CLEVELAND -- Why now? That was the most pertinent question to follow Thursday's news that Mark Shapiro will become the Indians' president and Chris Antonetti will take over Shapiro's general manager duties following the 2010 season.
This was, after all, news that was short on surprise. The natural succession plan had been expected for some time, especially after Antonetti turned down a desirable opportunity to become GM of the Cardinals following the 2007 season. But the actual timing of the decision by current Tribe president and soon-to-be club CEO Paul Dolan caught some off-guard, primarily because Shapiro's most recent contract extension was set to run through 2012. Could it be that Dolan was so disappointed with the outcome of the past two seasons, in which the Indians fell well short of playoff expectations, traded off nearly every valuable commodity they had and dismissed manager Eric Wedge, that he felt a change was in need in the GM's chair? Not so, said Dolan. "A natural progression of our discussions led to this time," Dolan said. "There was no urgency to it. But I felt comfortable with the transition now." For all the disappointment of the last two seasons, Dolan has remained Shapiro's staunchest supporter. He has countered any notion that changes might be in order at the top of the front office with the assertion that Shapiro is one of the game's most respected and coveted GMs. So any notion that Thursday's announcement is in some way an effort to lessen Shapiro's power seems an inaccurate one. If anything, the breadth of Shapiro's reach is only widening, as he will now not only oversee the baseball side of the organization but also the business side. He will have autonomous control of the organization that first hired him as a baseball ops intern in 1992. "I'm highly invested in the people here," Shapiro said. "It's the only team I've ever wanted to work for and the only place I've wanted to work. Cleveland is home. My wife and I are proud to raise our family here. Professionally, this gives me an opportunity to continue to impact the organization positively, as well as evolve and grow on a professional level, which is exciting for me." Dolan said the primary reason the Indians announced these moves roughly 10 months before they'll actually take place was so that Shapiro could work alongside Dennis Lehman, the team's executive vice president in charge of business, over the course of the season to get a feel for that side of the operation. For now, Shapiro has little to say about his plans for the Indians' business operation. He'll have his say in how the club is marketed externally and structured internally, but he admits he has a lot to learn. And while he has some ideas about how things should be run, he said he's learned from his time as a GM that second-guessers aren't always correct and things aren't always as they seem from the outside. "Clearly, there's only one part of the Indians that I'm intimately familiar with," Shapiro said. "At the end of the season, we'll have time to talk about that in more detail." As far as his GM duties are concerned, throughout the 2010 season, Shapiro plans to defer to Antonetti on any decisions that impact the club beyond this year. That was already the case when the Indians hired Manny Acta as their new manager last fall. And by the Trade Deadline, the Tribe could have big decisions to make regarding the likes of Jake Westbrook, Kerry Wood and Jhonny Peralta -- all of whom are entering the final guaranteed year of their contracts. If a trade is made involving any or all of those players, Antonetti will likely be the one pulling the trigger. But in many ways, the process of the decision-making done in the front office won't change to any great degree. Antonetti, whose power in the front office has grown incrementally over the past few years, will still lean on Shapiro for his input on impactful decisions. "A championship remains the focus of this organization," Dolan said. "Yes, we have challenges. Those challenges are well-documented. But if we are going to meet those challenges and reach our goal, one of the important steps is making sure we have a solid organization with the continuity and stability that allows them to plan and meet those demands." Shapiro said the demands of trying to build a championship club with a restricted budget have not worn on him to the point where he requested that this move take place this year. "The job has ebbs and flows and does require a tremendous amount of energy," he said. "But that didn't play into a decision for me to welcome the opportunity [to move up]. As I've looked all along in my career and intermittently had conversations with Paul about where I would like to go and how I see myself being challenged, at some point the opportunity to grow in this type of role [was presented]. That came in concert with Chris' clear readiness to be a very good general manager now." Though the Indians have not reached their ultimate goal under Shapiro's guidance and aren't expected to contend in his final season as GM, Shapiro said he'll leave this job with no major regrets. But his tenure was, of course, not without disappointment. "I had visions of always working with one manager throughout my career," Shapiro said. "The fact that we weren't able to find a way to do that will be a disappointment to me. I view that as a collective failure. But I have no real regrets. I sit here feeling fortunate for what I've experienced in that role."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.