Welcome to The Shapkins Defender, where I inhale your toxic screeds and spit out the fresh oxygen of optimism, like a tree that kind of understands WAR. (Just don’t ask me to explain it.) Let’s get to it!
Now, I’ve talked about Shapiro’s track record before. But it looks like I’m going to have to do it again, because…
“When, precisely, was the pilot on this beautiful island before?” – AA
This comment from Alex Anthopoulos was in reference to a previous post of mine where I said this…
“The way I look at it is it’s like we’re on a plane together. And the pilot keeps telling us we’ll be at a beautiful tropical island soon. And it’s an island he’s been to before. I’ve seen pictures of him there! But you’re using every bit of turbulence as an excuse to go running and screaming that the plane has been hijacked. And my point is that maybe, just maybe, if you take a few deep breaths and have a snack, we’ll both enjoy the journey a little more.”
This was my way of saying that Shapiro has a track record of building good teams from his time in Cleveland. But for those who haven’t seen the pictures of this tropical island, let’s take a look, shall we?
First off, let’s go over the timeline. Then just 23 years old, Shapiro was hired by the Cleveland baseball club in 1991, starting in the player development department. Ten years later, in 2001, Shapiro became the GM. At the end of the 2010 season, he became the President, holding that position until he moved north to take the Blue Jays job in 2015.
And how did the Cleveland baseballers fare during those various time periods? The team was fairly mediocre for the first few years after Shapiro was hired. In both ’92 and ’93, they had a ho-hum record of 76-86. In 1994, they started to turn things around, before the strike cut the season short. At the time of the stoppage, they were 66-47, just one game behind the Chicago White Sox in the newly-formed AL Central. After the strike was resolved, Cleveland went on a tremendous seven-year run, winning the division five years in a row from 1995 to 1999, coming in second in 2000 (just one game out of the wild card) and then winning the Central again in 2001. They also made it to the World Series and lost in both 1995 and 1997. (That 1997 World Series, by the way, went to extra innings in game seven, before Cleveland finally lost in the 11th inning. 19 years later, the 2016 Cleveland team would suffer a similar fate, losing to the Cubs in the 10th inning of game seven.)
Now, it’s hard to know exactly how much credit to give Shapiro for those years. After all, he wasn’t the chief decision-maker. The GM at the time was John Hart. But given that Shapiro was given Hart’s job after the 2001 season, someone must have thought he was doing something right.
Shapiro’s new job title came just after the team was sold to the Dolan family, who were seemingly hell-bent on cutting payroll. The 2001 team had the fifth-highest payroll in baseball, according to these numbers. (http://www.stevetheump.com/Payrolls.htm) In 2002, after Shapiro started the rebuild, they were ninth. By 2003, they were in the bottom five, and stayed around there for many years. In fact, they’ve never really been in the top half since then. But despite these miniscule payrolls, Shapiro slowly built a decent team. In 2005, they won 93 but missed the wild card spot by two games. And in 2007, they won 96, winning the Central, defeating the Yankees in the ALDS and losing a heartbreaker to Boston in the ALCS, a series in which they were up 3-1.
This was followed by another five-year period of mediocrity, low payrolls and missing the playoffs. But in 2013, they started another incredible run that continues to this day. In the seven seasons from 2013 to 2019, Cleveland had a winning record each year, making the playoffs four times, winning the division three times and even making one World Series appearance, the aforementioned 2016 heartbreaker. And all of that happened with very low payrolls. Even after the 2016 World Series appearance, the team payroll “jumped” from 24th to 17th in 2017.
Now, Shapiro left in 2015, meaning he wasn’t with the team for a lot of that. But most of the impact players on those teams were acquired before he left. For instance, the bWAR leaders on that 2016 team that came within a hair of the World Series, they were Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, Jason Kipnis, José Ramírez, Carlos Santana and Carlos Carrasco. All of those guys were acquired while Shapiro was still the GM, except for Lindor, who was drafted in 2011, just after Shapiro moved into the President position.
So, I know it’s not perfect. There have definitely been some losing seasons by teams Mark Shapiro was involved in. And you can stare only at those if you’re really determined to be mad at him. But what I’m seeing is that, every time the team is bad, they acquire a pile of young talent and build back up again in short order.
When Shapiro got hired by Cleveland in 1991, they hadn’t made the playoffs since 1954. It was harder to make the playoffs back then because there were only four divisions and there was no wild card. But still, that’s a long time. Since making it back to the playoffs in 1995, Cleveland’s longest drought has been just five years. The Jays are now three years removed from their last playoff appearance and seem well positioned to be really good again in the next few years because they have a roster loaded with young talent and gobs of payroll flexibility.
So, to return to my lazy airplane analogy, I know we’re flying through a storm right now. The view out the window is grey and dreary. But if you look at the back of the seat in front of you, they have that map thingy. And just up ahead on the map is, uhh, Relevance-Ville and… Playoff-Town and… World Series-burgh.
Look, you get the idea. Or I hope you do. It takes time, but we’ll get to our destination eventually. Why not watch some movies to pass the time? I hear The Irishman is very good.
If you believe the pilot has forgotten where the island is, send your hot takes, diatribes, harangues, tirades and jeremiads to me at [email protected] or @darraghfilm on Twitter, or just leave a comment below.