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.

Mike Napoli and Rays have “mutual interest” in a deal

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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times unloaded a lot of interesting news items about the Rays last night, including a report that the Rays might have “mutual interest” in a deal with free agent first baseman/DH Mike Napoli. The Rangers declined Napoli’s $11 million option earlier this month and owe the veteran infielder a $2.5 million buyout.

Napoli, 36, had a strange year in Texas. He turned in 29 home runs, good for 11th-most among AL hitters, but finished the year batting just .193/.285/.428 over 485 plate appearances. According to FanGraphs, his -0.5 fWAR was the worst mark of his career to date, but on the bright side, he should come cheap for a team looking to swap out their veterans come spring.

Of course, the specifics of the Rays’ offseason plan have yet to be divulged — or, by all accounts from Topkin, even decided on. The club could go the refurbishment route, changing out some of their higher-paid veterans for a mix of prospects and cheaper aging players; or they could opt for a full rebuild, which Topkin cautions against as it could have a negative effect on the financing of a new ballpark. Either way, the Rays figure to offload some of their bigger contracts this winter, and will need to decide if they want to retain Alex Colome, Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos, Evan Longoria and others before pursuing any other major free agents.