Tribe's Antonetti applying what he's learned
First-year GM leaning on philosophy in Cleveland reconstruction
CLEVELAND -- Resourcefulness has never been an issue for Chris Antonetti. Throughout his time in baseball, it has been a trait that has served him well, helping pave the route to his new role as general manager of the Cleveland Indians.
Consider where it all began for Antonetti. He accepted an unpaid internship with the Montreal Expos in 1997, leaving his Connecticut home for the Expos' facilities in West Palm Beach, Fla., and a chance to break into the game. The experience was as much about survival as it was about a baseball education.
"He handled everything that we threw at him and then some," said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who helped run the Expos' farm system at the time.
Between stints at the copy machine and trips to the airport, Antonetti used his time to pick the brains of the many baseball men suddenly surrounding him. He earned some cash by parking cars before games, working as an official scorer and selling ice cream in the stands.
Along the way, Antonetti impressed the people who mattered most.
"Chris was an intelligent, driven, hard-working, talented yet humble young man," Huntington said. "Chris exhibited the traits that will allow him to be successful in most anything he attempts."
That summer spent in Florida more than a decade ago proved to be the right place for Antonetti at precisely the right time.
He was hired by Montreal as an assistant director of player development and, two years later, when Huntington worked for the Indians, Antonetti's name was floated for a job in the baseball operations department. Antonetti's subsequent rise to Cleveland's GM chair puts the future of the franchise in his hands.
It is a role the 36-year-old has been groomed for over the course of his time in the Indians' front office, especially throughout the nine years he spent as an assistant to former GM Mark Shapiro. In his previous position as vice president of baseball operations and assistant GM, Antonetti played a prominent role in analysis, negotiations and decisions.
|"I want to be able to build and sustain a championship organization that ultimately results in winning a World Series."|
|-- Chris Antonetti|
"There's not an area in the baseball organization that Chris hasn't touched in some way," said Shapiro, now the team president.
Shapiro was quick to note how close the Indians have come to losing Antonetti to other organizations.
"He's had multiple opportunities," Shapiro said.
One available GM job in particular had Shapiro convinced that the Indians were close to watching Antonetti go. While Shapiro declined to offer details, it is believed that Antonetti was among those considered for the GM position in St. Louis after the 2007 season. What is known for sure is that the Indians feel fortunate to have Antonetti at the helm.
Antonetti did not want to discuss his personal path to the top of the Indians' decision-making chain. Shining the spotlight on himself is not in his character. As a first-year GM, Antonetti prefers to steer the focus to his players. And that seems a fair stance, considering the players will ultimately come to define his measure of success.
Given the current circumstances, evaluating Antonetti by the moves he makes in his first offseason as GM would not seem fair. Cleveland is in the midst of a rebuilding period and Antonetti is limited in what he can do financially. Right now, Antonetti plans on giving his young roster a chance to prove itself on the Major League stage.
In a sense, that's all he can do.
"They have a lot of ability," Antonetti said, "and we need to provide them the opportunity to go out and play and determine if they can be championship players going forward. The only way for us to find out about those players is to give them those opportunities."
This is not to say that the Indians could not pull off a miracle. After all, it was only last season -- Indians manager Manny Acta has made a point to note this multiple times this winter -- when the financially hindered Padres stunned the baseball world by nearly making the postseason.
Like those Padres a year ago, the cards currently appear to be stacked against the Indians, who ended last season as the youngest team in baseball. The Tribe also finished the 2010 campaign with the lowest attendance in the Major Leagues. More so than some other clubs, attendance plays an integral role in the Indians' financial flexibility.
That said, Antonetti has shown throughout his time in the game that he is a highly competitive person, one who wants to do anything he can to succeed. This offseason, Cleveland has spent $1.3 million on Major League contracts, demonstrating that Antonetti is not yet able to be an aggressive player on the market.
Shapiro knows that it must be frustrating for Antonetti, especially since it is his first winter as the primary decision maker.
"The offseason is a general manager's time to work and impact the team," Shapiro said. "When you are limited to what you can do, both because of where you are in the cycle and because of economic components, it can be frustrating for a person that cares and wants to make an impact."
So what is Antonetti to do?
He has to rely on his famous resourcefulness.
Before he can make an impact at the Major League level, Antonetti believes he needs to strengthen the club from within. That means a heightened emphasis on scouting and player development, identifying a future core to build around through improvements in the First-Year Player Draft and on the international market.
While the payroll has been scaled back at the big league level -- down to around an estimated $44 million for 2011 -- Antonetti is quick to note the financial commitments team ownership has made behind the scenes. Consider that in the 2010 Draft, the Indians went over slot by 168 percent -- spending roughly $7.9 million compared to the $4.7 million suggested through the slot system -- to sign their 10 picks in the first 10 rounds.
"Our ownership has demonstrated that it's prepared to commit the resources to those areas," Antonetti said. "I think it is important to note the investments that we've continued to make in amateur scouting and player development."
Then, when the Indians appear to be on the upswing at the Major League level, the time will come to spend more on players who can complement the core group. Antonetti is convinced that ownership will be willing to take that approach when the time comes.
"Our ownership has demonstrated at different points in the past," Antonetti said, "that they're willing to spend to be able to sustain a winning product in our up cycle. We're confident that when we get back there, and this nucleus demonstrates that it can be a championship core, that we'll have the ability to strategically add to it."
Antonetti believes it won't take long to reach that point.
It was only three seasons ago when the Indians -- with the best record in baseball in 2007 -- came within one game of reaching the World Series. Cleveland has made the postseason twice and had no more than three losing seasons in a row over the past decade. Coming off two straight losing seasons, the hope is that a period of winning is coming soon.
The Tribe is confident that it will not suffer a long rebuilding period like those in Tampa Bay (10 consecutive losing seasons prior to a 2008 World Series berth), Pittsburgh (18 losing seasons in a row), Kansas City (one winning season in the past 16 years) and Baltimore (13 straight losing seasons).
"Each GM's job is unique in the sense that there are different sets of circumstances associated with each market," Antonetti said. "Those circumstances can change from year to year. For us, we have to be flexible and able to adapt to the current circumstances and adjust and execute an approach that fits with where we are in our situation.
"I want to be able to build and sustain a championship organization that ultimately results in winning a World Series. That's why we do what we do."
Shapiro said that fans need to be patient in their assessment of Antonetti.
"It takes three to four years before you really start to determine [how effective a GM is]," Shapiro said. "But you could see Chris' impact and influence in our last cycle of success, just as I think you'll see his imprint on our next one."
Antonetti firmly believes the Indians will be better in 2011 than they were in 2010, especially with the expected return of center fielder Grady Sizemore and catcher Carlos Santana from injuries. Beyond their comebacks, the Tribe's pitching staff has shown promise and the club has a group of top prospects on the cusp of making it to The Show.
So for now, Antonetti wants to see what his young players are capable of doing at the big league level. That approach has forced the first-year GM to pull in the reins when it comes to his competitive personality.
"It's very important to be patient," he said. "That's something that's exceptionally difficult to do."