No, Mark Shapiro didn't just make the front pages of the USA Today, or even the Plain Dealer. No, Shapiro didn't get a closer, or even a potential closer. So, WHAT THE HELL DID HE DO THEN?
He made another one of those under the radar moves that you HAVE to make to make the next step into the playoffs and beyond.
Shapiro signed former closer and soon-to-be Tribe setup man Roberto Hernandez, and left-handed specialist Aaron Fultz both to a one-year contract with a club option for a second.
Hernandez, 42, has been in the majors since 1991. Last year, with the Pirates and the Mets, he was 0-3 with a 3.11 ERA. Hernandez brings much needed playoff experience, and is a tried and true relief pitcher. What I like the most about Hernandez is that he's perenially healthy, has closed games (no, I don't want him to close NOW, but it does give someone a potential mentor), and historically has logged a bunch of innings for a relief pitcher. His career ERA is 3.32, which coincides with his nearly identical ERA last year. A great addition to the pen.
Aaron Fultz is similar in that he has historically pitched a bunch of innings, which says a lot for a left-handed reliever. Fultz' best year was two years ago, when he pitched 72 innings for the Phillies with a 2.24 ERA. He is very good against lefties. Even though his ERA last season was over 4.5, it dropped to 3.77 against lefties. Philly obviously didn't just use him as a left-handed specialist, as 2/3 of the batters that he faced last season were right-handed batters. He won't see nearly that many for the Indians this year. Against the lefty batters last year, batters slugging % was only .350, with a poor .317 OBA. I would like to see that .277 average against lefties down a bit, but the assumption is that since he'll more than likely NOT FACE many righties this season, the ERA will drop since his focus will be for a couple of batters or less for every game that he pitches. His scouting report has always been as a guy that can overpower lefties, has good control, and SHOULDN'T pitch to right handers. Cleveland fits the bill.
At the end of the day, Shapiro did another nice job, as he did signing Delucci, and dealing for Barfield. He added solid players, without breaking the bank. It will also set up the bullpen quite nicely once they nab themselves a closer. Make sure you check out the Diatribe to see exactly how the bullpen will shape up with these additions. If Hernandez and Fultz don't pay off, Cleveland has only invested 1 year. If they do, they have the club option for two. It's actually a bit incredible that they were able to find quality players willing to sign a deal like this.
The bonus is that these moves were made BEFORE the Winter Meetings. My firm belief now is that Shapiro is going to these meetings with one thing in mind...CLOSER. The addition of Dellucci will also allow Cleveland to dangle out a decent prospect with the potential of adding on that aforementioned closer. I have to admit, I have have a scenario dancing around in my head that would see Cleveland sign Keith Foulke to an incentive laden 2 or 3 year deal, and then deal Garko or Choo (unless they can figure out how to make Casey Blake look more enticing...I know, I'm dreaming) to the Pirates for Mike Gonzalez. My goodness, my knees are getting downright shaky just thinking about it. This club's pen would go from one of the worst, to potentially, one of the best. The only thing keeping a guy like Gonzalez from being a premiere closer is his locale in Pittsburgh, performing for the worst upper management in the game. For more reading on the Pirates, make sure you check out The Confluence by my good friend Tony. He doesn't pull any punches about the Pirates, and for you Cleveland fans that think the Indians don't do enough, see what the TRIBE used to be, and could be like again. I'd love to see what Tony thinks about Gonzalez leaving Pittsburgh. I do believe the Pirates could use a 1b, and Garko could fit the bill there.
I am also a bit curious about Eric Gagne. Yes, he's had nothing but problems with his arm over the past 2 years, but he's also only 2 years removed from being the best closer in the game. If you could get Gagne for a year trial...or 2 or 3 years on the cheap, you'd have to think about it.
As far as Borowski goes, I wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole. Sure, he saved 36 games last year out of 43, but I just can't get out of my head his multiple implosions with Chicago the year before. Now, Philadelphia wouldn't even sign him because of questions with his arm. If you are going to risk money on an arm, go with the 30 year old Gagne, not the 36 year old Borowski.
So the question now becomes, 'What's going to happen at the winter meetings?' My bet is a move we expect (for a closer), a move we don't (another potential closer as a set up), and a move that blows us away because we didn't see it coming. For my money, I'll take the first two.
In other news, Buck Showalter officially became "senior adviser to baseball operations." I know the Indians have done this in the past without threat to the current manager (IE--Mike Hargrove was also a senior advisor before taking his post in Seattle), but the bet here is that if the Indians make all the moves necesary to win, and don't, Wedge will be out the door. With that being said, the Showalter move being made BEFORE the meetings lead you to believe that some big things may happen at the Winter Meetings.
And one final note, it appears as though Bud Selig is going to retire in 3 years. It's funny, I've actually seen reports that state we could do worse than Selig and get a commisioner that doesn't LOVE BASEBALL. Well, the last potentially great commisioner we had was A Bart Giamatti. Nobody loved the game more than he did. Nobody wanted to do the right thing for the game more than he did. Nobody wanted to see Pete Rose innocent more than he did. He, however, did what he had to do and banned him for betting on the game. He died five days later. My question is this, What do you think he would be doing with the steroid users? If the guy was willing to ban Rose, Bonds wouldn't stand a chance. Loving the game is one thing...respecting the game is another. If the owners vote in another commisioner that was an owner, then the game should die. Selig hasn't done one damn solitary thing to make the game better, and has only allowed it to get worse. Hell, I'm suprised that Selig didn't PROMOTE steroids with signs on outfield walls during the Sosa vs. McGwire run in the late 90's. Of course, he was to busy changing the All-Star game (ties? home field?) to make it count. You started off by cancelling a world series during a strike (does anyone remember Peter Ueberoeth single-handedly FORCING the owners and players to come up with a deal to end a strike. He DIDN'T love the game, but knew how to get the job done). You followed that by saying you'd never take the gig permanently (holding the job for five years on an interim basis, before taking on a five year term). The steroid scandal, cancelling the All-Star game after 11-innings deadlocked, looking like an imbecile at the Senate hearings and intraleague play. You are a moron. Well Bud, it appears as though you missed the boat on how to make the game good again, and it has nothing to do with anything that I've mentioned. Of course, as a former owner, and good friend of Jerry Reinsdorf and Steinbrenner, you spend to much time bending over for them. Good riddance.
photos of Mark Shapiro, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz courtesy of MLB.com
photo of Bud Selig courtesy of USA Today