Mark Shapiro took over as GM of the Indians in 2002, a time of transition for the franchise. Gone were most of the offensive megastars of the ’90s: Manny Ramirez, Brian Giles, David Justice, Kenny Lofton, and Roberto Alomar had all left for greener pastures by then, with Jim Thome soon to follow. It was the end of an era for one of the best teams of the ’90s–with a newly slashed budget and status as a small-market team, there was no way the Indians could be the top-five payroll team that sold out every game. They would have to be built completely differently, and that’s what Shapiro did.
Now, 14 years and one job change later, Shapiro’s time with the Indians has come to an end, as the team president is leaving for the same job with the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s yet again the end of an era for Cleveland, but before we look forward to the future, let’s take a look back at Shapiro’s tenure with the club, and some of the highs and lows they’ve hit in his time.
First of all, the highs. Shapiro proved to be an absolute savant when it came to trades. It was just one heist after another in his time. The 2002 Bartolo Colon trade for Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Cliff Lee remains one of the most lopsided deals in MLB history. Add in the twin fleecings of the Mariners at the 2006 deadline (Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez and Ben Broussard), the Dodgers in 2008 (Carlos Santana for Casey Blake), and the Padres in 2010 (Corey Kluber for Ryan Ludwick), and Shapiro brought in a bonanza of talent from outside the organization while giving up very little. Even the blockbuster trades of CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee brought back two of the current team’s best players, Michael Brantley and Carlos Carrasco. It may not sound like a lot, but the Marlins, to name an example, would have killed for just one player of that caliber in their blockbuster Miguel Cabrera deal of 2007.
Then again, there were some lows. First of all, the team gave up on the aforementioned Phillips too early, giving him away for nothing prior to his 2006 breakout season. And Shapiro’s drafts went as poorly as his trades went well–not a single one of Shapiro’s 13 first-round picks became a regular, positive contributor to the team. (The closest was Lonnie Chisenhall, which says more about these drafts than it does about Chisenhall).
So the question becomes: how much do you expect out of your general manager/president? Obviously, not everyone can be the Giants and put together a run of three World Series titles in five years. But the Indians aren’t the Pirates of the 2000s either; they wouldn’t be happy with a simple 82-win season.
So Shapiro’s level of “success” really depends on how you look at it. An optimist might look at the plight of the Royals, Pirates, and other small-market teams from the 2000s and say, hey, things didn’t turn out too badly for the Indians.
Others might look at the successful teams of 2005 and 2007, the absolute wealth of talent that graced the team during that time, and think: shouldn’t there have been something more than this?
This is the way I look at it: could another general manager have done a better job? I’m not so sure they could have. Shapiro may have had his faults (those drafts, ugh), but a lesser GM would have missed out on the chances to fleece the Expos in 2002 or the Mariners in 2006, or might have pointlessly hung onto Sabathia and Lee and gotten nothing for them.
Shapiro may not have been Billy Beane and Andrew Friedman, but plenty of MLB teams would have killed for this kind of organizational stability and success with limited means. The Indians didn’t have Mike Ilitch’s pizza billions to throw wildly at free agents like the division rival Tigers; yet they avoided descending into a morass of misery like the mid-’00s Royals. The stories of small-market teams in that era aren’t pretty–think of the early ’00s Devil Rays, Royals, Pirates, Reds, the list goes on. Indians fans got a 2005 team that should have made the playoffs, an ’07 team that should have won the World Series, and a disappointing end for a tremendous core. But at least they didn’t have to watch the likes of Mark Redman and Jose Lima starting Opening Day.
That’s what it comes down to: expectations. If what you want from the Indians is World Series or bust, then Shapiro’s tenure would have to be considered a failure. But if you just want a competitive team every year, a team that always has a shot, that’s what Shapiro brought the Indians. Considering the misery many other fanbases have endured, I’d say that’s worth something.