After an exhaustive search that included almost a whole week of interviews and nearly three different candidates the Cleveland Indians settled their search for Manny Acta’s replacement this weekend, installing Terry Francona as manager with a four-year deal.
Francona beat out the interim manager, Sandy Alomar, and you can’t help but feel bad for Sandy. He keeps getting interviewed but he never is able to get the gig. He seems like a good dude and will surely get his shot sooner rather than later. But this is about the Tribe’s new warchief.
As many have said, nobody shows up to the park to see the manager, but there’s a vibe that Francona gives off, along with a pedigree. The Indians just seemed to give up at some point this year and even after Acta reportedly lit into them in mid-August, nothing happened. They were already buried but they didn’t make any real return to where they’d been really until Manny was gone.
That’s where Francona comes in. He’s a future Hall of Famer. He’s the guy who came from down 0-3 to beat the Yankees. He’s the one who led a team of scrappy goons to the Red Sox first title in 86 years. Plus, he was really good on ESPN—charisma is a huge piece of this job.
We know that the manager is rarely the driving force behind a team’s success. Sure, Bob Melvin has to do some strenuous platooning out in Oakland and Buck Showalter’s ulceric powers have carried the Orioles to the playoffs, but it’s the players making the plays, getting the hits, and scoring the runs. The manager does his best to put a team in a position to succeed, and keep the heads on straight. (Acta, by and large, didn’t put the best team on the field.)
With Indians being built the way they are, the manager’s job is to get the guys who have to produce, to produce. I’ll say this now: the Tribe will finish over .500 in 2013 simply because there will be consistent production out of the DH slot with Hafner gone, a manager that’s comfortable with analytical front office people and a more settled outfield, among other things.
If the Indians had had Francona this year, who’s to say what would have happened? Perhaps he would have realized never to use Jose Lopez, ever, or maybe he would have not had the mysterious grudge Acta seemed to have against Matt LaPorta. But the thing that really killed this team was the pitching, and it’s hard to see how that would change any. Ubaldo Jimenez would still be his same self regardless and Justin Masterson would still struggle against left-handed hitting.
The biggest thing we can hang hope on with Tito is that outside of Manny Ramirez, he didn’t really win any of those World Series with a ton of free agent might. Alright, so Curt Schilling was pretty key, and Pedro Martinez was a monster for years in Boston, and that makes up ⅖ of a rotation, which the Indians don’t have. (They also need a legitimate first baseman, some kind of actual power production in the outfield outside of Shin-Soo Choo, and for Lonnie Chisenhall to fulfill his promise.) But if there’s one thing Francona did well in Boston it’s work with young talents and turn them into All-Stars.
Francona’s is a name players respect, so is it really a stretch to believe his presence would be a tipping point for free agents on the market? Had he been in Cleveland when Josh Willingham was on the market, that 35 homers he hit might have been for the Indians. That doesn’t mean he’ll convince Josh Hamilton to sign, but a legitimate bat like Melky Cabrera is a possibility (he’d have something to prove with a one-year deal, and he’s still good). Maybe Ryan Ludwick, or Brandon McCarthy, or some other studly pitcher.
A commanding presence in the clubhouse, an attraction for free agents, and an ability to get the most out of his young players—this is what having a successful manager can give us. It’s that time for dreaming, Tribe fans, and right now Terry Francona is our sandman.