Thursday, July 16, 2009

Five questions with Erik Cassano
The man behind Papacass answers a few Indians' questions.

ZB: Is there any way Eric Wedge saves his job for 2010?

EC: Yes. The Indians can have a second-half push and finish somewhere around .500, much like they did last season. That will convince Mark Shapiro and Co. that the club is still on the right track, and they just need to get healthy and have a few breakout performances to get back on track in 2010. Never underestimate the straw-grasping ability of the Indians front office.

ZB: Is there any hope that the Indians can compete again in the next three years?

EC: The chances of the Indians competing in 2010 are actually stronger than their chances of competing in 2012 or '13. At the outset of '10, there is at least a chance they will still have Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez on the roster. Kerry Wood has a dominant arm and could rebound from his shaky '09. Fausto Carmona still has upside at this point. In '12 or '13, the full force of the Indians' lackluster drafting record in the 2000s could finally make itself apparent at the major league level.

Certainly, there are some potential hitting studs waiting in the wings like Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana. But as far as pitching is concerned, David Huff and Hector Rondon might be it, unless a Lee or Martinez trade yields a young ace. Carmona might have emerged as a staff ace by that point. Or he might be a bust. Regardless, with his control problems, it's a roll of the dice.

ZB: Cliff Lee: Trade him now, later or re-sign him? (Sorry, that last part was a joke.)

EC:I'm a bit biased because I'm a Cliff Lee fan. I don't want to see him traded. But the Indians won't be able to afford his next contract, so it's inevitable that they will have to deal him at some point. The only scenario in which they'd let him walk is if they kept him and climbed back into contention next season. But there is no realistic scenario in which he's still an Indian in 2011.

There is no pressure to deal Lee right now, though there is a school of thought that says his trade value is maximized at this point because he'd be more than a one-season rental if traded now. But a lot of midmarket teams are actually attracted to the idea of a one-season or half-season rental because they would have to pay less in prospects and the financial commitment would be relatively small.

I guess it boils down to this: If the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox are willing to give Shapiro the Sun, Moon and stars for Lee right now, trade him now. But if they want to increase the bidding war to include fringe playoff teams, they need to wait until the winter or next summer, if the Indians are once again not in contention.

ZB: Is Mark Shapiro in trouble? Should he be?

If the buck stops with the general manager, Shapiro should indeed be feeling a great deal of heat. Shapiro might have armies of scouts and farmhands to handle the prep work on drafts, trades and free agent signings, but he's the one who hires the help and keeps them employed. If the Indians drafts consistently yield little to nothing in the way of star-level talent, if that talent is not cultivated correctly, if players regress once they arrive at the big league level due to inadequate tutoring from the big league coaching staff, all of that falls on Shapiro.

Ultimately, I think we're eight years into the Shapiro Era, and the cracks are starting to show. The farm system isn't as plentiful as we might want to believe, the years of misspending free agent dollars is taking a toll, Eric Wedge was recently voted one of the least-liked managers in baseball among players, and in general, Shapiro might be getting exposed as an executive who might be an intelligent businessman, but he might be lacking in a baseball sense.

Ultimately, I think Shapiro has a fatal flaw as a leader: He equates groupthink with cohesion. Any business leader worth their weight in salt goes out of their way to bring in people with different, outside perspectives. It's one of the keys to problem solving in any organizational setting. But Shapiro doesn't go out of his way to do that. Either he fears conflict, or he truly believes that all the answers lie within the organization as it now stands.

That's why, when and if Wedge is fired, you know the new manager will come from within the organization. It's almost a given, and I don't think it's healthy for the organization as a whole.

ZB: Most people seem to view the Dolans as cheap. In light of some of the moves this winter (Wood, DeRosa), is this fair?

EC: The Dolans have the least blood on their hands of any party involved in this mess. With few exceptions, sports owners spend relative to what they make in revenue. Some are willing to go into the red to boost payroll, some hoard their revenue like misers. But most will spend more when revenues are up and spend less when revenues are down.

The Dolans have committed money to farm system scouting and development. They've committed money to keep players like Grady Sizemore here long term. They've given Shapiro more than a token amount of free agent dollars to spend. They footed an extensive bill for Kerry Wood in a down economy. No, they didn't fork over the money to re-sign C.C., and they probably aren't going to greenlight a Manny Ramirez free agent signing so that he can finish his career where he started it. But does that make them any different from any other baseball owners in a similar-sized market?



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