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Tribe Happenings: Francona brings leadership, credibility

Tribe Happenings: Francona brings leadership, credibility
October 7, 2012
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Francona is the one

It's common knowledge now that the Cleveland Indians have hired former Red Sox manager, Terry Francona, to be their 42nd manager. It appears to have been as easy a process as a team has ever gone through with regards to choosing a manager, as both Alomar and Francona clearly wanted the position. While the Indians' front office likely vetted some secondary managerial candidates, Francona and Alomar were the only candidates to be formally interviewed and were the only primary candidates.

Alomar, 46, was interviewed on Thursday and spent the day talking to the Indians’ front office as well as the scouting and player development departments. Tribe fans know him well as the former backbone to those great teams of the 90s. He was a  player that came with a lot of hype as a young hotshot prospect in the Joe Carter deal and lived up to those expectations winning the Rookie of the Year award and a Gold Glove and made the All Star team in 1990.  Injuries plagued his career from 1991-1995, but he was always a rock for the team. In 1997 he bounced back and had a memorable season with a 30-game hitting streak and career year at the plate, an All Star game winning homer at what was then called Jacobs Field, and a memorable homer off Mariano Rivero to tie Game Four of the Division Series that allowed them to come back and win that game in walkoff fashion and then come back the next day and win the series.

Francona, 53, was interviewed on Friday and also spent the day talking with various members of the front office and scouting and player development departments. Some fans know him as a former player with the Indians in 1988 when he made a 62 game pit stop in Cleveland. Some fans also know him as the son of former Indians’ fan favorite Tito Francona who played six seasons with the Indians from 1959-1964, the best years by far of his 15 year Major League career. But most fans know him as the former Boston Red Sox manager from 2004-2011 who won two World Series’ in his eight seasons there and who helped break the Curse of the Bambino.

You have to wonder if there really was a decision to be made. Chris Antonetti fired Manny Acta on September 27th, and his first order of business was to call Francona to see if he was interested in the position. With Antonetti in the crosshairs, he needed to make a splash. While Sandy Alomar Jr. would be good PR, Terry Francona would start the silly season with a splash, and give the Indians a certain sort of credibility that they haven't had.

The Indians really couldn't go wrong as both really were worthy of the job, but the two candidates offered two different outlooks for the organization.  If the Indians hired Alomar, he would have probably been more of a long term selection as he would have been more receptive and patient to a potential rebuild down the road.  In hiring Francona, the Indians seem to be looking at a short term selection to infuse some excitement into the organization and build some momentum toward a successful offseason and get back on track in 2013 and 2014.

The feeling I had from the start was that Francona was going to be the guy, as he made it fairly clear that he is open to a plan that would involve star players being dealt for prospects down the road. I see no way the Indians could pass on him as the next manager of the Indians. At the end of the day, he is more qualified than Alomar due to his experience and recent success, and there still is a chance that Alomar could be retained as a bench coach and have something worked into his contract where he is the eventual successor to Francona down the road. I could see a scenario in which Francona moves up into the front office in the near future, and Alomar taking over the manager's role in his place.

Alomar has reportedly already been offered the bench coach role on Francona's staff, so there is a good chance he could be retained. Due to his minority status, Alomar will likely get a lot of interviews for managerial openings this offseason since all teams are required to interview at least one minority managerial candidate, but if he does not land a manager job with another team I expect him to accept that bench coach role with the Indians.

I welcome Francona as the next manager of the Indians and think it is a fabulous choice. Alomar would certainly have been a much needed PR boost to the team, but Francona is on a different level since he is deemed a big name manager. And let’s be real, any PR boost they get would just be a short shot of adrenaline as 10-20 games into next season whatever boost they got will be gone.

Francona provides the Indians much needed leadership and credibility, something that did not happen under Acta’s tenure. He also comes in with a great rapport with GM Chris Antonetti having worked directly with him in 2001 as a special assistant to former GM John Hart. It is very important that the GM and manager have a good working relationship and that a new manager knows the situation he is coming into, and there is no doubt that Francona knows exactly what he is getting himself into and what kind of people he will have to work with on a daily basis.

The hiring of Francona provides a big boast to the organization.  Not just from a public relations perspective, but around the league as it sends a message that they want to win and win now. He was a key figure in leading the Red Sox past their long championship drought; let’s hope he can do the same in Cleveland.

Welcome Terry Francona to the Cleveland Indians.

Ready for change? Or in denial?

The offseason is finally here.

After two brutal months which felt like a year where the Indians went from on the fringe of contention to league doormat at the snap of a finger, the Indians now finally get a chance to respond to their critics and make amends for what was a very bad season on many levels up and down the organization.

The hope going into the offseason is that the Indians have recognized their mistakes and will adopt change. Not a complete reboot with their way of operating and the philosophy behind their decision-making process, but a renewed approach where they attack things in a similar way but take a much more aggressive approach and assume more risk in anything they do.

But will the Indians really adopt significant changes to their strategy with building a Major League roster?  Or, are they in denial about what happened this season? A week ago I may have felt the former, but after this week I am starting to wonder a little about the latter.

Why the sudden uneasiness about things?

Well, listening to countless Indians’ personnel like President Mark Shapiro, General Manager Chris Antonetti, and Senior Vice President of Public Affairs Bob DiBiasio speak this week on TV, the radio and in press conferences, I heard some things that are concerning.

The Indians acknowledge that they know things did not go well this season and that their decisions with the roster did not work out. But beyond that, I do not sense sincere accountability when they were asked numerous point blank questions this week about what went wrong. I did not hear a strong message that they will make a significant change to their decision-making process, and instead the reply was more excuse driven about how players did not play up to their expected potential or that if not for a historically bad August things would not have been so bad.

This is dangerous territory as the Indians in previous seasons have always turned to excuses to explain their shortcomings with the roster. We have heard it the past few years that significant injuries to the roster or players not playing to their perceived potential affected the outcomes of their season, but injuries are part of the game and maybe the Indians are overestimating their players’ potential.

The one comment that really struck a chord with me this week was the one where Antonetti and DiBiasio both made it a point to mention that the Indians have been in first place more days than any team in the AL Central over the past two seasons.  They spent 135 days in first place to be exact; 40 this season and 95 last season.

Yet, in both seasons, they finished 15 or more games out of first. A lot of those days in first place occurred in the first half of each season as June 23rd was the last day the Indians spent in first this season and July 20th was the last day they were in first place last season. At no time in the last two months of this season or last season were they in first place.

This is just another example of how stats and wins-losses can be manipulated to make you look better or worse than you really are. Yet, Antonetti mentioned this stat as a big reason why there is hope going forward and how it shows “there is something here”. I agree with him that something is here, but not because of this stat which to me is nothing more than spin. I mean, look, the Oakland Athletics were in first place all of one day this season, the only day that mattered.

Let’s be fair here though. The Indians have acknowledged that they made mistakes; however, they are not going to admit every mistake they have made. To do so would show incompetence in their jobs, so they of course are going to try and spin things in a more positive direction. In the same vein they are not going to dramatically shift their way of thinking and the way they go about things in a span of weeks or months. If change is going to happen it is going to take time.

Antonetti will never be a great interview. I know his sterile approach bothers a lot of people because he says so little when he speaks, something he does by design. This is much different from Shapiro who a little more passionate when he speaks and at times is more candid with his responses. That is something I always liked about him, and why I have been and always will be a fan of his.

Bottom line, Antonetti is who he is and he has his own style as a general manager, so any changes to the way he goes about things will take some time. Hopefully those changes come a little quicker than expected so the Indians can get things righted this offseason. And while they are maybe too stubborn to admit more failure than they already have, maybe they have done so privately behind closed doors and already have plans for a change to their process this offseason.

No matter what changes the Indians adopt to their approach to building their roster, they are not going to suddenly become major players in free agency for the top players. If you are expecting that you are not being realistic.  But where they can shift their way of thinking is being more aggressive on those mid-level free agents that get those two to three year contracts and $5-10 million per season. This is what they have mostly avoided in the past (sans the Kerry Wood contract).

Hopefully they have already started to adopt change in with their process and have determined why they wouldn’t give someone lie Josh Willingham a third year, or why they signed the likes of Johnny Damon, Casey Kotchman and others when maybe they already had just as good in-house options.  That’s what needs to change.

I actually do believe the Indians when they say that things are not as bad as they appear.  They do have a good core to build around for next season, and if they have a productive offseason where they are aggressive in finding two solid bats for left field and first base along with two middle of the rotation starters, then they could be in business in 2013.

But that’s a tough road to hoe for a team that at most makes one or two noteworthy offseason additions, not four or five. So are they truly receptive to change and willing to admit their failures so they can get things fixed right now? Or, will they be in denial and approach the offseason much like they have in the past?

We are going to find out over the next three months.

Infield Flying

There has been a lot of discussion over the past 24 hours about the infield fly call on Friday night in Atlanta that had a significant effect in the outcome of the Braves-Cardinals game.

To reset the situation, the Braves had runners on first and second with one out in the eighth inning and were down 6-3. The batter sent a short fly ball to shallow left field that the shortstop went back on and then he pulled off and let it drop since he thought the left fielder was going to catch it. The runners on first and second easily moved up a base and there would have been bases loaded with one out. But the left field umpire called an infield fly on the play, which means the batter was automatically out.

This was one of the worst calls I have ever seen in a baseball game. A lot of the attention has been made on the timing of the call as the rule book says it should be immediately called by the umpire. If you watch the reply, he calls it after the ball has been in the air for almost six seconds and the call is made a half second before the ball hits the ground. But, whether it was called early or late effects nothing on the play as the batter is out and the runners advance at their own risk. Why the national media and all the TV people are so hung up on this I do not understand.

The purpose of the infield fly rule is to benefit the runners so that the infielder can’t deceive them. As an example, if there is a pop up to shortstop in the infield the runners cannot get a normal secondary lead and have to stay on the base or within a few feet of it. If there were no infield fly rule, then the shortstop could easily let that short pop up in the infield hit the ground, pick it up and fire it to third for an out, and then the third baseman could fire it to second for an easy double play. That is a big reason for the infield fly rule, to protect the runners and avoid infielders deceiving them for an easy double play.

But here is the real issue from Friday night’s game which has been glossed over. The fly ball was nowhere close to the infield as it actually was a third of the way into the outfield. It was more a routine play for the left fielder than it was the shortstop.

On that play shortstop in no way could have gained an advantage by letting the ball drop to deceive the runners because the runner at second base had a good secondary lead halfway between second and third and the runner at first had a good secondary lead halfway between first and second. As soon as the ball hit, both runners easily made it to third and second base, so there was no advantage for the fielder, and hence why no infield fly should have been called.

It was just a brutal call, one that I am surprised in the aftermath of the call so many people are concentrating on the wrong thing to be critical about it.

Worst season in years

I am usually very sad when baseball season ends. Over the years - whether the Indians were good or bad - I have always been sad to see the end of the Indians’ season because they become so much a part of your day to day activities over the course of their six month season.

But I have to admit when Wednesday’s season finale came and went I was happy to see it end. The season had gotten so out of control and they had sunk so low and people had become so disinterested with them that I wanted it to come to a merciful end. And it did.

I have been following Indians baseball very closely for 30 years, and since my first real season in 1982 following the team, this season ranks right up there as one of the most disappointing.  Yes, they had worse seasons like in 1991 when they went 57-105, but those were seasons when they had little hope and were not expected to win or contend like they were this season.

Probably the only other season as disappointing was the 1987 season, the year when they were coming off the breakout 1986 season when they won 84 games and going into the 1987 season were picked by Sports Illustrated as the best team in the American League and promptly lost 101 games. Remember this famous photo?

So, where does this season rank for you?

I’m always more of a glass half full guy when it comes to the Indians and baseball in general, but over the past two months while the Indians struggled through one of the franchise’s worst finishes, I have often found myself being very negative and critical of things surrounding the team on and off the field (and rightfully so). So now that the season is done and the offseason is finally here, I look forward to (hopefully) better times and a more positive tone with my writings about this team.

I believe in some of the talent in place and a lot of the talent on the horizon, so like all of you I am going to sit back with a lot of curiosity and excitement to see what they do this offseason. Like all of you, I don’t want to endure another season like this for a long time.

Parting shots

Former Indians slugger Albert Belle has supposedly thrown his hat into the ring as a candidate to be the next Indians’ manager. You have to admire how much he wants to be a part of the Indians of late – be it lip service or not – but the Indians are not seriously considering him as their next manager. … The Indians finished the season with the fifth worst record in Major League Baseball and as a result have been awarded the #5 pick in next year’s June MLB Draft. They will pick fifth overall in each round. Also, since it is a top ten pick, their first round pick is protected and they would not lose it if they signed a top free agent.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

October 7, 2012 - 11:11 PM EDT
Rich, if the pick is unprotected (used to be a pick after 15th I think) then a team loses that 1st rounder when signing a Type A free agent when under the old rules. I don't know 100% all the ins and outs of it with the changes, but the new rules have the Top 10 picks as protected picks meaning if the Indians sign a top FA then the team that loses a player only gets comp pick(s) and the Indians dont lose their pick.
October 7, 2012 - 10:34 PM EDT
I agree that this season is among the most gut-wrenching since '87. It's also why the Francona signing is likewise such a fresh breath of hope.

Think about it. After '87 we had the 'Bavasi Haircut' - when the team was gutted to transition to the new ownership that gave us a golden era - in what - 6+ years?

T. Fran is just as big a deal. The Dolons deserve credit for recognizing so and stepping up.

The first thing I hope to see is minority ownership coming on board and lifting the club cash infusion wise - another area where this kind of high profile winner makes all the difference. (Not just free agency wise - or quality of coaches willing to sign on)

I don't want to be a harpy when commenting - but reviving season ticket holders is key to this franchise rebounding. Fans who angrily complain 'a good product'...and they will come...argument are missing the economics.

A small market club - with a small market media market to boot - CANNOT remain last or near the bottom @ the gate and build a winner - Unless folks like the Rays menthod - which means 10+ yrs of basement Ball to accumulate high picks - and then a genius GM cashing in 90% of the time.

I can't wait for Goodyear. Totally on board as a Franco-phile!

October 7, 2012 - 2:55 PM EDT
While my heart was with Sandy, signing Francona is a coup. He is a person of relevance, and right now, Antonetti and Shapiro need that. I cannot believe he would have taken the job if he didn't have input in to any signings, trades etc. This team now needs to attain credibility before it will win. Unless they sign a number of free agents for big bucks, this will remain a building project for the next 2-3 years. They need to insure they do the right things and limit their mistakes. I hope Sandy stays on, as he would be a good complement for Francona. If he does, the team already is off to a good start. Let's hope they don't throw a shoe before next spring. It will be reeeeeal interesting what happens to Hafner,Ubaldo,Fausto and Grady in the off season. There is a lot of payroll to be had there, if all are cut loose or re-signed at more manageable levels of pay. And also Perez, Choo and Cabrera. Oh boy, things are heating up early for the Tribe. This could be a fun off season !!!!
October 7, 2012 - 1:49 PM EDT
Can't really disagree with them on pikcing Francona. The "credibility" aspect is big. I wonder whether David Ortiz would now be someone they could go after.

Ortiz and and one of Upton, Pagan, Cody Ross, or Victorino would be some real nice additions. How would a lineup of Choo, Upton, Santana, Ortiz, Cabrera, Kipnis, Brantley, Chisenhall, Marson look? They can afford it.
October 7, 2012 - 12:07 PM EDT
Tony, what do you mean that the Indians wouldn't lose their 2013 first round pick if they signed a top free agent? I thought teams just got compensatory picks when losing a top tier free agent instead of getting the signing team's top pick.
October 7, 2012 - 11:31 AM EDT
I remember going like 10-1 or 11-1 the opening two weeks of the 2002 season. Bartolo Colon and CC were on the cover of baseball weekly. That was not the worst season, but that SI cover made me think of that. Im young still, so I can only speak in the perspective of the last 10 years, but this year probably tops the list for the worst. 2002-2004 was pretty ugly (who remembers Chris McGruder?), but the players we had acquired in trades and even our own guys (Victor and Peralta) were performing well in the minors and our rebuilding process seamed to be coming alive. This year, we entered the season with holes, and finished the season with the same holes along with massive holes created during the year by our pitching staff. We have no rebuilding process set up to fix these holes. This is our time to win, and we may not have a single MLB starter or a player capable of hitting more than 22 home runs.

I hope Francona is serious when he says he is up for any challenge.
October 7, 2012 - 12:50 AM EDT
Baseball is a gentleman's game though non-gentlemen (Ty Cobb for example) have always scoffed at that principle.
Infield Fly is a necessary rule that has never been formally defined as well as it should be.
We are just supposed to accept the call as it is made.
The NFL scrutinizes every rule every year and constantly tinkers, but MLB prides itself on tradition & resists change.
Tony, I've been following every Indians team & player since I was a little kid in 1957, I've played, coached, & umpired, and I've always been unsure of that rule.
Baseball needs to refine it, clarify it, and publish it.
The umpire was not to blame in my opinion.

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