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Shapiro plots winning course



Special to ESPN.com

Feb. 22

Mark Shapiro was there at the end of the Super Bowl, on the field behind the Patriots bench in Houston as New England celebrated its second championship in three years. He was there at the insistence of Scott Pioli, the Patriots' director of player personnel, with whom he has shared a kindred spirit since each broke into his business with the Indians and the Browns.

Mark Shapiro
Indians GM Mark Shapiro, right, says doing "extra homework" is necessary when making personnel decisions.

They were in one another's weddings. Pioli visits Shapiro each spring in Winter Haven, Fla. But, most important, they share values on which they have attempted to build their respective teams, beliefs that Pioli and Bill Belichick have guided the Patriots franchise to not only two championships, but winners whom fans and peers respect.

"We began at entry levels together [in the days of Municipal Stadium in 1992] and shared a lot together," says Shapiro. "I had a football background [at Princeton], but we spent a lot of time together talking about how to build value-based teams, scouting, evaluation. Obviously, baseball is different from football; baseball may be more difficult because one has to address talent more readily, but the approaches are the same. What we look for in players is similar: reliability, passion for the game, energy, responsibility & beyond ability."

When Shapiro took over from John Hart and carried out the mandate of ownership and reality to strip an aging, winning team and reconstruct, he knew it would take time. The last two seasons have been painful in contrast to the early years at The Jake. He has systematically traded the Roberto Alomars and Bartolo Colons for prospects, lost -- with considerable pain -- Jim Thome to free agency and through trades and the draft build an organization that is deep in both prospective playing and front-office talent.

On the walls of the Indians offices are the mission statement that Shapiro crafted:

"TO SUSTAIN A CHAMPIONSHIP-CALIBER TEAM THAT COMPETES -- PASSIONATELY, RELENTLESSLY, AND PROFESSIONALLY -- AND IN THE PROCESS MAKES A POSITIVE STATEMENT ABOUT ITS COLLECTIVE VISION AND CORE VALUES."

Internally this includes the scouting statement:

TO SCOUT IN A PASSIONATE, RELENTLESS AND SYSTEMATICAL MANNER IN ORDER TO PROVIDE ACCURATE EVALUATIONS TO ASSIST IN PROCURING CHAMPIONSHIP-CALIBER, CLEVELAND INDIANS PLAYERS.

And the development statement:

TO DEVELOP TRUE PROFESSIONALS -- EACH OF WHOM REACHES HIS FULL POTENTIAL MENTALLY, PHYSICALLY, AND FUNDAMENTALLY --THROUGH A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH FOUNDED UPON CLEVELAND INDIANS' VISION AND VALUES.

Jody Gerut
Jody Gerut brought energy and enthusiasm to the Indians as a rookie.

The philosophy has been carried out in drafts with John Mirabelli, and in the development with John Farrell. The foundation isn't of another thunderous, wall-pounding team with the likes of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Thome and Lofton, but a team constructed around pitching and people. And no one better captures the organizational values than right fielder Jody Gerut, who won the 2003 The Sporting News Rookie of the Year Award in voting by major league managers, executives and scouts.

On the subject of the "sophomore slump," Gerut wrote:

"The word 'sophomore' literally means 'wise fool' (many thanks to my high school etymology teacher). It means simply that you think that you know more than you actually do. It's a frame of mind and it's a dangerous one but it can be actively dealt with if you are cognizant of its existence. Unfortunately, it plagues many young players as they embark upon their second go-around in The Show -- the attitude that 'I did it once and it really wasn't that hard. I'll just cruise through this thing because I have all the answers. I did it once, I can do it again.' Amidst a fury of postseason congratulations from teammates, fans, family, friends, and media this attitude almost manifests itself from within, being constantly fed. Eventually it is born into an aura of arrogance that pervades one's mind and one's world.

"What's more is that this attitude doesn't come without an ample amount of cultivation from the player's team. You can't totally blame a team for a player's poor attitude but the team becomes an unwitting accomplice by affording the player a new level of responsibility and freedom previously unavailable to him. He's now being told about the team's plans, the team's future, and how he fits into that picture. These things take their toll on a player's ego. Certain players have an obligation to take on some additional responsibility as they grow and develop -- seems harmless but it actually can be pretty overwhelming to be catapulted so quickly into a leadership role, especially on a team admittedly lacking veteran leadership.

"In short it is extremely easy to fall into this mental trap because the people around him treat him in a noticeably different way, an overly uplifting way, and mentally it is difficult to cope with these changes. A false feeling of arrogance is born after being inundated with praise, and laziness becomes embedded within like a nasty virus just waiting for the perfect time to infect your mind. I certainly fell into this trap when I was 19 years old but at the time I just didn't know it. That year all the upper classmen were either drafted into the pros or had graduated leaving me to hit in the middle of a batting order largely comprised of weak juniors but very strong sophomores. We went to the College World Series that year. We choked and I didn't help things.

"After all this I seem to have more of a grip on the situation. I know what to expect and how to handle it. But it is still no guarantee that it won't happen to me just as it has happened to others. Granted there are players like Albert Pujols who had no such correction in their career line of success, and for now his history will be my inspiration for 2004. Not only did he avoid the jinx but he obliterated every single expectation set upon him in his first three years in the big leagues. Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle once told me 'there are two types of player in this game, Jody: those that are humble, and those that will be humbled.' Well I am humble. Being humbled sucks. And I want no part of that again. If I approach this season with a humble heart just as I have in the past I know I will be satisfied with the results, no matter what they are. No wise fools here any longer -- that is one thing I can guarantee."

Put down your stopwatches. That's all one has to know about Gerut, and why he is a core player with the Indians.

Are they likely to contend in the American League Central this year? Maybe, maybe not. C.C. Sabathia, Clifford Lee and Jason Davis could give them a solid front of their rotation. With Bob Wickman back at the end, along with David Riske, Jose Jimenez, Scott Stewart and Rafael Betancourt, the bullpen is deep. Milton Bradley, when healthy, is a premier player. How close to .500 they go will depend on how many of their talented young players make the major leagues and begin to produce, from catcher Victor Martinez to prize outfielder Grady Sizemore to pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. Through trades -- especially getting Sizemore, Lee and Brandon Phillips for Colon -- and the draft, the farm system is considered one of the deepest in talent in either league.

In contrast to the AL East, the Central is a division in which teams can build for the long haul. This coming winter, the Indians will have some cash to invest in the right free agents, but there isn't likely to be any team in the $80 million range, not in the foreseeable future. As the Indians are trying to build, the Twins have an organization that continues to develop talent to withstand the losses of players they cannot afford. The White Sox have several star core players, but have never jumped to the payroll levels of their big-market counterparts, which means that after this season they may lose Magglio Ordonez. Kansas City has been built through the hard work of Allard Baird, and after Tony Pena's energy and enthusiasm rekindled the franchise, the Royals came back to life and face 2004 with additions like Juan Gonzalez knowing that at the end of the season superstar Carlos Beltran will be gone. And the Tigers, after the humiliation of a 119-loss season, went out and added Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Rondell White and Fernando Vina to try to regain respect.

It is a division that might be won with 85 wins, which means that if the pitching develops, the Indians may contend with the Twins, White Sox and Royals. More important, Cleveland is being built to, like the Twins, contend year after year in a middle-class neighborhood.

Mauer
Mauer

Minnesota has won two years in a row, which means that players get raises and force a budget exit strategy. Gone are relievers "Everyday" Eddie Guardado and LaTroy Hawkins to free agency, starter Eric Milton and All-Star catcher A.J. Pierzynski had to be traded. But the Twins have so many good young players that they begin spring training as the team to beat. Catcher Joe Mauer is the most watched rookie of the spring, the player drafted in front and instead of Mark Prior. They have a bunch of young arms to help Joe Nathan and J.C. Romero (if he comes back from a disappointing season) in the pen, like Juan Rincon, J.D. Durbin, Grant Balfour and Jesse Crain.

With Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse and Joe Mays, they believe the starting pitching is adequate. The Twins re-signed Shannon Stewart because he's a force at the top of the lineup and allows Jacque Jones to move down the order. If young hitters like Mike Cuddyer and Mike Restovich break out, they believe they will be strong enough in the second half to win the division for the third straight year.

Berroa
Berroa

But the Royals think they can win. They tired last season because their pitching wore out, but they will score runs with Beltran, Gonzalez, Mike Sweeney, Angel Berroa, Benito Santiago, et al. Baird spent the winter barnstorming to players' houses trying to convince them to come to Kansas City, rebuilding a bullpen to back his starters. Baird re-signed Brian Anderson and has Kevin Appier and Darrell May, but the course of their season will be determined by the starting pitching from talented kids like Jimmy Gobble, Miguel Asencio, Kyle Snyder and Jeremy Affeldt; if the latter can lick his blister problem, he could be either a top of the rotation starter or closer.

Justifiably, the White Sox think they can win with a lineup that has Ordonez, Carlos Lee, Frank Thomas and company. Colon and Tom Gordon are big losses, and Ken Williams didn't have the cash to hit the market, so they face two big questions. The first is whether Miguel Olivo, Willie Harris and Aaron Rowand can produce up the middle (although Jeremy Reed could come vaulting out of the farm system). The second is finding starting depth after Mark Buehrle, Esteban Loaiza and Jon Garland, as well as the bullpen around Damaso Marte, Billy Koch and Japanese import Shingo Takatsu. This is a team that should have won based on the numbers and didn't. Ozzie Guillen's energy will be a fascinating component.

Rodriguez
Rodriguez

Finally, there is the hope Pudge brought to Detroit. Look, he wanted to stay in Florida, but not at what he claims the Marlins offered. "I look at this situation the way I did Florida last spring," says Rodriguez, "except that now I know I'm going to be here for four years. No one thought that team had a chance. They had young pitching. We have the same here. This can be a very positive experience."

"It was important for us to go get some veterans, and we have in Rondell, Vina, Guillen and Jason Johnson," says Alan Trammell. "Our young players need veterans around them, for self-esteem reasons. But Pudge really adds something special, especially since we're trying to build our pitching. These players never quit last year. They played hard, they just didn't win, and yet at the end they kept at it [winning five of the last six to avoid 120 losses]. We've accomplished a base here. We've added some veteran players. Hey, everyone's optimistic at this time of year, but we feel a lot better than we did."

Trammell and his staff inherited a mess, a team that was undisciplined on and off the field. He, Kirk Gibson and the rest of the coaches insisted that the players had to be professional and responsible, and one year later the values of the Sparky Anderson-Bill Lajoie Tigers have been instilled.

"That's how you build something that lasts," says Trammell. Which is what they're building in Cleveland, and what they built in Minnesota, where in the Midwest they don't have to worry about the Yankees' $200 million payroll. In this division, it isn't about money, it's about building the right foundation with lasting values. Thus this division is a little bit like the NFL, where the Patriots have won two Super Bowls in three years with talent, passion and values, which is what Shapiro hopes will make the Indians contenders for most of the first decade of the 21st Century.

Most significant rookies/first-time starters
Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota
Clifford Lee, LHP, Cleveland
Victor Martinez, LHP, Cleveland

Rookies to watch in July
Jeremy Reed, CF, Chicago
Grady Sizemore, OF, Cleveland
Zack Greinke, RHP, Kansas City

Keys to their teams' seasons
J.C. Romero, LH reliever, Minnesota
Jeremy Affeldt, LHP, Kansas City
Carlos Pena, 1B, Detroit
Jason Davis, RHP, Cleveland

Most significant newcomers
Pudge Rodriguez, C, Detroit
Juan Gonzalez, RF, Kansas City
Joe Nathan, RH reliever, Minnesota

Most significant losses
Bartolo Colon, RHP, Chicago
Tom Gordon, RHP, Chicago
LaTroy Hawkins, RH reliever, Minnesota
Eddie Guardado, RH reliever, Minnesota
Raul Ibanez, OF, Kansas City

Best spring training name
Maxim St. Pierre, C, Detroit

Five significant statistics
1. Chicago led the division in run differential, fewest runs allowed, most homers, fewest strikeouts and most walks by their hitters, best starters' ERA and most pitchers' strikeouts and did not finish first.

2. Cleveland had the most unearned runs (96) and the second-most errors (126).

3. The Royals' bullpen was 26-29, 5.54 ERA and blew 28 of 64 save opportunities.

4. Detroit was outscored by 337 runs and had a team on-base percentage of .300, and still outscored the Dodgers.

5. The Twins walked the fewest hitters, committed the fewest errors, allowed the fewest unearned runs and had the best on-base percentage in the division.

Team songs
Chicago: "Wake Me, Shake Me (Don't Let Me Sleep Too Long)"

Cleveland: "All That You Dream"

Detroit: "Crawling from the Wreckage"

Kansas City: "Wish List"

Minnesota: "Soak Up the Sun."






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