In Retrospect, Francona’s Hiring Makes Perfect Sense

While I was out – and while Terry Francona was working his magic – at some point in October, I was asked by someone who is neither a Cleveland native nor an Indians fan, “How did Francona end up in Cleveland?”

It’s a fair question. When Francona was hired in 2012, he was held in high esteem after two World Series wins with the Red Sox, but the Indians weren’t a plum job, far removed from their 2007 season when they were one win away from a trip to the World Series.

Manny Acta had been fired with six games left in an abysmal 2012 season (when he returned to Cleveland this year as a coach with the Mariners, he said, “Hey, if you’re going to get Tito, I’ll fire myself too). The only good part of the 2012 season was that the Indians hadn’t lost 100 games (just 94). They’d put together losing streaks of nine and eleven games, and their 5-24 record in August that year tied for the worst in team history.

Admittedly, Cleveland had the pull of home to Francona. His journeyman playing career included a stop with the Indians, and he spent a year there between managerial jobs in Philadelphia and Boston – a time he said was pivotal in shaping his own managerial philosophy. Terry’s father Tito was also a Major League player, and his longest stint with any one team was five years in Cleveland – the first five years of Terry Francona’s life.

But it wasn’t just the pull of home that brought Francona to Cleveland. He was working at ESPN, so he didn’t need another managing job. But the Indians job was appealing to him. “If we have the talent we think we have, then we’re going to be OK,” he said at his first Tribe Fest after being named manager.

Four years later, it’s obvious exactly what kind of talent the team does have – and what kind it had when he was hired. This year, the team traded for Brandon Guyer, Coco Crisp and Andrew Miller, all key acquisitions, and relied heavily on free agent signings Rajai Davis and Mike Napoli. But a lot of the team’s success came from homegrown talent – or at least those who were traded and then developed within the Indians system.

Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis were everyday players for the Indians in 2012, and their roles have only grown since. Michael Brantley was also an everyday player, and many Indians fans take consolation from the fact that the Indians were this good without him. Josh Tomlin and Zach McAllister were part of the starting rotation, and Corey Kluber was used in some spot starts that year. Cody Allen also appeared in 27 games for the Indians. Carlos Carrasco was recovering from Tommy John surgery and was out of commission for the entire 2012 season.

Danny Salazar was in Double-A Akron, and would make his major league debut in Francona’s first season as manager – a season that ended with an appearance in the Wild Card Game, with Salazar getting the nod as starting pitcher. Jose Ramirez also debuted in 2013 as a September callup.

The Indians’ first-round draft pick in 2012 was Tyler Naquin. Francisco Lindor was working his way through the minor leagues, and made an appearance at the MLB Futures Game during All-Star Weekend in 2012.

A month after the Indians announced Francona as manager, the team acquired Yan Gomes, along with Mike Aviles, in a trade from Toronto for Esmil Rogers. And a month after that, the Indians got Trevor Bauer (and Bryan Shaw) in the trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds.

With the benefit of hindsight, Francona’s hiring doesn’t look strange at all. As evidenced by this year’s postseason, there were enough pieces in place. All they needed was development by Francona’s steady hand.

Photo: Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters

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