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Shapiro staying a good sign of Dolan's commitment
JIM INGRAHAM, Morning Journal Writer
There were several intriguing undercurrents related to the Indians' signing of Jake Westbrook to a three-year, $33 million contract extension, not the least of which was its timing.
The timing was very interesting because it came less than a month after the Indians signed general manager Mark Shapiro to a five-year extension.
Are the two related?
Only Shapiro and Indians president Paul Dolan know for sure. But when listening to the optimism with which Shapiro now talks about possibly re-signing potential free agents Travis Hafner and/or C.C. Sabathia, and with Westbrook already a done deal, it's not too hard to figure out what one of the main talking points was when Shapiro and Dolan sat down to hammer out their deal.
Dolan: ''Mark, what will it take to keep you here?''
Shapiro: ''I'm happy here. I want to stay here. But I want to be able to compete.''
Shapiro can talk all he wants about how much he likes the people he works for and with, how much his family enjoys living in Cleveland, and how much autonomy -- perhaps more than that of any other general manager in the game, according to Shapiro -- he gets from the Dolan family in running the Indians.
That's all well and good. But Shapiro, like all general managers, is a competitor. Building relationships and creating a culture of professionalism are nice, but this is major league baseball, and the object is to win. In most cases general managers and managers either win or they eventually become ex-general managers and ex-managers.
Clearly, Shapiro had to be given some assurance from the Dolan family that if he was going to stay in Cleveland as the general manager for five more years, he was going to have to be allowed to compete.
That doesn't mean being first in line to give Alex Rodriguez another $150 million when he opts out of his Yankee contract at the end of this season and becomes a free agent. It doesn't mean standing on a street corner in downtown Tokyo, waving a check for $130 million at Dice-K II.
That's not the point. It's one thing not to be able to compete for the top free agents every winter. It's quite another to be in charge of a team, and then have to watch a parade of all your best players leaving via free agency year after year after year. THAT, clearly, was a point Shapiro emphasized to Dolan.
Shapiro isn't necessarily interested in eating at the big table with the Yankees' Brian Cashman, Boston's Theo Epstein, and the game's other Barons of the Bloated Payrolls. But he's also not interested in dining on gruel and biscuits with the bottom feeders, where he has to sell to his fans such nonsense that Jason Johnson is a good signing because he has a ''track record.''
Shapiro, the former Princeton football player, is a competitor. And competitors compete. It seems likely, when Shapiro and Dolan stared at each other across the heavily lacquered mahogany table in some boardroom in the inner sanctum at Jacobs Field over the winter, that Shapiro stressed if he was going to remain with the Indians, he had no interest in trying to general manage with one hand tied behind his back.
In other words, at some point, for the Indians to get good, and stay good, they had to stop the organization's internal bleeding, caused by the constant exit of all its best players.
Shapiro's timing was exquisite, because the Indians' next three test cases are all players who make the reconfiguration of organizational strategy convenient, necessary, and justified.
That doesn't mean it's going to happen, but the early returns look encouraging.
Westbrook, Sabathia and Hafner are not just three of the Indians' most important players, they are three of their best people. They are all productive on the field and leaders off it.
So what we have here is the perfect storm. A serendipitous convergence of time and place and players. Of an impending free agent general manager, three key impending free agent players, and an organization at just the right stage of its rebirth to feel a degree of desperation to keep as many of the four as possible.
Shapiro presumably stayed in large part because he was given the assurance that he would be permitted to compete for the other three.
Less than a month later he's re-signed one -- no coincidence there, to be sure -- and is talking optimistically about the other two. Re-signing all three seemed impossible initially. Re-signing two would be admirable. Even going 1-for-3 would be encouraging.
What's most important though, is that the Indians seem to be in play on all of them, and that would be a major shift in organizational policy.
One that apparently has kept Shapiro in Cleveland.