CLEVELAND -- Mark Shapiro knows baseball. But fantasy baseball? Please. "I couldn't tell you the first thing about fantasy baseball," Shapiro admitted. "My only fantasy is having the payroll of the Red Sox or Yankees."
But Shapiro's knowledge of real baseball -- and, specifically, the ins and outs of constructing a big-league ballclub -- is what drew 75 fantasy baseball fanatics to the bowels of Jacobs Field on Tuesday night, as the Indians hosted their first Fantasy Baseball Summit. No, the Tribe's general manager has never participated in a fantasy league, so the concepts of auction drafts and keeper leagues are lost on him. Nonetheless, Shapiro and assistant GM Chris Antonetti did offer the "stat-heads" in attendance for this unique event what could turn out to be valuable insight. In an hour-long Q&A broadcast on MLB.com and moderated by Fantasy 411 hosts Mike Siano and Cory Schwartz, the Indians' top front-office members discussed their rationale behind trades, pitch counts, roster depth and player development, among other topics. At the base of their discussion was a mentality that all fantasy owners can learn from -- have a strategy, and know how and when to adjust and revise it. "Patience is usually rewarded in this game," Shapiro told the crowd in the press interview room at The Jake. "If you have good, sound reasons behind a decision you made and you fight off emotion, patience is often rewarded." Of course, sometimes it's not. Shapiro pointed to the signing of Aaron Boone as a move that never panned out as hoped, despite the Indians' persistent patience with the player. Still, the theme of making informed, rather than emotional, decisions hit home with several in attendance. The stakes might be much different between the Major Leagues and a fantasy league, but the rationale is the same, said David Lee, a Cleveland native in attendance. "A lot of their strategies are applicable to what we do in our fantasy leagues," Lee said. Lee and his friend Shawn Leitner have been in the same fantasy league since 1992, during their college days at Bowling Green. The 10-member league gives them a chance to bond, as the annual draft is a nice excuse to get together, but it also gives them a chance to fuel their competitive fire. That fire has made fantasy sports a billion-dollar industry, and the Indians, through this event, became one of the first professional sports franchises to truly take advantage of it. "They're embracing it instead of ignoring it or making fun of it," Leitner said. "It's legitimate. [Fantasy owners] are all baseball fans, even more than most people are. We're passionate." Passionate enough, it turned out, to plop down their hard-earned cash on a bitterly cold Cleveland night to hear what Shapiro and Antonetti had to say. During the Q&A, fan Ben Schaum, from Richmond Heights, asked a question that perfectly points to the tendency of big-league decision-making to have a direct impact on fantasy owners. He wanted to know if 23-year-old starter Jeremy Sowers will see his innings limited in the '07 season, as they were when he was shut down at the end of '06. "If he pitches in October, that's the only point where he'd be pushing the envelope," Shapiro said of Sowers. "It's a gradual progression. We'll take the gloves off a little bit." That was good news to fantasy owners, many of whom were no doubt disappointed to see Sowers miss his last few starts of '06, costing them valuable points. "I wasn't considering that," joked Shapiro of his decision on Sowers. "Trust me." Fantasy owners have plenty to consider when building their teams. The days of strictly paying attention to batting average, home runs, RBIs, wins, losses and ERA are long gone. Finding new ways and numbers to analyze players is more important than ever. Antonetti knows the feeling. "If we're evaluating players same way the Yankees and Red Sox are, we're going to lose out on that player every time," Antonetti said. "When there's better information out there that could give us a different way to look at things, that's what we try to do." The information-gathering process during Spring Training is pivotal for owners prepping for their fantasy drafts. And one lucky owner in attendance on this night, Tom Moore of Parma Heights, won the right for his draft to be held in the visitor's clubhouse in Jacobs Field. Moore, however, didn't draw much comparison between his job as a fantasy owner and the jobs of Shapiro and Antonetti. "Theirs is harder," he said matter-of-factly. "I just wing it." For his part, Shapiro wouldn't mind finding himself at more of an even-keel with the fantasy world. He was told of auction leagues in which every owner has $260 to work with. "That's the league I want to be in," he said with a laugh. "We need to talk to the [Major League] owners and try to get that rule adopted." Alas, that's just a fantasy.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.