Shapiro, Indians agree to extension

Shapiro, Indians agree to extension

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- If Mark Shapiro's plan to bring championship baseball back to Cleveland comes to fruition in the next few years, the general manager will be around to see it.

Shapiro has agreed to a five-year contract extension that will keep him in his current role through the 2012 season, the club announced Thursday. His previous deal was set to run out after the '07 season, but Shapiro and team president Paul Dolan hammered out a new agreement shortly before the start of Spring Training.

As one of the game's more respected GMs, Shapiro likely could have explored other openings in bigger markets.

Instead, Shapiro opted for the comforts of an organization he has called home for 15 years and a financial challenge he has grown to appreciate.

"For me, this decision was an easy one," Shapiro said, "because it was driven by the people and the things that I value and the overarching desire to finish what we started and bring a championship to the city of Cleveland and its fans."

Shapiro, who turns 40 next month, is entering his 16th season with the Indians organization and his sixth as the executive vice president and GM. His tenure, to this point, has been defined by the rebuilding of the big-league club that he orchestrated, beginning in 2002.

Ordinarily, a rebuild such as the one the Indians took on that season is accompanied by the pain of dwelling in the cellar of the standings for upwards of a decade, if not longer. But that was not the case with Shapiro's club, which found itself in the thick of the September playoff race by 2005.

"With the cycle of winning and losing in baseball, we should be mired in our fourth or fifth year of losing with three or more years of losing ahead," Dolan said. "But we've gone from a non-contender to contending team the past two years. The architect of all that is Mark Shapiro. He's done a brilliant, masterful job turning the organization around."

The Indians club that Shapiro inherited after GM John Hart stepped down in November 2001 was a contender. But it was also a team on the verge of a hangover after the glory days of the mid- and late-1990s.

Hart's Tribe teams captured six American League Central crowns and reached the World Series in '95 and '97. Alas, that rabid success came with a price. The Indians kept their run of championships going by trading away top-tier prospects in favor of costly, established big-league talent.

With an unprecedented run of sold-out games having come to a close and a sagging Cleveland economy threatening to cut into revenue, the Indians could no longer afford a payroll that had inched toward $100 million. What's more, jumping out to a division lead was no longer a given in '02, a season in which the Indians found themselves in third place with a 36-41 record by June 27.

And so the dismantling began.

On that day in June 2002, Shapiro pulled the trigger on the trade that officially ushered in the rebuilding phase. Pitching ace Bartolo Colon was dealt to Montreal in exchange for prospects Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips.

Shapiro and his staff were clearly taking a step back by trading a hot property such as Colon. But the move was geared toward quickening the return to contention.

Down on the farm, the Tribe put more money into their scouting and development systems to build from the ground up. That's an investment Shapiro is still thankful for.

"Never once in my time here have I questioned ownership's commitment," he said. "Ownership has committed to a lot of things at a level no one else is at or equal to. Your ability to win or lose is your ability to draft and sign, and we've never once been held back there."

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Nearly five years after Shapiro's plan was initiated, however, the Indians have yet to get over the playoff hump.

Under the leadership of manager Eric Wedge, who was promoted by Shapiro from the Minor League ranks, the Indians won 68 games in 2003, 80 in 2004 and 93 in 2005, falling just shy of a postseason berth.

After the '05 season, Shapiro was named "Executive of the Year" by the Sporting News and Baseball America, but he remained adamant that the only honor he was interested in was a championship.

Shapiro's still waiting.

In 2006, his club, beleaguered by a bad bullpen and shaky infield defense, took a step back in its development with a disappointing 78-84 record. The year also included the controversial trade that sent outfielder Coco Crisp to the Red Sox for third baseman Andy Marte, catcher Kelly Shoppach and reliever Guillermo Mota -- a move that reverted the Indians to the mindset of contending while building for the future.

Acting quickly in an effort to ensure that season is little more than a slight blemish on an otherwise fruitful plan, Shapiro spent this past winter overhauling the bullpen with the signings of Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz and solidifying the second-base spot with the trade to acquire youngster Josh Barfield from the Padres.

Those moves are Shapiro's attempts to build around a core of talent that includes Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and C.C. Sabathia.

"I think this club is positioned to be good for a long time, because of the depth of the system," Shapiro said. "We have arguably one of the best cores, but we've got challenges ahead of us. Our goal is to get into the playoffs starting now, and we feel we have legitimate reason to believe we can."

In building the club, Shapiro hasn't had much, if any, interference from the Dolans. That was a big factor in his decision to remain with the organization.

"I place a premium on the leeway I'm given to perform my job," Shapiro said. "I'm empowered to lead the organization in a way not many general managers are."

Dolan said he wouldn't have it any other way.

"We believe in putting good people in place and letting them do their job," he said. "We've done everything we can think of to support [Shapiro]. He's certainly grown, and we've benefited."

Shapiro knows that as long as he's the leader of the Indians, he won't have the benefit of a payroll that rivals those in New York and Boston.

But for the next six seasons, at least, he's willing to keep trying to outsmart those who can throw money at their problems.

"It would be a lie to say you don't wonder what it would be like to work with a different payroll," Shapiro said. "But I get back to the emphasis on what's important for me. I don't ever feel my values are compromised, and I feel empowered to lead the organization. You weigh everything out there -- money, notoriety, what drives you do to the job. What drives me is the ability to be an effective leader and win a championship."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.