Monday, July 31, 2006

Great Trade, Who'd We Get? Part III

Let's see, so much to talk about so little time. Jeremy Sowers' second consecutive shutout? Fausto Carmona's meltdown yesterday? Another Browns lineman about to go under the knife? Nah, let's talk about Ronnie Belliard.

"This was an opportunity to acquire a player who could fit into our plans next year and beyond," General Manager Mark Shapiro said (as reported in this mornings Akron Beacon Journal). Really? Who knew the key to the season was to reacquire undrafted free agent Hector Luna? Maybe Shapiro forgot that he had just sent down Ramon Vazquez, so desperate we are apparently, to corner the market on utility infielders.

The interesting thing here, of course, is whether this gives Shapiro more of the vaunted "flexibility" he continues to crave given the cheapskate nature of owner Larry Dolan. The difference here, though, is that Luna only saves them potential cash, not real dollars. Belliard is an arbitration-eligible free agent at the end of the season. Never convinced that Belliard was a core player, the arbitration-adverse Shapiro likely would have let Belliard go anyway, without anyway. This way they get Luna who, while not better at virtually anything, at least is 5 years younger and hence cheaper.

We'd all like to think that Dolan was stockpiling cash in order to find the few missing pieces for next year. But we all know better. The Indians won 93 games last year and were on the precipice of being an elite team. Such status requires a larger payroll and so Dolan went in the other direction, handcuffing Shapiro. As a result we lost Kevin Millwood (not necessarily unanticipated anyway), couldn't sign Bob Howry, a bullpen key, and sent Coco Crisp to Boston in a trade. In exchange we signed second and third tier free agents like Jason Johnson, Todd Hollandsworth and Jason Michaels and, in the process, sent the message that saving money was more important than being competitive. The fans see it and the players do as well. Their deflated play all year is testimony to the lack of support from ownership.

Shapiro says that he's probably done dealing for now. These last two months represent, essentially, an extended spring training. The only question is whether in the bargain fans will be charged spring training prices to witness this mess.

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