CLEVELAND — Mark Shapiro got out of his chair, turned toward his protege and hugged him.
Each man was congratulating the other. Shapiro is moving up. Chris Antonetti is moving up.
The Cleveland Indians’ long-term vision is in place.
Shapiro will be promoted to team president after this season and be succeeded as GM by Antonetti, his assistant for the last nine years.
Paul Dolan, son of owner Larry Dolan, will shift from president to chief executive officer, a title held by his father.
"I strongly believe we have a very solid leadership team that will be the core of this franchise for years to come," Dolan said. "(Shapiro) has built a culture here that is the envy of the industry."
The Indians’ announcement on the eve of spring training Thursday could be considered the team’s biggest move of the winter. Cleveland lost 97 games last year, then followed it up with a quiet offseason, offering a few minor league contracts to free agents, but little else.
Cleveland has been forced to gut its team since winning the AL Central and coming within one game of the World Series in 2007, trading away former AL Cy Young winners CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee, along with All-Star catcher Victor Martinez.
"I can’t change the economic demographics of our marketplace," Dolan said. "What we can do is put the best people in place. I feel with the team we have in place, we have the best folks to do what’s necessary within the confines of our market to succeed. They’ve got what they need, given our limitations."
Antonetti is certainly familiar with the Indians’ history. He is entering his 12th season with the team after joining the baseball operations department as an unpaid intern in 1999.
Shapiro said beginning next season, Antonetti will have the final say on all personnel decisions.
"That’s Chris’ show," Shapiro said. "What I hope is I’ll be a resource. He will know that I’m here if he wants to draw upon my experiences as GM.
"Usually because of the amount of information we’ve processed, we usually arrive at the same point anyway. I’d assume that same thing will continue to happen."
The 35-year-old Antonetti has been coveted by teams with GM openings, but passed with the understanding he would eventually receive his chance in Cleveland. He has taken on a larger role in personnel decisions recently, including playing a key role in the trade that sent Lee to Philadelphia last summer for prospects.
"It’s impossible to simulate sitting in that chair," Antonetti said. "The pressures of actually being the one making those decisions is different from where I sit. But because of the opportunities Mark has provided to actually be the point person on trade discussions or free agent discussions, from that standpoint I’m prepared. I’ve had those opportunities that will make me a successful GM."
Shapiro is handing over the job in much the same way he inherited it from former GM John Hart in 2001. A son of prominent agent Ron Shapiro, he was selected major league executive of the year by The Sporting News in 2005 and 2007.
But Cleveland also traded Sabathia, Lee and Martinez during his tenure. When injuries hampered the Indians’ ability to contend in ’08, Shapiro dealt Sabathia to Milwaukee for prospects. Faced with dwindling revenue and another underachieving team last season, the Indians traded Martinez to Boston and Lee to the Phillies for more prospects.
Following last season’s disappointing finish, Shapiro fired Eric Wedge, the manager he had hired before the 2003 season. Thursday he called firing Wedge after last season one of his toughest moments. Manny Acta will replace Wedge as manager this season.
"I had visions of always working with one manager throughout my entire career," Shapiro said. "I view that as a collective failure."
Having a baseball mind as president, rather than a businessman like Dolan, is a new structure for the Indians and one that haven’t had since Hart was the GM and Hank Peters retired as president in 1991.
Shapiro and Antonetti are faced with rebuilding the franchise yet again amid an angry fan base that is upset with the way the team has been torn down so soon after an ALCS appearance.
"At different times along the way … we’ve had to face a lot of the same skepticism," Shapiro said. "We put our heads down, we worked hard and we put ourselves in position to experience special times. We feel we’re in good position going forward to experience the same kind of success and hopefully this time, when we get to that threshold, we’ll push over it."
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