gloss over Bourn’s defensive demise.

The line, “we’re getting about what we expected from Michael Bourn” was about enough to make me jump out of my seat in rage when I read it. If I had been sitting across from Shapiro, I would have asked him to clarify. Does he mean they are getting the defense they expected when they signed him before the 2013 season? If that’s the case, why did they sign a player that they knew would decline so badly? That would be quite the mismanagement of funds, if they thought this was the Bourn they were getting.

More than likely, I assume Shapiro meant that based on last year, this is the defense that they expected from Bourn. And if that is the case, forgive me for never truly trusting the Indians spin game. Just four months ago, everyone told fans that Bourn was in the best shape of his life, working out with a track coach and they expected a great season from him. If Shapiro was expecting this defense, he wasn’t a believer in that track coach. It really has to be one or the other. The Indians front office message and spin changes so quickly, sometimes the stories don’t work together. I think they just hope the fan forgets their last storyline while digesting the current one.

Finally, the comment that Santana played good defense at first base last year seems to be a stretch of the truth. Among players who played 400 innings or more at first base in 2014, Santana was 25th of 34 qualifiers with a -4 Defensive Runs Saved and had a 21st of 34 in overall Defensive Rating at -7.8. Being in the bottom third of first baseman is not what I would consider “playing well.” Granted, he did play better than Swisher, and I think Shapiro tries to use that to make fans think that an improvement is good defense.

The Indians haven’t been better than 24th of 30 teams in overall Defensive Rating since 2008. I hate to say this, but an average fan doesn’t even remember what an actual average Indians defense looks like.

Shapiro on Lonnie Chisenhall: By every measurement he was good this year. I think he had a bad first week of the season, after that he was pretty good. He was solid, an average major-league defender at third base; last year he was below.

My Thought: I was completely on board with Chisenhall’s move to Triple-A and think Giovanny Urshela has provided a nice spark to the team, but if Shapiro believes what he said about Chisenhall, then why is he in Triple-A? There is something there that isn’t being addressed, whether it is a problem with Chisenhall or some kind of difference in philosophy between Shapiro and/or Chris Antonetti or Terry Francona. If he was having a good year, in Shapiro’s eyes, why was he demoted?

Shapiro on This Team, This Year and Beyond: I feel the long-term outlook for this team is still a good one. We have a lot of young talent, we’re a good team. But within the expected range of outcomes, it’s .500 or a little below when you’ve got two veterans in (Nick) Swisher and Bourn, when you’ve got Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall, you’ve got disappointing performances at multiple positions, we’re going to have a hard time being the team you wanted to be.

My Thought: I’m going to reserve all my Carlos Santana thoughts and comments for another column (because that might be 2000 words in itself), but if Shapiro seems to think the players responsible for the disappointment are Swisher, Bourn, Chisenhall and Santana, one would think that several—if not all of them—could be on their way off the roster. That doesn’t necessarily mean by the trade deadline, but maybe by spring training next season. Chisenhall likely will not be tendered arbitration this winter and made a free agent. Maybe this means there’s a legit chance the Indians could acknowledge the poor signings of Bourn and Swisher and designate them for assignment. And regardless of where you stand on Santana, and how you value him, maybe the Indians are considering trading him in the next six to eight months.

Photo: Getty Images

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