Mark Shapiro, revisited

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This post is going to be a doozy. I effectively chronicle the history of Mark Shapiro's tenure at Cleveland, so if you have a good 20 minutes this might be up your alley!

Mark Shapiro made the news in Cleveland recently, trading Josh Donaldson to his protege Chris Antonetti. Many in Toronto criticized the move as a give away to Cleveland. Some rivals, as reported by Ken Rosenthal, apparently disliked how both Cleveland and Toronto manipulated the DL to orchestrate the trade. However, after this trade and another Fanpost, I feel like enough time passed to evaluate Mark’s performance in Cleveland.

After seeing how long this post went, I will not be discussing Shapiro's drafts and amateur signings.

An Executive’s Job

Before we start, let’s determine what the job of a GM. In my opinion the job of an executive to accumulate as much talent on a roster as possible, and preferably acquire talent which can play together, as opposed to apart. Secondarily, an executive should spend as few resources as possible. Resources include both player resources and also financial ones. The best GMs can get teams together while leaving resources available for future use. However, while the GM can take some responsibility for how the team performs on the field: I will judge an executive less on the overall outcome of the season, and for injuries, than I would a manager. E.G: Eric Wedge & Tito Francona get more 'blame' or 'reward' for winning playoff series, than Mark Shapiro will.

Review: The Situation in 2001

Baseball was changing in 2001, CLEVELAND was changing in 2001. For the first seven years since moving into Jacob's Field: the Indians lacked local sports competition. Art Model moved the Browns, the Cavaliers stank, and the Indians moved into a jewel of a ballpark, similar to Camden Yards. In 2001: the Browns were back, and Jacob's Field lost a touch of its youth. Baseball salaries were jumping, and free agent competition was becoming fierce. Cleveland could not afford to spend the way they did in the '90s.

2001 is an interesting year for Cleveland, as the team still retained kernels of the '90s teams, but also included some younger players. Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Travis Fryman, Kenny Lofton, Bartolo Colon, Chuck Finley and Charles Nagy were all important veterans on the 2001 team. Thome, Vizquel, and Lofton are all considered superstars in Cleveland today due to their impact in the '90s. The Indians won 90 games in 2000 (Pythagorean record 92 games), but fell five games behind the White Sox in the AL Central.

A large part of this success were two free agent signings by Shapiro; the first of Juan Gonzalez, who signed a 1 year deal worth $10M and posted a 4.4 bWAR season. The second was of Ellis Burks, who signed a three year deal, and posted a pair of 3 bWAR seasons for Cleveland before getting injured.

The new owner, Paul Dolan, decided to give the '90s core one last shot to win, and rolled the dice in 2001. C.C. Sabathia debuted (and lost the Rookie of the Year Award to Ichiro). Shapiro signed Ellis Burks, Juan Gonzalez, and Tim Laker; and overall the team spent more money in 2001 on payroll than they would in over a decade. That team made the playoffs, but fell short to the Seattle Mariners, who just set the MLB record for wins.

Overall, Shapiro's roster was fairly old. Of the nine main position players on the roster in 2001, only Einar Diaz was younger than 30. Kenny Lofton, Ellis Burks, and Omar Vizquel turned 35 the next year. The pitching staff was little better. Charlie Nagy, Chuck Finley, and Dave Burba were all over 30 as well. In short: Mark found himself in a similar situation to where the Tigers found themselves a few years ago, and the Phillies found themselves in 2013: good enough to reach .500, but not good enough to make the playoffs. The Indians were also out of prospect, and financial gas; something had to give.

The Dreaded Rebuild


Shapiro saw his old team, and tried to inject youth. While Shapiro did not give up on 2002, he traded Roberto Alomar to the Mets for Matt Lawton, and allowed Kenny Lofton, Marty Cordova & Juan Gonzlez to leave via free agency. Lofton remained productive, but Alomar flamed out soon after joining New York, and Juan fell off a cliff offensively.

The team in 2002 failed to post similar results. Replacements for Kenny, Juan, and Roberto (bWAR total: 13.6) performed dismally (bWAR total: 2.0). That 11 win drop, combined with declines from Einar Diaz (2.8 WAR, to -0.8) and Bob Wickman (2.9 WAR to 0.3), were insurmountable. The team finished with only 74 wins (Pythagorean record 72).

During the season, Shapiro traded two veterans for prospects. The first deal was Chuck Finley for Coco Crisp. The second was Bartolo Colon for a trio of prospects: Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips; and Lee Stevens. The Bartolo Colon trade, in the view of many, set the Gold Standard for trading veterans for prospects. Here is a breakdown of the trade which made Shapiro famous:

Cleveland trades:

P Bartolo Colon (1.5 years remaining), bWAR produced: 6.5
P Chuck Finley (final year of contract), bWAR produced: 0.5

Cleveland receives:

OF Grady Sizemore (rookie), bWAR produced: 27.7
OF Coco Crisp (rookie), bWAR produced: 8.9
P Cliff Lee (rookie), bWAR produced: 16.2
2B Brandon Phillips (rookie), bWAR produced: 30.8
1B/OF Lee Stevens (final year of contract), bWAR produced: 0.3

Shapiro took the view that Colon & Finley were short term assets, which were worth far less to Cleveland than younger players who can help in a few years. Overall, Mark traded 7.0 bWAR of value in the next two seasons, and acquired over 50 bWAR in return (Phillips would never play for Cleveland for long). These trades set up the next run of contention for Cleveland in a few years.


Following the 2002 season, Mark had some decisions to make. They offered Jim Thome a lucrative contract, despite being far from contention, and Thome left for Philadelphia. Mark replaced expensive veterans with cheaper, younger options:

Einar Diaz was traded to Texas for Travis Hafner (b0.2 WAR for 25.4)
Signed Casey Blake as a free agent (rookie)
Signed Rafael Betancourt as a free agent (rookie)

Overall 2003 was a rebuilding year for the team, only winning 68 games (Pythagorean Record 72).


The 2004 season displayed fruit from Shapiro's actions, and previous good signings:

Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, and Coco Crisp all played well; forming the beginnings of a young position player core. C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook, Cliff Lee and Rafael Betancourt all performed well as either starters or relievers. Again, the Tribe did not compete, winning only 80 games (Pythagorean 81), but the stage was set for a revival.

One trade was performed: Milton Bradley was traded for OF Franklin Guttierez.

Finding Success


Only the 2nd winning season for the Indians, Mark Shapiro set to work creating a young talented team. During the offseason Shapiro:

Signed C.C. Sabathia to a 2 year extension
Resigned Bob Wickman
Traded Matt Lawton for Arthur Rhodes
Resigned Juan Gonzalez

Combined with Shapiro's current core, the team played well. Grady Sizemore broke out, Travis Hafner had a monster season, Victor Martinez continued to hit, and Jhonny Peralta replaced Vizquel's glove with a superior bat. Overall, the team won 93 games (Pythagorean record 96 wins), and set themselves up for a run. Although some moves did not work out (Juan Gonzalez never played for Cleveland in 2005), for the most part his moves were successful.

Overall, players Mark Shapiro acquired produced big time in 2005 (value in bWAR):

Grady Sizemore: 6.6
Travis Hafner: 5.4
Coco Crisp: 4.4
Casey Blake: 2.0
Cliff Lee: 2.5
Rafael Betancourt: 1.1
Arthur Rhodes: 1.0

Overall, Shapiro's moves generated 23 bWAR of value in 2005, easily the difference between an average club and a playoff contender.


To bolster his new core, Shapiro made some small free agent signings, and a few weird trades:

Signed Paul Byrd
Resigned Bob Wickman

These signings helped buttress a weaker pitching staff, and a bullpen in need of reinforcements.

Traded OF Coco Crisp & P David Riske for 3B Andy Marte, C Kelly Shoppach, and P Guillermo Mota
Traded 2B Brandon Phillips for P Jeff Stevens

In retrospect: neither of these trades worked out for Cleveland in the end. Looking at value gained and lossed:

Cleveland traded:

2B Brandon Phillips (1st year), bWAR produced: 30.8
OF Coco Crisp (2nd year), bWAR produced: 5.3
P David Riske, bWAR produced: 3.0

Cleveland received:

C Kelly Shoppach (rookie), bWAR produced: 7.2
3B Andy Marte (rookie), bWAR produced: -0.3
P Guillermo Mota (1 year remaining), bWAR produced: -0.4
P Jeff Stevens (rookie), bWAR produced: 0, never played for Cleveland

Overall, these two trades were a disaster for Cleveland. Despite a strong core, which largely performed well, the team regressed to 78 wins (89 Pythagorean record) in 2006. Generally, Mark's acquisitions from before 2006 performed well, but could not translate their on-the-field performances into wins. Overall, based on their Pythagorean W-L record: I think Mark did his job well in 2006.

The in season results still forced Mark to trade some veterans:

Bob Wickman was traded for Max Ramirez
Ben Broussard was traded for Shin-Soo Choo

While Max Ramirez never panned out, Shin-Soo Choo would eventually blossom into a star.


Following a lost season, Shapiro went to work again, and tried to learn from his mistakes in 2006:

P Aaron Fultz signed as a free agent
P Joe Borowski signed as a free agent
P Keith Foulke signed as a free agent
OF David Delucci signed as a free agent
OF Jason Michaels signed as a free agent
OF Trot Nixon signed as a free agent

With Grady Sizemore entrenched as the center fielder, Shapiro attempted to create a new outfield in aggregate with three players. A struggling bullpen got three reinforcements (although Foulke never pitched for Cleveland). 2007 became the most productive season under Mark Shapiro. While Shapiro's free agent signings did not quite pan out (overall those players only combined for about two WAR that season): only Paul Byrd had a season which met expectations. However, Shapiro's young core once again came through for him:

Grady Sizemore: 5.5
Travis Hafner: 2.9
Casey Blake: 2.8
Jhonny Peralta: 2.7
Rafael Betancort: 4.3

Other Shapiro additions also contributed to a successful season:

Kelly Shoppach: 1.7
Franklin Guttierez: 2.1
Aaron Fultz: 1.2
Paul Byrd: 1.7

Despite signing three outfielders, Shapiro still needed assistance in the outfield, and traded for Kenny Lofton mid-season for Max Ramirez. Cliff Lee fell apart as a starter, and rookie Aaron Laffey would replace him in the starting rotation. The Tribe fell short of the World Series, but made it to the ALCS against Boston, and looked poised for another run in 2008.

Overall, Shapiro additions combined for 25 bWAR in 2007. The team won 95 games (Pythagorean record 91).


By 2008 Shapiro was running out of money. He signed Japanese import Masa Kobayashi to help the bullpen, and traded for Jamey Carroll. Neither addition provided a significant boost, but at this point things went off the rails for Cleveland. A horrendous start to the season (with CC Sabathia struggling heavily to begin the year) doomed any playoff hopes, and with the Chicago White Sox surprising the AL Central, Mark Shapiro chose to blow the team up.

Several factors contributed to the poor season, the most important being several core players simply not performing:

Fausto Carmona lost over 6 WAR in value
Rafael Betancourt lost over 5 WAR in value
Travis Hafner lost over 3 WAR in value

To compound this, several pitchers became injured: Jake Westbrook required Tommy John Surgery, and Joe Borowski's arm fell off. Overall, the team fell off 10 games, finishing at 81 wins (Pythagorean record 85). As a result of this underperformance, Mark Shapiro set to work trading some veterans on the last years of their contracts:

Cleveland trades:

CC Sabathia (last year on his contract), bWAR produced: 4.9
Casey Blake (last year on his contract), bWAR produced: 0.6

Cleveland receives:

OF Matt LaPorta (rookie), bWAR produced: 0.8
P Rob Bryson (rookie), bWAR produced: 0.0
P Zach Johnson (rookie), bWAR produced: -0.7
OF Michael Brantley (rookie), bWAR produced: 21.7
1B/C Carlos Santana (rookie), bWAR produced: 24.3
P Jon Meloan (rookie), bWAR produced: 0

Mark did not recreate the Bartolo Colon trade, but still managed to nab two major pieces for future deals, granted neither prospect headlined the deal at the time.

One highlight from 2008 was Cliff Lee, who won a Cy Young Award, and would cement the Bartolo Colon trade as one of the best veteran-for-prospect trades of all time.


2009 was supposed to be a big year for Cleveland, as most pundits felt the team could bounce back from a poor 2008, and recapture the 2007 magic again. Shapiro tried again to find deals on the scrap heap to help the team:

Signed P Carl Pavano
Signed P Kerry Wood

Mark also made two relevant trades to bolster the bullpen and infield:

Traded OF Franklin Guttierez for 2B Luis Valbuena & P Joe Smith
Traded P Chris Archer for OF Mark DeRosa

Besides the trade for Joe Smith, and the signing of Carl Pavano, none of this would work out in the long run. Chris Archer has blossomed into a good starting pitcher, and Luis Valbuena never got going in Cleveland. Kerry Wood, who signed for $20M, was mediocre for the team, and retired at the end of the deal.

The 2009 season started poorly, and only got worse as the year went on. Grady Sizemore & Travis Hafner spent most of the season injured, and the pitching staff once again fell off a cliff. Despite Cliff Lee nearly replicating his 2008 season, the Indians could not find a single pitcher to slot behind him in the rotation. Kerry Wood headed an expensive, but ineffective, bullpen which featured only two respectable pieces in Joe Smith & Tony Sipp.

With the season once again lost, Shapiro traded his remaining productive veterans for prospects. Overall, the Indians effectively sold off the team:

Cleveland trades:

P Cliff Lee (last year on his contract, plus 1 year option), bWAR produced: 6.2
P Rafael Betancourt (last year on his contract), bWAR produced: 1.3
C Victor Martienz (last year on his contract plus an option), bWAR produced: 4.9
OF Mark DeRosa (last year on his contract), bWAR produced: 0.4

Cleveland receives:

P Chris Perez (rookie), bWAR produced: 4.5
P Carlos Carrasco (rookie), bWAR produced: 19.8 (and counting)
P Jason Knapp (rookie), never played
IF Jason Donald (rookie), bWAR produced: 1.4
C Lou Marson (rookie), bWAR produced: 1.7
P Justin Masterson (rookie), bWAR produced: 8.1
P Nick Hagadone (rookie), bWAR produced: -0.2
P Bryan Price (rookie), bWAR produced: 0.0

Overall, Mark did a far worse job in 2009 than his previous trades, only succeeding in acquiring one true star, and another decent regular in his trade of two major position players, both with over a year left on their contracts. The 2009 season would end the first Shapiro attempt at competing, and would segue the team into a second rebuilding spree.

The Second Rebuild


I am consolidating these seasons for the simple reason that they're all quite forgettable. Outside Jim Thome's return in 2011, where the Indians briefly thought they were contenders, little happened of significance. Overall, the team finished with losing records every year, and never posted a Pythagorean record greater than 75-87. There were several trades worth discussing:

#1: Cleveland trades P Jake Westbrook for P Corey Kluber

This was a massive coup on Cleveland's part, trading Westbrook's final year, worth 0.9 WAR for Corey Kluber, Kluber has totaled over 30 WAR, and two Cy Young Awards so far for Cleveland.

#2: Cleveland trades P Alex White & Drew Pomeranz for P Ubaldo Jimenez

This was a mixed trade at best. Neither Alex White, nor Pomeranz amounted to much, and neither did Ubaldo. Ubaldo did go nuts in 2013 and help the Indians to the post season. Pomereanz has accumulated 10.5 WAR, largely in relief.

Overall, these three seasons were quite boring, and nothing beyond these two trades were particularly significant for the team in terms of their future on field performance (ignoring the draft and amateur signings).

The Francona Years

Following another disastrous season in 2012, the Indians radically changed course in 2013. The most important move was replacing Manny Acta with Terry Francona. The change signaled an increased willingness of the Indians to move aggressively to improve the club.


Shapiro & Antonetti started with an interesting trade:

Cleveland Trades: OF Shin-Soo Choo, 2B Jason Donald & P Tony Sipp for: P Trevor Bauer, P Bryan Shaw, P Matt Albers & OF Drew Stubbs

Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers automatically slotted into the bullpen, and would assist the team in 2013. Trevor Bauer would blossom into a strong started in the near future. While Stubbs was a bounce back candidate, he did provide some value in 2013 as well.

The bigger moves came in free agency, with two unexpected signings:

1B Nick Swisher signed a 4 year, $56M deal
OF Michael Bourn signed a 4 year $48M deal

Overall these two signings dramatically improved the outcomes for the Indians in the immediate future. Cleveland also signed P Scott Kazmir to a minor league deal.

Despite higher expectations in 2013, few expected the Indians to achieve much due to a weak starting rotation. However, the team performed well offensively with new additions Nick Swisher & Michael Bourn dramatically improving over below replacement level production from CF & 1B in 2012. Combined with Brantley & Santana, the team won over 90 games. Stand out performances include:

Carlos Santana: 4.3
Nick Swisher: 3.6
Michael Brantley: 2.7
Justin Masterson: 3.6
Ubaldo Jimenez: 2.7
Joe Smith: 1.9
Corey Kluber: 1.6
Scott Kazmir: 1.2
Matt Albers: 0.7

Overall the team jumped from 68 games to 92 (Pythagorean record: 90 wins). The team also made the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and only the third time under Mark Shapiro. It would be Mark's last trip to the post season in Cleveland.


In Shapiro's last year in Cleveland, he made no significant moves to improve the team in the offseason. The only major league signing was for P John Axford, as a rebound candidate. Unfortunately, despite returning almost the exact same team in 2014 the team struggled. Nick Swisher & Michael Bourn fell off a cliff almost simultaneously. Corey Kluber seemingly became a Hall of Famer overnight (and would win the Cy Young), but the rest of the staff struggled. Shapiro's last significant trade came during the season, when he traded struggling veteran Vinnie Pestano for Pitcher Mike Clevinger. Pestano was effectively replacement level in 2014-2015: Mike Clevinger has been worth 8 WAR since coming to Cleveland.

Analysis & Conclusion

Overall, Mark Shapiro did a fairly good job at translating short term contracts into long term assets. Since 2001, Shapiro traded roughly 35.0 bWAR in immediate value, and created roughly 210. Several of his trades continue to benefit our current team, as we attempt to win a World Series. Shapiro did a particularly good job of trading middling players for under appreciated prospects. The entire current rotation (besides Shane Bieber) was acquired by trades Shapiro orchestrated. Where Shapiro struggled the most was free agent signings. He found a few diamonds in the rough (Casey Blake, Juan Gonzalez 2001 edition, and Rafael Betancourt), but also signed several doozies (AHEM: Nick Swisher & Michael Bourn).

In closing, the Shapiro years were a mixed bag for a variety of reasons, but one thing it was not was a failure. Shapiro managed to create significant value in several trades, and created the foundation on which the current team rests. While it is understandable many find 'the Shapiro years' distasteful because of two rebuilding periods, it is not fair to blame Shapiro that both of those teams underperformed expectations, or caught the injury bug. Finally, while we may no longer have Mark on our team: his presence is firmly rooted on our current roster and if the 2018 squad succeeds where the 2016 team could not: it will at least be partially attributable to Mark Shapiro.

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