What Francona Does and Doesn’t Bring to the Tribe
After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at the how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here.
By Mike Brandyberry
Saturday evening, the Cleveland Indians announced they named Terry Francona the 42nd manager in franchise history. While fans are excited to see the organization find a leader with a proven track record, they should be careful of assuming what the managerial signing signifies.
Francona has managed 12 season in the Major Leagues — four with the Philadelphia Philllies from 1997 to 2000 and eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox from 2004 to 2011. While in Boston, Francona won two World Series, including snapping an 86-year championship drought. Certainly he’ll bring a veteran leadership, presence and winning attitude to a clubhouse that currently has very little after two straight second half slumps that took the Indians out of contention.
Francona’s interest in the job is built largely on his relationship with Team President Mark Shapiro and General Manager Chris Antonetti, who he met 11 years ago after he was fired as manager in Philadelphia. Shapiro hired Francona as a special assistant to the Indians in 2001.
“I had just been let go by the Philadelphia Phillies, and your self esteem takes a hit,” Francona told Indians public relations during his interview on Friday. “I came here and I was trying to find my way back into things that were important to me. Mark Shapiro hired me, and through him I met Chris and we’ve had a relationship now for ten, eleven, going on twelve years.”
However, fans should not believe that Francona’s presence or prior relationship will force the hand of Shapiro or Antonetti to become active on the free agent market. Antonetti addressed that thought process directly during his end of the season press conference on Thursday.
“They’re not necessarily related,” Antonetti said. “I think we’re focused on getting the best manager for our team and organization moving forward. We don’t look at it as a short-term fit, but we’re looking for someone who will lead our organization for a while. I don’t view the two as interrelated.”
Instead, they may appreciate Francona’s trust in the front office to build a team through youth and development. Antonetti was clear to explain why Francona was so attractive to the organization.
“I think Terry is a very attractive candidate who not only has a demonstrated track record of winning with the two World Series and multiple playoff appearances,” Antonetti said. “But he also has done a very good job of developing players at the Major League level and transitioning some very good minor league prospects to major league players and in some cases superstars.”
Francona most likely is taking over a team headed for an overhaul, with the goal of acquiring starting pitching through trades. Despite Antonetti’s indications this week that the team would like to keep Shin-Soo Choo and Chris Perez in Cleveland, it might be necessary to move them to help acquire more pitching. Antonetti has been clear that the current configuration of players on the roster did not work and they would have to make changes moving forward.
“We need to do a better job of shaping our roster,” Antonetti said. “There were some decisions we made last year that didn’t turn out the way that we had hoped. We certainly need to reinvent our process that led to those decisions.”
Instead of ramping up a roster to try and compete in 2013, the Indians might be looking for Francona to develop young players into stars like Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana while waiting for young players acquired via trade in this upcoming winter to fit in. Francona could be asked to use 2013 as a developmental year toward competing in 2014 and 2015 when prospects Francisco Lindor and Jesus Aguilar might be able to contribute. Most managers receive a three-year deal, but it is believed Francona will sign a four-year contract, another indication that 2013 could be designed toward rebuilding.
What Francona will bring will be a new view and outlook to Antonetti’s and Shapiro’s process. Certainly the 12-year managerial veteran will have a say at the table when discussing the building of the roster moving forward, a much louder voice than former manager Manny Acta ever had or a young, inexperienced manager like Sandy Alomar would have had.
“We have to examine what’s transpired, not just this year, but where we are organizationally moving forward because the mix we had wasn’t working,” Antonetti said. “We need to figure out ways to be better.”
While Francona might bring a different view and voice to the front office and the clubhouse, he still has the same fundamental beliefs founded on statistical analysis. He won’t have fears of sharing his opinions with the Ivy League analysts of the Indians organization after spending eight seasons with Theo Epstein in Boston. Instead, Francona has a comfort and excitement of the building process with Antonetti and Shapiro due to their 12 years of friendship.
“My prior relationships with Chris and Mark, the fact that my dad played here, it’s a good story,” Francona said. “It’s almost a family feeling. I don’t think you can take a job because of that, but it still means a lot to me. But because of Chris and Mark and our relationship, I’m excited to tackle every challenge that comes our way and do it together.”
Francona’s relationship with Antonetti and Shapiro has created an excitement and challenge to build a team of his own, not the team he inherited in 2004 in Boston. That same relationship has probably created a trust to rebuild the slow and steady way through development, not the quick fix through free agency.
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