Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Closer top off-season priority: Shapiro

Tribe GM Mark Shapiro says finding a closer is likely to be the Tribe's top priority this winter, that the closer is most likely not currently in-house and that he hopes to sign a free agent - but not anyone at the top of the free-agent list.

He also said Jhonny Peralta is not likely to be moved from SS - at least for now; Akron's Matt LaPorta and Wes Hodges will likely start 2009 at Triple-A, but will be on speed dial if the lineup falters early; David Huff will get a long look in spring training; and Ryan Garko, Ben Francisco, Franklin Gutierrez and Andy Marte will be under the microscope for the rest of this season.

In his fourth-inning gabfest on STO tonight, Shapiro said finding a closer is "at the top of our list" as far as off-season priorities are concerned, and that the free agent market is the place he'll likely find one.

The list includes names like Francisco Rodriguez and Kerry Wood. That's the good news.

The bad news? Shapiro says the Tribe front office has to set its sites a little bit lower.

"Everybody wants that lights out one, two, three guy. .... But the reality is there's maybe 10 of those out of 30 teams and to find one you're probably going to have to go out and develop your own. You're probably not going to be able to compete in free agency in a market like ours for that guy."

So Shapiro says he'll look to free agency for now and hope to come up with the "lights out" guy on his own.

"Adam Miller we won't know for a year or two but maybe. We're going to be able to find someone with some experience. There's 8 or 9 free-agent closers in the market. .... Could Rafael Perez close? I don't know. Masa Kobayashi? Can he grow into that role? I can't answer those questions. That's why there's still a lot of time to take advantage of this season and get some answers."

As for 3B, don't look for Jhonny Peralta to be there next season. Shapiro says "for now" Peralta is staying right where he is, at SS.

"That's kind of a sore subject for me because I think Jhonny gets kind of beat up unjustly. I think the reason why is the easiest tool to identify in the game is speed and so guys see a guy that – they look for a shortstop and they think it should be a guy who can run fast. But Jhonny is as dependable and reliable on the average play as any SS in the game. He doesn't have exceptional range but he makes the plays he needs to make and he's developing into a hitter who has some tremendous ceiling. Though I do think his body is so big he's going to outgrow that position at some point, but that point may be two, three, four years down the road, I'm not sure."
Another thing Shapiro is not sure of is what kind of 3B Peralta would be if a switch were made.

"It's a different position. It requires different reactions and skills. He does have enough arm to play third base. His hands should be good enough but what kind of range he'll have over there you don't know. Put it this way, in the list of things we have to deal with that is so far down there so we're not going to get into that one."

It's no surprise, but Shapiro says a lot of spots are up in the air next year and that Garko, Gutierrez, Choo and Marte will be given a long look in the last two months of this year.

He said the newly acquired LaPorta, and the Tribe's top minor league 3B prospect, Hodges, will be pushing the guys mentioned above.

"I look at Wes and maybe Matt LaPorta as guys that maybe we can adjust with next year - guys that their proper level next year is going to be Triple-A. If they go to Triple-A and they go off there and we're in the month of June and we're struggling up here at that position, they're guys that can come to the rescue. They need to go at least to start next season. We're not going to plan the team around them but I'm going to use them as guys we can make adjustments with."

For example:

"We may say hey, you know it's a bit of a risk to go with Andy Marte next April, but we've got Wes Hodges coming. If Andy can't do it, we got Wes. We can make an adjustment in mid-May or June."

He gave a similar scenario with LaPorta and Francisco/Garko/Choo et al.

As for the rotation, the only guy touched on in the interview was Huff.
"It's hard to see any scenario where he is not one of the top six of seven coming into next year. He's struck out more guys and gotten better at every level he's gone up. It's very rare that that happens and when it does it's a guy who's tasting the big leagues, he can see it in his sites. He's got that killer instinct. He keeps upping his game and upping his level. His stuff right now is as good as it's ever been. He's a guy that has a chance to help us next season, either out of the gate or sometime during the season."
Despite making veteran-for-prospect deals in recent days, Shapiro insists this is a retooling and not a rebuilding that's underway.
"I don't think we've done anything to impact our chances next year at all. What we have done is replenished the upper levels of our system with both some ceiling and some depth. We haven't at all compromised our chances to win next season."

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