Before leaving for his team's new spring training site in Goodyear, Ariz., Indians general manager Mark Shapiro met with the local media Friday at Progressive Field to share his thoughts on a variety of topics. Here are some of the highlights:
Q) How has the nation's struggling economy affected the team?
A) Shapiro - The challenges are not just ours. The issues are not just or national, but international in scope. A lot of times in sports we operate in a vacuum and are somewhat limited in how we're impacted. But in this case, no one's free from being impacted...We feel like we've planned pretty well and are in a pretty good position right now. But if things are in the same position a year from now, it will be a very different story...We've looked at taking smaller measures across the board operationally on an expense level at every facet of our operation. You won't see any of those things I would hope, I hope our fans won't see any of things, but we've looked at controlling our costs any way we can...The backdrop of the financial climate will impact every one of our decisions.
Q) What have you heard about designated hitter Travis Hafner as he rehabs an off-season shoulder surgery?
A) Shapiro - He looks great, his head's in a good place and he's finishing up his rehabilitation stages. In the next month he'll move from rehabilitation to game preparation...As long as things go as expected, at some point over the next month he'll transition over to just baseball...It's our hope that somewhere at the beginning of the spring schedule he'll be able to play.
Q) Is there anything with catcher Victor Martinez's physical condition that needs to be addressed after surgery on his elbow last season?
A) Shapiro - No. He looks really good. He's 100 percent.
Q) What is your feeling on your starting pitching compared to year ago?
A) Shapiro - I guess I felt better about it a year ago because of Jake (Westbrook) and (Fausto) Carmona and the seasons they were coming off of...My hope is that depth plays a role in our pitching as it unfolds this year. There are some things that will happen that are unexpected, with last year as a case in point. But if you had to point to one aspect of the club that I'm least comfortable with, our rotation would certainly be that area.
Q) Is Carmona a really important guy for you ?
A) Shapiro - Carmona is as important as any one player can be. I don't look at one player being pivotal to our season. But his maintaining his health and moving closer to where he was two years ago is extremely important for our team...Over the winter his arm strength was good and he was more consistent in maintaining his delivery. There was some good strides for him this winter, but he still needs to get more consistent in his delivery.
Q) In years past, you've often had to rely on a young and somewhat inexperienced pitcher to fill the last spot in the rotation. But with more depth there heading into this season, do you have a preference as to who claim's the fifth spot in the rotation - whether it be guys you know better such as Aaron Laffey and/or Jeremy Sowers or a newcomer like David Huff?
A) Shapiro - My preference is the best pitchers and the best players. Spring training will play some role in that, as will history and prior performance and track record. But we'll take the guy who, based on those evaluations, gives us the best chance to win.
Q) What clicked for Huff last year?
A) Shapiro - He's been dominant whenever he's been healthy, I think from Day One in the New York Penn League. He just wasn't healthy the year before. His strikeouts have gone up and his velocity may have ticked up a little bit, but there's been no dramatic change in anything. He's progressed at a rapid and good pace to put himself on the threshold of being a contributor at the major league level.
Q) Are you going to have a hard time getting innings for all these young guys competing for a pitching spot?
A) Shapiro - There will be a point in time where you have narrow down the starters pretty quickly and get that group down to about eight guys. Or get guys like Fausto Carmona, Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano out to minor league environments soon because we're going to have some logistical issues fairly quickly.
Q) Does pitcher Jeremy Sowers have options remaining?
A) Shapiro - Yes. Anthony Reyes is the only guy of the starters in that group that doesn't have options.
Q) What is the deal with Sowers' inconsistency?
A) Shapiro - Not being evasive, but he's a very difficult guy to describe what has happened. His fastball velocity and arm speed is as good as it's ever been. His arm action is a little bit different right now. His game is simply controlling, commanding his fastball and his ability to utilize his intelligence in attacking hitters. His inability last year to control his fastball didn't allow him to use his intelligence to attack hitters. What's wrong is not complex or hard to describe. But fixing it has been a challenge for him and for us.
Q) Is it a fair comparison to signing pitcher Carl Pavano to when you signed Kevin Millwood a few years ago?
A) Shapiro - No. Not even close. No, (a better comparison) would have been like signing Brad Penny.
Q) What are your thoughts on the American League Central Division this year?
A) Shapiro - It's a winnable division, and I like our chances in the division. But it's a winnable division for all five teams. When I look at it, I don't see a bad team in it.