RHP Jose Mesa is the only Pirate eligible for free agency. RHP Brian Boehringer can also become a…
Turning The Tables
But maybe, just maybe, the real reason could go a bit deeper than Larry Dolan's pockets. Maybe Shapiro knows that one of the pitchers he probably will be courting will be a guy who won't come to Cleveland if Vizquel is on the roster. That pitcher is Jose Mesa, who has once again become one of baseball's top closers. Mesa is on a short list of quality free-agent closers likely to be available this off-season. Vizquel and Mesa, teammates from 1994-98, have been involved in a well-documented feud which stems from Mesa's failure in Game Seven of the 1997 World Series. Vizquel, in his book Omar! My Life On and Off the Field, wrote the following: "The eyes of the world were focused on every move we made. Unfortunately, Jose's own eyes were vacant. Completely empty. Nobody home. You could almost see right through him. Not long after I looked into his vacant eyes, he blew the save and the Marlins tied the game." Mesa, in March of 2003, said, "I wanna kill him." He had plunked Vizquel in the back with a fastball when the two faced each other in June of 2002 and was fined $500. When the Indians were looking around for a closer during the 2004 season, Mesa's name was brought up as a possibility. The organization never came out and said the feud between Mesa and Vizquel was the reason for their not making the deal to fill a huge void on the team, but there's little doubt that Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge would have been walking a very thin line when it came to team chemistry if indeed Mesa had been acquired. But if Vizquel is indeed gone come 2005, then there really is no one left in the clubhouse that would have an axe to grind with Mesa. If Mesa, who had 43 saves for the Pirates this year, is brought back and is successful, I think the fans will forgive him for having played a key role in the team's failure to beat the Marlins. Mesa was paid just $800,000 in 2004. He has saved more than 40 games in three of the past four seasons. The fact he'll turn 39 during the '05 season will likely keep his value down on the free agent market. Mesa probably won't be No. 1 on Shapiro wish list this off-season. But if you take him off, you are eliminating approximately 33 percent of your legitimate options. Atlanta's John Smoltz heads the list of potential free agent closers, but even if the Braves can't work out a deal and he does become available, he undoubtedly will be out of the Tribe's price range. In 2004, he was paid more than $11.5 million by the Braves. There's no way he would take a big enough pay cut to fit into the Tribe's budget. That's also probably the case for Troy Percival, who had 33 saves for the Angels in '04 and was paid just under $8 million. A third guy who might be out of Cleveland's price range is San Diego's Trevor Hoffman, who had 41 saves this year and will likely be looking for a sizeable raise from the $2.5 million he was paid in '04. Another guy who might very well have pitched himself out of the Tribe's price range is Florida's Armando Benitez, who had 47 saves in 51 opportunities this year. Benitez, who will be 32 next season, will likely be looking to sign a multi-year contract that will significantly increase his '04 salary of $3.5 million. That then takes you down to a group headed by Mesa and which likely will include Ugueth Urbina, who had 21 saves for the Tigers. But remember, Urbina thought he was going to sign with the Indians late in spring training. The Indians wanted to base his salary upon the fact they thought he would need quite a bit of time to get ready for the season. Urbina, who helped the Marlins win the World Series in '03, had not done any pitching during the off-season after the Marlins decided not to resign him. There were some unpleasant words exchanged between Urbina's agent and the Indians, so unless those fences have been mended, it's questionable whether Urbina would choose the Indians if someone else came in with a comparable offer. A very interesting pitcher is Arizona's Matt Mantei, a closer with tremendous ability, but a guy who has suffered through numerous injuries. He was paid $7 million by the Diamondbacks in '04 and pitched in just 12 games with an 11.81 ERA. Obviously, he is headed for a huge pay cut next year as he looks to regain the form that enabled him to throw in the upper 90s and be successful in 29 of 32 save opportunities in 2003. Of course, all of this could be a moot point. If Bob Wickman decides to play again in '05 and the Indians judge him healthy, he probably will be their man. Wickman and Shapiro have an excellent relationship and it wouldn't be surprising to see the two sides work out an incentive-laced contract. Then again, Wickman might be content with calling it a career, having successfully worked his way back from Tommy John surgery. It was his goal to finish the season healthy and as a solid contributor. He was successful on both fronts. Shapiro says one of his two key goals this off-season is to have a closer in place heading into next spring training. He knows better now than ever, due to the problems encountered this year, that for a bullpen to be successful, it MUST have a dependable closer. "The bullpen begins with the closer," he said. "Everybody else falls into place after that." And because of that commitment, and the fact there aren't a whole lot of quality closers available, Shapiro knows he can't afford to close the door on any of those options. That includes Mesa, who could, in a round-about way, contribute to Vizquel's departure.
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