A few weeks ago we asked why the Indians traded Bob Wickman. If you listened to or read about Mark Shapiro's post-season wrap-up of the Indians, that question is even more relevant and an answer ever more elusive.
Shapiro was quick to admit that trading Brandon Phillips was a mistake. That's fairly obvious given the rather large hole that needs to be filled at that position in the off-season and no one on the present squad or in the minors to fill it. That's why finding a second baseman occupies one of the top spots on the off-season wish list.
But why, then, would Shapiro nonetheless defend his decision to trade Wickman. According to Shapiro, "I don't have any regret about the decision. We had to find out about Fausto Carmona as a closer candidate. Had we not traded him, we're looking at [an] 82-, 84- or 85-win season. That would have been a positive outcome for this market."
Let's dissect this for all it's worth. First, the underlying premise makes no sense. There was nothing pushing the Indians to try to find out, right now, whether Carmona could be a closer. Virtually all scouts agree that Carmona is best suited as a starter. His late season starts for the Tribe seem to confirm that opinion. But even more to the point, Carmona is only 23. If he were a position player, he'd be young. As a pitcher, he's a baby. He's probably a good four or five years from developing to the point where his future will be clear. We'd go back and point out, statistically, how much later pitchers reach their prime than position players, but anyone who's watched baseball even casually understands that point. For Shapiro to use this self-created, but wholly unnecessary, need to chart Carmona's path now simply lacks credibility.
Second, our analysis basically confirms Shapiro's contention that had Wickman stayed, the Tribe would have won somewhere in the mid to high 80s. But where we have a problem is Shapiro's somewhat dismissive view of this. The truth is that the Indians record only improves by 7 or 8 games due simply to the lack of save opportunities this team afforded to its closer. That was evident when Wickman was here for the first part of the season and remained true after his trade on July 20th. We all remember the Carmona flameouts, but mostly because they occurred in rapid succession. If you examine the season as a whole, that appears to be the only real stretch when several save opportunities presented themselves in such consecutive fashion. Most of the save opportunities were scattered and there were long stretches throughout the season where a closer simply was not needed.
But looking at the big picture, Shapiro's lack of regret of his trade is mystifying since finding a closer, like a second baseman, also is at the top of his wish list. So while he regrets dumping Phillips, presumably because of the hole he now has to unnecessarily fill, he can't bring himself to offer up the same regrets for trading Wickman, even though filling that hole will require at least as much effort on his part. And it's not, as we've said, that finding a proven closer like Wickman comes easy or cheap.
In our view, if Shapiro should have any regrets it should be for dumping Wickman not Phillips. For Shapiro's sake, it's probably a good thing no one asked him whether he regretted not signing Bob Howry. We could only imagine the spin that question would have received.