Ninety-three wins with a $41 million payroll always makes a baseball front office look like "MacGyver" with their resourcefulness.
The job Indians general manager Mark Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge did in piloiting the Indians to a 93-69 record from a 12-18 start earned Shapiro baseball's Executive of the Year award, and earned Wedge runner-up status in AL Manager of the Year voting.
Ozzie Guillen won the award, an easy pick in hindsight.
These awards are a great honor, and are a testament to willingness of Shapiro and Wedge to formulate a plan a stick with it, through thick and thin, even when the public at large wanted to run them out of town on a rail.
As of now, we can safely say that Wedge and Shapiro knew what they were doing when they began hoisting this franchise out of the self-immersed muck in 2003. With Shapiro's moves and Wedge's same-page philosophy, they compressed 10-plus years of rebuilding into four, amassing the highest win total for an Indians team since the 1999 club won 97 games.
But these awards are fickle ladies, and the Indians are one backsliding season away from the glossy reputations of Shapiro and Wedge suddenly getting tarnished.
The Indians became only the second AL team since wild-card play was introducted to win 93 games and fail to qualify for the playoffs. Next year, the playoffs will be an expectation, as will division contention the doesn't require a furious two-month sprint in the second half of the season.
Shapiro knows how important this off-season is. The Indians are fighting an uphill battle to keep star pitchers Kevin Millwood and Bob Howry. If they lose one or both, Shapiro will have to become MacGyver again and beat the bushes for a front-of-the-rotation starter and a closer.
If Shapiro is forced to settle for plan C or D to replace Millwood or Howry, it could be a significant downgrade for a pitching staff that was the best in the AL last year.
And we still haven't brought up the need to upgrade the talent in right field and/or first base. Brian Giles' name has come up in free agency, but if the Indians have to bleed themselves to get a starting pitcher or closer, Giles' triumphant return to Cleveland probably won't happen.
(Side note: as far as the Indians are concerned, you can file Paul Konerko alongside the names "Tooth Fairy," "Santa Claus" and "Jimmy Hoffa." It's not happening.)
John Hart was the last Cleveland GM to win executive of the year. He did it back-to-back, in 1994 and 1995. Unfortunately, his teams never did back-to-back anything beyond division titles. Shapiro is trying to do more with less than Hart ever had. With Larry and Paul Dolan as owners, the days of $90 million payrolls are gone forever.
With a fraction of the money, Shapiro is going to have to be twice as good as Theo Epstein, Brian Chashman, or any recent big-market shot-callers have been to in order to regain the personal crown he now owns, and to bring his team a championship.