Judging Mark Shapiro's GM Tenure: High-Profile Trades

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Let’s get a this out of the way:  I am a fan of the work Mark Shapiro did as general manager of the Cleveland Indians, from when he got the job on November 1, 2001 until he was formally promoted to team president on October 3, 2010. I feel he did a good job putting a competitive team on the field given the financial restrictions of running a small-market team. His tenure was not perfect and a decade of poor drafting has hindered the team in many ways, but I think he deserves merit as one of the better GMs in recent baseball memory.

We’re now more than two full years removed from Shapiro’s promotion to team president and GM Chris Antonetti is firmly entrenched as the Tribe’s decision maker. So I thought now would be as soon as anyone could fairly judge Shapiro’s tenure as GM. There are still some loose ends hanging (Carlos Carrasco, for example, and Matt LaPorta), but the body of his work is complete, and I wanted to put my optimism to the test.

For this project (and please believe me when I say that this has been time-consuming), I’ve broken Shapiro’s career into four sections: high-profile trades, low-profile trades, signings, and draft picks. I make the distinction between high- and low-profile trades because of the greater expectations that come with trading higher-profile players. I’ll look a little deeper into the trades, and make a wins above replacement comparison to see who got the better end of each deal, as well as a retroactive (and pretty subjective) letter grade. I added up the total cumulative WAR for each player involved in the deal, but only for as long as they were with each club. (Note: I did include any contract extensions with the team into these WAR totals, as long as they were consecutive years with the same team.) I realize that using WAR is a bit of an oversimplification, as it’s not a perfect stat, however since Shapiro has such a large body of work I don’t feel the need to be exact. All WAR values are from Baseball-Reference.com. I’m not including every single transaction; however I wanted to highlight some key ones.

Today, we kick off our series by looking at Shapiro’s history of high-profile trades.

2001

Background: John Hart stepped down after the 2001 season, and Shapiro stepped in and acted quickly in an ill-conceived attempt to rebuild and contend at the same time. It didn’t work, but despite trading a future Hall-of-Famer for a failed prospect this trade actually was a big win for the Indians, even if it was a case of the players the Indians received just weren’t nearly as bad as what the Mets got. Alomar’s career fell off a cliff the moment he left Cleveland; he was worth 6.9 WAR in 2001, but the next year for the Mets he was down to 0.4 and by the 2005 season he was out of baseball. Peoples never reached the Majors and Bacsik pitched only 118 innings in his career.

Lawton was actually a solid pickup for the Tribe, worth exactly 1.0 WAR in each of his three seasons with the team. Riggan, Snyder and Traber all played in the majors with Cleveland, but that’s about the best you can say for them. Escobar, who was the prize in this trade, was a top prospect in the Mets system but his career was wrecked by injuries in Cleveland, including a devastating ACL injury. But credit Shapiro here: he jettisoned Alomar at the right time, and Escobar did show some promise (in his limited, injury-riddled time with Cleveland he was still worth 1.4 WAR over parts of two seasons), and most of that was with his glove. It should also be noted that Shapiro made comments considering Ricky Gutierrez as part of this deal, since he was able to sign Gutierrez with the money saved. Shapiro didn’t miss on this trade, but I doubt he uses it to highlight his resume.

Cumulative WAR Analysis

Alomar, 2 years with NYM: 0.1 WAR
Bacsik 2 years with NYM: -0.5 WAR

Lawton, 3 years with CLE: 3.0 WAR
Escobar, 2 years with CLE: 1.4 WAR
Riggan, 2 years with CLE: -0.7 WAR
Snyder, 1 year with CLE: -0.3 WAR
Traber, 1 year with CLE: 0.1 WAR

GRADE: C+

2002

Cleveland Indians trade: RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Tim Drew
Montreal Expos trade: 1B Lee Stevens, 2B Brandon Phillips, LHP Cliff Lee, OF Grady Sizemore

Background: By now, we all know this story. Shapiro takes advantage of a desperate Omar Minaya and fleeces the supposedly soon-to-be-contracted Expos for all they have. Although the ESPN SportsCenter ticker probably read: “Indians trade SP Bartolo Colon for 1B Lee Stevens and prospects,” the prospects were definitely the marquee attraction in this deal—heck, Stevens was out of baseball the next year. For his part, Colon was brilliant for most of the rest of the season, but the Expos paid a steep price, and ended up having to deal him to the White Sox the following offseason. For maybe an extra two wins, the Expos traded three future All-Stars. Drew never pitched more than 17 innings a year in his two seasons with the Expos; the rest of the tale Indians fans know.

Cumulative WAR Analysis

Colon, half-season with Montreal: 2.3 WAR

Phillips, 4 years with CLE: -0.6 WAR
Lee, 7.5 years with CLE: 14.8 WAR
Sizemore, 8 years with CLE (signed extension in 2006): 26.5 WAR

GRADE: A+

2006

Background: Coming off a surprising 2005 season that saw the Tribe miss the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, Shapiro pounced on a chance to shore up a glaringly weak position in the Cleveland farm system and traded fan-favorite Crisp (whom the Indians did not designate as a “core” player, despite his 4.2 WAR in 2005) for “can’t-miss” third base prospect Andy Marte (acquired by Boston that offseason from the Atlanta system), as well as upgrade the bullpen and swap a low-ceiling catcher for a high-ceiling one.

Mota was awful (and shipped out by midseason), and Marte basically non-existent in his five seasons in the Tribe organization. The Indians were correct that Crisp was not a core player, as he never reached his previous level of production in his three seasons in Boston. However the Marte failure was a reality smack in the face that prospects are just prospects until they prove otherwise. Surprisingly, Shoppach was the most valuable player acquired by the Indians.

Cumulative WAR Analysis

Crisp, 3 years with Boston: 4.0 WAR
Riske, 1 year with Boston: 0.2 WAR
Bard, 7 games with Boston: 0.2 WAR

Marte, 5 years with CLE: 0.0 WAR
Mota, 34 games with CLE: -0.4 WAR
Shoppach, 4 years with CLE: 5.8 WAR

GRADE: C-

2007

Background: The Indians were winning in 2007, and outside of center fielder Grady Sizemore, there was very little production coming out of the outfield. Shin-Soo Choo was recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the Jason Michaels/David Delucci tandem wasn’t getting it done in left. With the Indians also lagging in attendance despite being in the thick of a pennant race, Shapiro struck an inspired move to deal well-regarded minor-leaguer Ramirez (acquired the previous season for Bob Wickman) in exchange for former fan-favorite Kenny Lofton.

Lofton was at the end of his career but seemed rejuvenated back in Jacobs Field, albeit this time roaming left field. His WAR totals are skewed because he only played the half-season with the Indians, but he undeniably made a positive impact on this club with his play (including a huge ALDS versus the New York Yankees). Ramirez spent parts of two seasons in Texas and is still struggling to find a foothold in the majors. Even if he had been decent for Texas, I still think Shapiro would make this trade again.

Cumulative WAR Analysis

Ramirez, 2 years with TEX: 0.2 WAR
Lofton,  half-season with CLE: 0.6 WAR

GRADE: B

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Tags: Bartolo Colon Carlos Santana CC Sabathia Cleveland Indians Cliff Lee Coco Crisp Grady Sizemore Justin Masterson Kenny Lofton Mark Shapiro Matt LaPorta Michael Brantley Roberto Alomar Victor Martinez