CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians keep winning and competing as if October, late October, will be part of its schedule.
Manager Eric Wedge, who has overseen the Indians’ progress on the field, was rewarded for its success on Monday, as the club signed him to a three-year contact extension.
Wedge was signed through the end of this season, in which he is making 1.025 million, with the club holding options for 2008 and 2009. The Indians ripped up those options with a new three-year deal, ensuring Wedge’s presence with the team through 2010. Financial terms were not disclosed.
“This is a guy that’s maximized the talent on this team,” said Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. “If you go around the diamond and look individually at some of the challenges each guy has had, (Wedge) has gotten the most out of his players. He’s consistently earned their respect and they’ve responded.”
That Wedge received an extension isn’t much of a surprise. If anything, the timing is curious.
Shapiro and Wedge discussed a new deal during spring training, but decided to table negotiations until the regular season was over. The silence didn’t last long. Both parties spoke twice during the first half and reconvened during the All-Star break, where an accord was quickly reached.
“It’s something we both wanted to do,” Wedge said. “I’m just so honored to be the manager of the Cleveland Indians, to be a part of these players, this organization. I couldn’t be happier.”
The Indians are 373-366 under the 39-year-old Wedge, who became the club’s 39th manager before the 2003 season. The Indians have yet to reach the playoffs in any of his four seasons, but Wedge has overseen a difficult transition. When he was first hired, the Indians were in the midst of a downward slope after dominating the American League Central for nearly a decade, highlighted by two trips to the World Series.
The Indians became significantly younger and, just as importantly, watched their payroll drop from $93 million in 2001 to $48 million in Wedge’s first year as manager.
But under Wedge, the Indians have seen double-digit increases in wins in his first three seasons, the first Cleveland manager to do so since Lou Boudreau (1946-48). Only a final-week collapse in 2005 prevented the Indians, who have not won the World Series since 1948, from making the playoffs.
The Indians have proven to be one of the formidable powers in the American League this season, holding first place for 63 days and bouncing back from a 78-84 record and fourth-place finish in 2006. The 54-37 record entering Monday’s game is the club’s best mark after 91 games since the 1999 season (57-34).
Wedge’s extension is the latest in a series of extensions by the Indians to ensure cost-certainty for the foreseeable future.
General manager Mark Shapiro signed a five-year contract extension in March that will keep him in Cleveland through 2012. Assistant general managers Chris Antonetti and John Mirabelli, signed four- and three-year extensions, respectively, in May.
Last week Travis Hafner was locked up to a $57 million deal through 2012, with a club option for 2013. Jake Westbrook, who signed a $33 million three-year extension in April, will remain in Cleveland through 2010. They will be joined by Grady Sizemore (signed through 2012), Jhonny Peralta (2010) and Victor Martinez (2009). Josh Barfield, Kelly Shoppach, Fausto Carmona, Rafael Perez, Ben Francisco and Ryan Garko aren’t on multiyear deals, but they’re under the club’s control for at least the next five years.
“Organizations that sustain a championship level of success demonstrate consistency,” Shapiro said. “We’ve made it a point to retain our core guys and Eric is a core part of our success. You take the most important leader we have on the field and line him up with this group of players and it further demonstrates the consistency we’re looking for.”
Wedge said negotiations were largely pleasant, such that he never felt compelled to hire an agent.
“I’m paying myself the 4 percent,” he joked.
“I have a lot of confidence in the foundation that we’ve built,” Wedge said. “That’s what I always come back to. That’s the most important part — to build something real, something that will sustain itself over time and something you can count on. I know there’ll be moments like we had last year when you stub your toe, but it doesn’t change the way you play or the talent that you have. If you believe in that, good things are going to happen.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-717 or email@example.com.