Indians fire manager Eric Wedge and entire coaching staff

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Last week I wrote that Eric Wedge was unlikely to be back for his eighth season as Indians manager in 2010 because “general manager Mark Shapiro probably needs to make someone the fall guy before all of the attention turns to him.”
Sure enough, this morning Shapiro cleaned house by firing Wedge and his entire coaching staff, including hitting coach Derek Shelton, pitching coach Carl Willis, bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez, first base coach Luis Rivera, and third base coach Joel Skinner.
Making the announcement with less than a week remaining in the season is curious timing, but apparently Wedge and his staff have agreed to stay on for the final six games before clearing out their offices. Don’t feel sorry for him though, because Wedge has one season left on his contract and the Indians will be paying him $1.3 million in 2010.
Indians fans can provide a laundry list of Wedge’s faults and I’m certainly not going to suggest that he deserves to stay on the job for an eighth season after going 560-568 with just one playoff appearance in seven years. However, the team’s problems clearly stretch beyond the man writing out the lineups. When viewed in isolation most of Shapiro’s moves look sound, but the end result of his wheeling and dealing has been a series of disappointing teams that have now turned into a full-fledged rebuild. Again.
While in Cleveland for the Society for American Baseball Research convention two years ago I attended a panel discussion featuring Shapiro and St. Paul Saints owner Mike Veeck. Shapiro came across as incredibly intelligent and capable, impressing a room full of hardcore baseball nerds with both his open-mindedness and experience. Yet even then there was plenty of unrest among the Indians fans in the room and he had a hard time shrugging off questions about Wedge’s job security.
Now that Wedge won’t be around to take the first wave of criticism, it’ll be interesting to see if Shapiro can get things turned around before the attention turns to him. He’s been on the job since 2002, constantly rebuilding and reloading, but has just one playoff appearance and two winning seasons to show for it despite playing in a weak, low-payroll division that the Indians absolutely dominated from 1995-2001.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.