The 2013 off-season ushered in a new chapter of Cleveland Indians baseball. The 2012 season had ended with the firing of Manny Acta, a paltry, losing record, and Sandy Alomar Jr. closing the season as interim manager. If one thing was clear, it was that something drastic had to be done to keep the team relevant, exciting, and, above all, to get them to win.
Cue Terry Francona.
Fracona’s managerial hire in the 2013 off-season was not a small movement by the Cleveland ball club. Francona had two of World Series to his name and had spent the most talked-about portion of his career as the manager for the Boston Red Sox. He was a name well-known in the industry, and the fact that he was coming to Cleveland suddenly put the Indians on the baseball map.
More so, though, was the fact that Francona seemed excited about Cleveland. Managing the Indians seemed to be so much more than a move to an open managerial spot; for Francona, becoming part of the Cleveland Indians organization seemed to be what he wanted.
He revitalized the club. In 2013, he brought an energy and an excitement to the team that had hardly been seen in previous seasons. The team had fun. Fans will remember the Harlem Shake video Francona and his players did during 2013’s Spring Training and the costumes that the team wore on the field during slumps. The atmosphere was relaxed and inviting, and Francona played a large, if not the entire, part in that.
Beyond the atmosphere, Francona also brought a winning record to the team as they made it as far as the Wild Card game in the 2013 season. Yes, they disappointingly lost to the Rays, but that was after they pulled out a 10 game winning streak and made themselves one of the most talked-about teams in the game.
It was hard to be disappointed with Francona’s first season as an Indian.
He replicated the winning record in 2014, though he had a noticeably different roster and had to deal with injuries and subpar seasons of a number of players; it made the terrain of 2014 much rougher than the previous season. Because of the challenging lineup and roster options Francona had to use, it could be argued that his managerial job was actually better in 2014, despite not sending the team into the postseason.
Whatever the argument, if Francona was better in 2013 or 2014, one thing stands true: he is an asset for the Indians that they do not want to part with any time soon.
On Tuesday, the Indians announced that they had extended Francona’s contract with the club through 2018, with club options for 2019 and 2020. Cleveland has Francona until the end of the decade, which gives him more than enough time to show the city what he can truly do for this team.
Luckily for Francona, the Indians have a crop of young talent just waiting to burst onto the field. He has a slew of youngsters to bring up and shape into the new face of Cleveland baseball, though also has a pull with veterans around the league.
The name “Francona” holds power in the baseball world, which makes Cleveland that much more of a sought-after place for players looking for a new club to join. Just as Nick Swisher hopped on the Indians train after the Francona signing in the 2013 off-season, other players may similarly follow suit. The trust that the organization shows in Francona is appealing to veteran players who know the reputation he carries. If the Indians organization wants to keep him, they must understand his value — meaning they would understand the value of other veterans of that sort of caliber.
Further, the trust that the organization has in the Francona and their eagerness to keep him mimics the trust and faith Francona himself has in his players. During the past two seasons, Francona has left pitchers in during tough moments (Danny Salazar pitching to Miguel Cabrera during the game in 2013 in which Salazar struck Cabrera out three times before Cabrera homered during his fourth at-bat, given pitchers like Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin the chance to throw complete games) and has not spoken ill of any player who has had a rough or lackluster season. He defends his players on the field when necessary. His complete faith in players makes him manager that players want to play for; they know they will not have to worry about being thrown under the bus for any reason.
But, moreover, Francona’s reaction to the extension shows that Cleveland is exactly where he wants to be. And that, more than anything, is what Cleveland and the Indians needs — a manager who wants to be there and wants to be part of the team he’s now with just as much as the team wants him there. The Francona extension positions the Indians to continue moving forward with their winning records, strong atmosphere of support, and a want from all sides to have Francona as part of the organization for the extended future.
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