December 11, 2001 at 9:38 PM EST - Updated July 12 at 3:16 AM
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Planning for the future while saving a little money came at a painfully steep price for the Cleveland Indians.
It cost them Roberto Alomar, a future Hall of Famer and arguably the best position player in club history.
And, for now, the blockbuster deal with the New York Mets also cost the Indians the undying support of their adoring fans.
"I think I'm going to need a flak jacket when I get off the plane," said new Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro, whose first trade will go down as one of the biggest in team history.
By trading the 33-year-old Alomar to the Mets, the Indians trimmed a few million dollars off their payroll.
In return they will receive outfielder Matt Lawton, outfield prospect Alex Escobar, pitcher Jerrod Riggan and two players to be named. One of those players is left-hander Billy Traber, New York's first-round pick in 2000, according to a team official who spoke on condition he not be identified.
But Cleveland also broke up perhaps the best double-play combination in baseball history -- Alomar and shortstop Omar Vizquel; created holes at second base and in the lineup and put their young GM on the hot seat.
"It was tough to do," said Shapiro, who hinted that he may have some other big moves in mind. "We're not going to rest."
News of the trade stunned Cleveland baseball fans, many of whom expected the Indians to do something during the winter meetings. But nothing like this.
One caller to a radio talk show said he told his wife to unwrap the packages and return the Indians' leather jacket and watch she bought him for Christmas.
"I don't want them anymore," he said.
Shapiro knew the trade would be a tough sell in Cleveland where the Indians have drawn more than 3 million fans to Jacobs Field in each of the past six seasons. But Shapiro, who officially took over for John Hart on Nov. 1, said the deal was one the Indians couldn't pass up.
"Sometimes you have to make a deal that is difficult to communicate and difficult to understand," Shapiro said. "I think it will balance out in the end. But I know it will be tough for many fans to understand.
"We had to get younger and we had to make some bold moves, and that's what this is."
Alomar was coming off one of his best seasons with the Indians, who signed the 12-time All-Star to a four-year, $32 million deal in 1998 so he could play with his brother, Sandy.
Now both Alomars are gone. Sandy left last winter as a free agent.
The Indians have been intrigued by Lawton for some time and Shapiro said the club began tracking Escobar, considered the Mets' top positional prospect, last season with the idea of possibly making a future trade.
Riggan will be used in middle relief, filling the void created by Cleveland's decision to try Danys Baez as a starter.
"The trade had to work for this year and the future," Shapiro said. "We have more assets today than we had yesterday."
But one less superstar.
Alomar did everything for the Indians. He hit for average and power. He drove in runs, stole bases and made the impossible defensive play look routine while winning his 10th Gold Glove this season.
But Alomar clashed with manager Charlie Manuel, second-guessing many of his decisions. He also saved his worst performance of 2001 for the Indians' biggest game.
In Game 5 of the AL playoffs in Seattle, the switch-hitting Alomar, who didn't hit into a double play all season while batting right-handed, grounded into two double plays in the first three innings.
Alomar said he was surprised when Shapiro called him to say he had been traded.
"They want to dump some salaries," said Alomar, who batted .336 last season with 20 homers and 100 RBIs. "It's going to take them a while to start winning again."
Despite winning their sixth AL Central title in seven years in 2001, the Indians again fell short of winning their first World Series since 1948.
Major changes were planned for the off-season. Under orders from owner Larry Dolan, the Indians wanted to slash payroll from $91 million to around $75 million.
Additionally, with the prospect of signing slugger Juan Gonzalez unlikely, Shapiro wants to emphasize pitching, speed and defense, a drastic departure from Hart's philosophy of power hitting and hard-throwing pitchers.
The Indians are different indeed, but Lawton, who used to admire Cleveland's abundance of talent while playing in Minnesota, said his new team is just as fearsome.
"There are still enough bats there to win a lot of ballgames," he said.
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)