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Tribe's Wedge not feeling pressure

Tribe's Wedge not feeling pressure

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Eric Wedge has had plenty of contracts to discuss in recent weeks. The only one not on his mind, it seems, is his own.

Wedge, entering his fifth season as the Indians' manager, is also entering the final year of his contract. And coming off a 78-84 season drowned in disappointment, the speculation around baseball is that Wedge's seat in the dugout might have heated up a bit.

If that's the case, Wedge doesn't seem to feel it.

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"I don't spend time and energy worrying about that," he said. "I just don't. My focus is on the players first, the Cleveland Indians organization, the city of Cleveland. My job is to get these guys to go out and play and be at their very best."

And Wedge has never seemed to have any problem with that job being aided by some experienced baseball personnel. That was the case in 2003, when Buddy Bell joined him as a bench coach, and again in 2004, when Mike Hargrove was brought on board as a special advisor.

But this month's addition of Buck Showalter as an advisor to general manager Mark Shapiro and Wedge raised some eyebrows in the industry.

No, it's not the first time the Indians have sought out the help of a former skipper, but it is the first time that former skipper is a man with no past ties to the organization.

Showalter, for his part, dismissed any speculation of him being a "manager-in-waiting" with a glowing appraisal of Wedge's work last week. On Wednesday, it was Wedge shooting down such talk, as well.

"The decisions that we make, we make together," Wedge said. "Mark and I talked about bringing Buck in, and I was on board with it. It's an organizational move. It's something where we look at the experience that he has in different areas of the ballgame. It's something that a number of us in the organization can draw on, and you're always looking to get better."

Wedge said he knew how the move might be perceived, but he didn't care. In his eyes, the bottom line is improving his own performance and the performance of the team.

"I believe in surrounding yourself with experienced people, people that have a different skill set than you have," he said. "I think in the offseason, this time of the year, January, and particularly Spring Training, that's really the one time when you can spend a great deal of time with your people, with the staff, and beyond the Major League coaching staff. That's when you're really putting your team together and making decisions and trying to set the framework for the season."

As for how the team is being put together, Wedge knew improving the club in a thin market would be a challenge. The bullpen, of course, was his greatest concern, because a manager with an unreliable relief corps is a man who better invest in a heavy stock of antacids.

The Tribe's acquisitions, to this point -- Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz -- give Wedge three veteran options in an otherwise youthful 'pen. And while the manager isn't exactly doing cartwheels, he is feeling more at ease about his relief options.

"Obviously, there was a lot of negative momentum in our bullpen last year with a lot of the things we went through that were very tough," he said. "You've got to be able to nip that in the bud and be stronger for it. These [newly acquired] guys, there's not much they haven't been through.  We know that we've got a couple guys that can pitch late in the game for us, and hopefully we can add one more."

While the bullpen has undergone drastic change, the Tribe's coaching staff has been static.

Wedge is no stranger to making coaching changes, regardless of the time of year. During his first Spring Training as the club's skipper in 2003, the Indians dismissed pitching coach Mike Brown just 12 days before the start of the season. In 2005, hitting coach Eddie Murray was relieved of his duties in early June.

But falling short of expectations in 2006 didn't cost anyone in Wedge's current crew their jobs. Pitching coach Carl Willis, hitting coach Derek Shelton, bullpen coach Luis Isaac, bench coach Jeff Datz, third-base coach Joel Skinner and first base/infield coach Luis Rivera will all return.

"You don't make changes just to make changes," Wedge said. "You make changes because there's a reason to or there's a need to make a change, and I just didn't feel like that was the case. I've obviously made changes in the past when I felt changes needed to be made, regardless of our record. You do it for the right reasons."

Wedge, who has gone 319-329 in his first four years at the helm, has every reason to feel a sense of urgency when it comes to his club's performance on the field in '07. The window of opportunity for the club to take advantage of its crop of core players won't last forever, and neither will Wedge's own contract.

"I'm the one that's accountable," he said. "Everything falls on me. That comes with the job. We just didn't have a very good year last year. We know which areas we need to get better with, and we know why it happened. Now we're trying to fix it and learn from it and put that into play in '07."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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