Wedge will guide Indians through 2010
Club picks up option years, adds third season to skipper's deal
CLEVELAND -- He might have had reasons to feel skittish. He never acted more secure, though.Now, Eric Wedge can relax a little more. An Indians club that has made a habit out of locking up members of its core to long-term contracts showed that it views Wedge as a valuable piece of the puzzle on Monday by signing the manager to a three-year contract extension through 2010. The deal does not include any options. "[Wedge] is a core part of our successes," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "You take the most important leader we've got on the field, and line him up with this group of players, and that further demonstrates the consistency and stability we're looking for. "In addition, I think this is the right thing to do now. We recognize what [Wedge] has done, who he is and the way he goes about his business." So speculation about Wedge's job security after an abysmal 2006, the hiring of Buck Showalter as a senior advisor and Shapiro's decision not to pick up Wedge's '08 and '09 contract options before this season can go out the window. Though that speculation surrounded Wedge earlier this year, he has often seemed more at ease with himself, and his standing in the organization, than ever. "I didn't put any time or energy into it," Wedge said. "I always had a great deal of confidence in our guys and what we were going to do this year. I didn't put time into worrying about it or thinking about it." The 39-year-old Wedge calls his mindset one of "relaxed aggressiveness." And his Indians have taken on that personality this season, more than any other in his five years at the helm. Under Wedge, the Indians entered Monday's action with a 54-37 record, placing them just a half-game back of the defending American League champion Tigers in the AL Central. Despite early season injuries to two members of the starting rotation (Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook), ineffectiveness from a third (Jeremy Sowers), a decline in production from Travis Hafner, substandard output from free-agent signees David Dellucci and Trot Nixon and the inconvenience and distraction that came with having four home games snowed out and three home games played in Milwaukee in April, Wedge's club has spent 63 days in first place this season. And in analyzing the club at the All-Star break and deciding an extension for Wedge was in order, Shapiro looked at the successes his skipper has overseen. He pointed to Victor Martinez's improvement in controlling the running game, Fausto Carmona's metamorphosis from embattled closer to sterling starter, C.C. Sabathia's coming-of-age as the ace of the staff, and Jhonny Peralta's dramatic improvement both at the plate and in the field. "This is a guy who has maximized the talent on this team," Shapiro said. "You can go around the diamond, and individually look at some of the challenges, and he's gotten the most out of our players. He's done that by working with a staff that gives him respect and the way the players have responded to him." Wedge has put together a career record of 373-366 (.505) since taking over the Tribe's managerial reigns in 2003. His win total is the seventh-highest in Indians history. Wedge's long-term future with the club appeared to be something of a no-brainer after the '05 season, in which he became the first Indians manager since Lou Boudreau to lead the Tribe to double-digit win increases over three consecutive seasons. The Indians won 68 games in 2003, 80 in '04 and 93 in '05. In 2006, however, the Tribe took a decisive step back. Hindered by a battered bullpen, poor infield defense and an inconsistent offense, the Indians labored to a 78-84 record. And whereas, in the past, Shapiro had publicly labeled Wedge as his "partner" -- to the point where some in the media cheekily referred to the pair as the "Wedgiro Twins" -- the partnership didn't appear to be quite as close-knit this spring as it once had been. During Spring Training, when the Indians gave Shapiro a five-year contract extension, the GM said he wouldn't address Wedge's contract situation until after he saw the '07 season play out. But when the two sat down for their midseason analysis during the break, Shapiro formally told Wedge he'd like to extend him. The skipper was more than happy to sign the dotted line. "I just really have a lot of confidence in the foundation [that] we've built," Wedge said. "That was the most important part, to build something real and something that could sustain itself over time, and that we could count on. I believe in the process and what we're doing here, and I'm excited I've got a chance to stay in Cleveland." Shapiro said he never seriously considered making a managerial move, even as the Indians' mission took a frustrating turn last year. "I think about all the alternatives out there, and I'm convinced this guy is the right guy for the job," Shapiro said. "No one understands our situation better and what got us to this point, and no one knows our players as well. That, combined with the fact that no one's going to work harder and no one cares more." Locking Wedge into a long-term deal fits with the Indians' inclination toward stability. Over the past 16 months alone, the team has agreed to extensions with shortstop Jhonny Peralta, center fielder Grady Sizemore, left-hander Lee, right-hander Westbrook, designated hitter Hafner, Shapiro, assistant GM Chris Antonetti and scouting director John Mirabelli. "It's one more demonstration, to everyone around the organization, that a core is in place of players and leaders," Shapiro said. "We've got business to continue to conduct and we're going to continue to do it the same way. We will not be satisfied until we're playing championship baseball."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.