CLEVELAND — The questions came at Indians general manager Chris Antonetti from all sides and in rapid-fire succession.
How did first-year manager Manny Acta do this season? What will the pitching staff look like for 2011? Will Grady Sizemore be at full speed in spring training? Can Cleveland challenge in the AL Central next year? Will the team offer Shin-Soo Choo a long-term contract. How do you get your fans to believe?
As Antonetti spewed out answers on his first day as GM, his predecessor — and mentor — leaned back in his chair and smiled.
“This is actually kind of enjoyable,” Mark Shapiro said.
Monday, the Indians officially passed the bat(on) of power in their front office as Shapiro moved into his new position as team president and Antonetti, the team's assistant GM, assumed the job Shapiro had held since taking it from John Hart in 2001.
Cleveland's front-office transition has actually been evolving over the past few seasons with Antonetti taking a more prominent role in the club's day-to-day operations, and Shapiro gradually branching into the business side of running the ballclub.
Close friends and colleagues, Shapiro and Antonetti have shared the same vision for the Indians. And while their roles and titles have changed the pair will continue working together to try and bring Cleveland its first World Series title since 1948.
It won't be easy, but that's the challenging part.
“I'm more excited than nervous,” Antonetti said of assuming the GM duties. “That comes from knowing that we have done it before and the opportunity is there again.”
Antonetti, whose career as a baseball executive began as an intern in Montreal's organization, said he intends to call upon Shapiro's expertise from time to time.
“I'd be foolish not to tap into Mark's experience,” he said.
Because they have worked together for several years, there is an outside assumption that Antonetti and Shapiro share the same philosophies on how to build a winner. In reality, the opposite may be true.
The two may come to similar conclusions, but only after approaching problems differently. Antonetti is the more analytical of the two, relying on facts and figures to form the basis of his thinking. Shapiro, on the other hand, is more emotional and will often go on “feel” before making a decision.
While he has his own new challenges ahead, Shapiro thinks the Indians are being left in capable hands with Antonetti, whose input went into the difficult decisions to trade Cy Young award winners Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia and all-star catcher Victor Martinez.
Shapiro knows what lies ahead for his protege.
“There could not be a human being more prepared for that job than Chris, but the day you are responsible for a city's emotions, for an organization's future, and your decision making is what people are looking for — that's a huge emotional burden,” Shapiro said.
The Indians just completed a 69-93 season under Acta, whose job got tougher when Sizemore and catcher Carlos Santana went down with season-ending injuries. Antonetti said he expects both players to be ready for the start of the 2011 season.
During a meeting with reporters, Shapiro and Antonetti addressed several other major topics heading into the offseason:
• The Indians drew just 1.3 million fans, their fewest since 1992. There are obvious reasons for the attendance drop, chief among them the region's economic downturn. Shapiro is confident Cleveland fans will return to Progressive Field if the team is competitive.
• Choo has emerged as one of the AL's top outfielders. The Indians control his rights for three more years but would like to sign him to a long-term deal. The club had talks with agent Scott Boras last winter, and Antonetti expects the sides to meet again.
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