Meh on Mark Shapiro’s Move to Toronto

It’s not that I don’t care. Actually, I care immensely and if I have a fault concerning the Indians, it’s that I care too much.

But I’ve been asked since the news broke a couple weeks ago that Mark Shapiro was under consideration to become the new president of the Toronto Blue Jays if I thought this was a good thing or a bad thing for the Indians. The Indians and Shapiro made it official this afternoon, announcing that he will become the new top man in Toronto and a void is now created in Cleveland.

For me, I’m still meh.

As Anthony Castrovince pointed out, Shapiro joined the Indians in 1991 as a $30,000-a-year errand boy for John Hart. He’s done all right for himself. I’ve personally heard Shapiro discuss the changes in technology and analytics during his time with the Indians and mention that when he started with the Tribe he organized scouting reports on players in filing cabinets after scouts faxed them in. Obviously, a lot has changed since those days and Shapiro has evolved and thrived along the way. We should all be so lucky to have careers as successful as Shapiro.

When John Hart left the Cleveland Indians, he slowly handed the reigns to Shapiro. Shapiro was a part of the same front office that Hart assembled that had Dan O’Dowd, Neal Huntington, Chris Antonetti and others. Picking up where Hart left off was the goal, but that goal changed quickly when the Indians direction changed. The Indians of the 1990s were getting old in 2001 and a rebuild was on the horizon. Shapiro adapted and was left with the responsibility of tearing down the end of the Tribe’s best era in 40 years. He swindled Montreal—desperate to win and save their franchise—out of Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips and built a winner again in 2005.

The Tribe had an open window to contend under Shapiro from 2005-2008, but never could win the World Series. Cleveland was just a game away from the World Series in 2007, but would never get any closer, and again, he had to tear down what he had built when payroll escalated and players aged. This afternoon Shapiro admitted he still thinks of 2007 often.

Shapiro was the Sporting News Executive of the Year in 2005 and 2007 and people often said things like, “big market teams would love to have Mark Shapiro.”

And in part, maybe that’s why he earned the promotion to team president that he did in 2010. Becoming team president, while allowing Antonetti to become general manager, kept each in the organization. Shapiro has had involvement in the roster, but now it’s Antonetti’s direct responsibility. Shapiro and Antonetti worked together to bring Terry Francona to Cleveland after the 2012 season and keep the organization headed in their direction.

Shapiro built a winner but was far from perfect along the way. He also made several poor trades and led a front office that struck out in the draft during most of his tenure. Shapiro traded Phillips when he could not get along with Eric Wedge and dealt Coco Crisp in the middle of their window to contend for Andy Marte and Kelly Shoppach. When he had to trade C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee before they hit the mega dollars of free agency, he acquired eight players in return for the two, but only two have materialized to help the team long term.

And that’s why I’m rather meh on the complete situation and departure of Mark Shapiro. It’s been a while since teams have clamored for him like they did in 2007 and while he has done a lot for the organization in his 24 years of work, he’s also been a part of many of the bad decisions and the disconnect between the organization and it’s fan base. This afternoon owner Paul Dolan made it clear that Shapiro would not be replaced by anyone from the outside, but instead his duties would be handled from within.

With Shapiro’s departure, I’m sure there will be changes inside the organization, but I’m not sure the fan base will see many of them. It seems Antonetti’s job is safe and Francona has said he would like to stay in Cleveland, so a huge organizational shift seems doubtful. Some fans are likely relieved by that news, while others are disappointed.

Do most fans even know who the team president was before Shapiro (it was Paul Dolan)? To the fans who want a winning team on the field and a continuous contender, who the general manager and manager are probably means more. How much the owner is willing to spend probably matters more, too. The team president has little control over daily on-the-field moves, or the team budget.

By all accounts and comments, the Indians seem dedicated to maintaining the structure and leadership they’ve established. Antonetti may move to the team presidency and create a general manager opportunity for current assistant Mike Chernoff, just like the team did back in 2010. Dolan may resume his role as team president. But it seems clear there will not be wide sweeping changes within the Tribe, and if the message and direction of the team continues like it has, I’m just meh.

Photo: Associated Press



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