Terry Francona may be a done deal
It’s a rare occurrence when a sports figure chooses Cleveland as his or her choice to make their home. Over the past several years, Cleveland has seen virtually every player of resonance leave. It’s part of the Cleveland culture at this point, and when the Akron-grown LeBron James left the Cavs two years ago, Cleveland was cemented as a place NOBODY wanted to come to, even the locals.
Terry Francona, the two time World Series Champion manager for the Boston Red Sox, is breaking the mold. While he’s not a player, he’s definitely the hottest managing commodity in major league baseball right now. In his years in Boston, he was able to create an atmosphere that brought the city their first World Series Champion since 1918, and did it in a media cauldron, second to only New York City.
In other words, Terry Francona brings credibility to any position he chooses to take.
Yesterday, Francona spent the day interviewing in Cleveland for the job as manager of the Cleveland Indians. There’s been a lot of speculation as to whether or not the interview was the real deal, or if Francona was using the Indians interview as a refresher course on his way to potential greener pastures.
The possibility for managerial changes in cities such as Los Angeles, Detroit, Toronto and even Boston would provide Francona with more major league ready teams. The Indians are clearly much further away than those franchises, so the commitment to the Indians from Francona would put him directly in the middle of a rebuild. Someone with Francona’s clout would allow him the opportunity to skip that phase, and at this stage of his career, most managers would do that, regardless of the city. Add Cleveland to the equation, and most players and coaches run, and run fast.
Francona finished his 9-hour interview in Cleveland all smiles as he immediately headed back to Bristol, Connecticut to resume his duties as an ESPN analyst on Baseball Tonight. Once on air, he was directly asked what his intentions were for the 2013 season, and his reply, “I’ll either manage the Cleveland Indians, or continue my job at ESPN. I will not interview for any other managerial positions.”
Francona has well-documented history with the Indians. His father, Tito Francona spent six of his 15-years of his pro career with the Indians, including his best season in 1959 when he hit .363, with 20 homers and 79 RBI. When Francona’s father found out about his son being interviewed for the Indians job, he was ecstatic.
Terry also spent a rather nondescript season with the Indians in 1988. While it wasn’t his best season as a major leaguer, he did hit .311 as a utility player. The bulk of his career was spent as a part of some really good Montreal Expos teams in the early 1980’s, with the likes of Andre Dawson and Tim Raines.
Francona was also a member of the Indians front office in 2001. Mark Shapiro hired him as a special assistant to the GM, and he worked closely with both Shapiro and current Indians’ GM, Chris Antonetti, who has been working with the Indians and Shapiro since 1999.
Francona has missed managing in his year away from the game, and coming to Cleveland presents a potential unique experience. He’s described his relationship with regards to Shapiro and Antonetti as “family.” While that certainly will play a part in this story, Francona downplayed it.
"It's a good story," said Francona. "I don't think you can take a job because of that, but it still means a lot to me."
What is most interesting is that there were moments in which Francona spoke of the job as though it were a foregone conclusion that he was going to get the job.
"Because of my relationship with Mark and Chris, I'm excited about attempting to tackle each and every challenge that comes our way and to do it together," said Francona.
This sounds like a done deal to me.
What’s even more interesting is the potential coaching staff that Francona could put together. His former bench coach, Brad Mills is available after he was fired by the Houston Astros earlier this year. His former hitting coach, Dave Magadan, will likely be available as well, especially after Bobby Valentine began spouting off about how his coaching staff undermined him. Both Mills and Magadan were on board with Francona for the 2007 World Series championship, while Mills was there in 2004 as well.
If Francona gets the job, it’s likely that the Indians would want to keep on Sandy Alomar as well, unless Alomar gets a job managing elsewhere. It’s also a possibility that Alomar would take a job with another club. Of course, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Francona will be the next manager of the Indians.
With that said, if the Indians are looking to create a different atmosphere in the clubhouse, this is the best way to do it. Terry Francona brings instant credibility to the Indians with regards to their play on the field. Now, I’m not a guy who buys into that kind of hype, because every managerial opportunity is unique.
The Red Sox were coming off of a 7-game implosion against the Yankees in 2003 that cost Grady Little his job. Terry Francona was essentially handed a World Series ready team. Granted, it was a team that was going up against a 75-year “curse,” but it was a team that was loaded for bear anyways.
This Indians’ team certainly isn’t that. Remember, Francona’s tenure with the Red Sox wasn’t his only managerial experience. He was also the manager of a lackluster Philadelphia Phillies team that never finished above .500. That Phillies team had good players in Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling and Bobby Abreu, but there weren’t many more than that. As a matter of fact, those Phillies teams more resemble the Indians of 2012 than the Phillies of recent years. In other words, can Francona help develop a team like the Indians into a World Series contender, or does he need a team and a franchise that will spend money and have major league ready players?
That’s not an easy question to answer.
What is definitive though is that Francona brings credibility to the Indians after his tenure with the Red Sox. If the Indians management hire him, and give him the type of money it would take to sign him, it would hopefully be the first move in a new direction for Antonetti. Of course, I thought that the Ubaldo Jimenez trade signified that type of new direction. Of course, it didn’t.
With that said, Antonetti is now directly in the crosshairs with regards to his job. There has to be organizational changes, not only with how Antonetti handles his team going forward, but with regards to the Dolans and Shapiro. Can this management team follow through with an aggressive strategy to field good teams from year-to-year, or are they destined to take the easy path?
The interesting question is whether or not Francona represents the easy…or hard path.
Will the Indians sign Francona as a one-off move to show that they are serious, then not do a thing afterwards while they develop their system? Or, will the Indians hire Francona and a top-notch coaching staff, then use that staff to bring in some quality free agents and incorporate aggressive trades to make this team as competitive as possible?
I don’t know.
Antonetti’s lone aggressive move involved the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, and it imploded in his face. I’m worried less about the implosion, and more about his follow up to that trade. What exactly was the follow up? I don’t know…I’m still waiting for it.
Now, the Indians have gone after one of the more impressive managerial commodities on the market in Francona. Francona has followed up that interview sounding like it was his job to lose. He’s also stated that he’s either the Indians manager, or an ESPN analyst.
The pieces are in place.
As I said earlier in the week in my weekly column, the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, I believe that Sandy Alomar is a perfect fit for the rebuilding Indians. He knows the organization, is part of the organization, is a PR dream, and I believe will be a fantastic manager when he gets the chance. This is clearly his dream job, and this would be his best opportunity to grow with a team. He has every tool you can possible ask for in a potential manager.
He would be my choice if the Indians were to continue along the path that they are on, which is the path I believe they will go on no matter which manager they hire. I just have no faith in this front office.
…if Chris Antonetti is set to lay it all on the line and go for broke to save his job, then this move is a no brainer. Terry Francona brings the type of credibility in the clubhouse as well as to the rest of major league baseball that the Indians would need going forward to begin a quick rebuild.
It’s the type of volley you make if you are going to change the dimensions of what your organization is doing, and has been doing over the past three or four seasons…if you aren’t going to flat out fire the general manager. It sends a message.
Will it be a message that goes beyond one move? Will it be bigger than the Ubaldo Jimenez trade and actually incorporate an aggressive, risk-taking plan to go along with it? That’s not an easy question to answer, and the only support I can give is that I don’t buy it.
Hiring Francona, to me, would be window dressing for a front office that has no clue with regards to what they are doing. In my most humble opinion, it would be more tasty frosting to put on a cake made out of cardboard.
Of course, Francona is a pretty good manager.
And the Indians have some pretty good players.
And Antonetti could just get lucky and roll into a situation in which the Indians hire their frosting…and manage to get the cake to go along with it. It also would represent a situation in which the Indians could send a message to the rest of the sporting world that folks actually do WANT to come play or coach for this city.
Antonetti and the Dolans could also surprise us all and actually put together a new franchise model that will incorporate this incredible group of prospects at Double A and below with an aggressive model at the big league level that will make them competitive sooner, rather than later.
It could happen, and I expect we’ll know by Monday (although the rumors oughta start circulating later today or tomorrow at the latest) which direction the Indians will be going. The good news is that the Indians are being proactive. The bad news is that regardless of their choice, we won’t have the slightest idea where this club will go until November.
Either way, Terry Francona being a part of the equation is a good sign, but only a small part of a bigger picture that should begin to develop over the next several weeks.
Here comes the offseason…
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wow! If this is true, I thought they were just jerking our chain, but I think this is one of things where Francona will feel at home and has the opportunity of a life time in establishing a winning culture.
Hopefully it begins a very active and transformational period in Cleveland Indians baseball.
Great post Adam...
I agree with most everything you said...but I actually feel like the Indians have perhaps the two best candidates with regards to their system...
If Francona falls though, the team takes a perceptual hit, but at the end of the day, I feel like the Indians will win with Alomar Jr. as well...just in a different way.
I'm jaded too...but just think this is as close to a can't lose as we get...
Of course...my fear is that Antonetti will figure out a way to make it a lose-lose...
We've been hurt before (many, many times).
I'm willing to ignore the issues surrounding how this organization handles player personnel decisions, if it means being able to savor the fact that Indians land the best managerial candidate. Regardless of the immediate difference it makes in the win/ loss column, to have a proven winner at the helm can only benefit the young players on this team who have potential to grow (Kipnis, Santana, Chisenhall, etc). You've gotta like that he said the only place he'll manage in 2013 is Cleveland. Taking TF at his word, the only way this falls through is if the braintrust for this team botches it and goes with the nostalgiac pick of SA Jr.
but no comparison at all...
Loved you in Die Hard Reginald...not so much in that Erkel show...