Monday, October 1, 2012
Indians and Francona a good match
By Jim Bowden
Even as part of the media Terry Francona often has found himself back in the dugout.
Like so many former managers, Terry Francona’s preference is to be back in the dugout.
He spent this season in front of the TV camera, and there’s little doubt in my mind that if Francona chose to remain as a broadcaster he would be just as successful as he was as the manager of the Boston Red Sox. However, based on my conversations with him this year, I got the firm impression that if he had the right opportunity, he would return to managing.
That team would need to have two prerequisites:
1. A team with which he felt he could win in the near future
2. A front office with which he felt he could have a good working relationship
The Indians are planning to interview Francona this week for their managerial opening, and I expect him to be named their next manager during the first off day of the postseason. The two obstacles standing in the way appear to be the financial commitment to sign him and convincing Francona the Indians can contend within the next two seasons.
Francona, 53, brings to the table exactly what the Indians need. He's a proven winner, having been at the helm of two world championship Boston Red Sox teams (2004 and 2007). Francona also would bring much-needed credibility to the Indians’ front office.
Among Indians players, there are serious doubts in general manager Chris Antonetti’s ability to build a team, as well as ownership’s commitment to winning. Although reliever Chris Perez was the only player who has questioned the front office publicly, I get the sense that those same opinions and criticisms do permeate the Indians’ clubhouse. Hiring Francona would alleviate those doubts and offer a clear direction for the club.
Francona sits atop my managerial candidate board because he knows how to build a winner, and since he already had a good relationship with both Antonetti and Indians president Mark Shapiro, the trio should be able to right the ship this offseason. With some shrewd improvements to the starting rotation and a couple of inexpensive power bats, they could be contenders again as early as 2014.
Terry Francona's last contract was large for a manager, and it's unclear if Cleveland would pay that much for a skipper.
$4,250,000 (club option declined)
$4,500,000 (club option declined)
As far as salary is concerned, there are many in the game who question whether the Dolan family will pony up the three-year, $11.25 million contract Francona had with the Red Sox (see table). The fact is a deal in the range of three years and $9 million probably gets it done. The Indians’ front office can do this by simply allocating to Francona the $5 million annual salary they keep paying an ever-injured Grady Sizemore to sit on the disabled list, or the ill-advised $5 million they gave a declining Derek Lowe. That would be money better spent.
In the event the Indians do not land Francona, there are several other candidates Cleveland could consider, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago. This includes their own bench coach, Sandy Alomar Jr., a real class act and baseball lifer who definitely deserves an opportunity at some point.
However, this is the wrong time and place for Antonetti to take a chance or gamble on an unproven manager. He needs a sure thing to keep his own job, and the Indians need to hire the best available, given the lack of trust from the Indians’ fan base.
If Francona is not available to the Indians, it will mean a better opportunity for him has arisen, perhaps with an organization that has a better team and more financial power. After Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno gave Mike Scioscia a guarantee he would be back in 2013, one opportunity quickly dissolved.
Is there a better landing spot for Francona than Cleveland?
Not really. In the AL East, Francona knows Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon, Buck Showalter and John Farrell are all safe in their jobs, and the Red Sox won’t be inviting him back anytime soon. In the AL Central, despite vocal public criticism of Jim Leyland, he should be back in Detroit. Robin Ventura should be in Chicago for a long time, while Ned Yost and Ron Gardenhire are going nowhere -- at least this offseason. In the AL West, Ron Washington's, Bob Melvin's and Eric Wedge's jobs are as safe as Scioscia's.
In the NL, Davey Johnson, Fredi Gonzalez, Charlie Manuel and Terry Collins are all safe, but Ozzie Guillen could soon be fired. Based on the Miami Marlins’ frenetic history of managerial turnover, however, Francona would likely choose the Indians over the Marlins. In the NL Central and West, there won’t be any turnover beyond what the Houston Astros have already done.
Bottom line, considering the job security of these managers and the subsequent dearth of openings, it might not be until next June when another opening comes along that's as inviting for Francona as the Indians’ job. And the Indians need the help now.
In 1993, I was making a managerial change after I oversaw a lousy team in Cincinnati, similar to this year’s Cleveland squad. I brought in a proven winner in Davey Johnson who had won 90 games five times, including a World Series title with the New York Mets. Due to his leadership and ability to help build winning teams, we ended up finishing first in 1994 and 1995.
Of course, our pitching and lineup also became much better, and Johnson had a heavy hand in that. He worked with the front office in every aspect of turning around that Reds team. His ability to cooperate with the front office was a difference maker.
I can envision Francona -- the ultimate team player -- having that type of impact with the Tribe. It’s the best available opportunity for him and a no-brainer for Cleveland.