On Tuesday, new Indians manager Terry Francona stopped by ESPN.com for an online chat with Cleveland and Boston fans. The full transcript is well worth a read, but there were a few specific questions evoked answers that offered interesting insights into how Francona will manage the Tribe. Here’s a breakdown of the highlights:
Matt T (Boston): Was it really difficult to manage the players with huge personalities or outspokenness like Pedro, Manny, and Schilling? And how are they different from the players you have a good relationship like Dustin or Alex Cora?
Terry Francona (11:01 AM): Just because guys have big personalities doesn’t mean they’re hard to manage. As a manager, your obligation is to try to communicate with everybody on the team — not just young, or old, or quiet, or loud — everybody.
This isn’t a particularly controversial answer (what, did you expect him to badmouth his former players?) but it is an interesting one. Just yesterday, Jason wondered how a young clubhouse that famously banded together in 2011 but seemed to lose focus in the second half of 2012 would be affected by both the positive influence of Nick Swisher and the potential personality clashes that might arise from recent acquisitions Trevor Bauer and Brett Myers; Francona seems like he has a good handle on the situation.
Bill (Weymouth, MA): (…) how do you feel about the Tribe this year? One guy they have who I always liked was was Ubaldo Jimenez. I remember as a rookie he pitched against the Sox and you in the World Series. He has some pretty nast stuff.
Terry Francona (11:02 AM): I agree — one of our challenges is to get Ubaldo back to the form he showed prior to 2012. (…)
I suppose it was obvious from the fact that the Indians picked up his 2013 option, but now we have it straight from the horse’s mouth: the Indians still believe Ubaldo Jimenez has what it takes to be an effective MLB starter. Presumably this means he won’t be traded or moved to the bullpen, as has been advocated on this site.
John (Los Angeles): Terry, I was suprised to hear from some baseball people sharing their memories of Earl Weaver that he did not like to bunt (did not want to give up the out). What are your thoughts on bunting and its importance in both the AL and NL.
Terry Francona (11:05 AM): I thought Earl Weaver was really ahead of his time. You only get 27 outs in a game, and giving away outs is not something managers like to do. When you bunt, you’re usually telling the whole world that you only want to score one run — which is how much you end up scoring. Early in the game, you generally want to score more.
This question isn’t strictly relevant to the Indians, but boy is it nice to hear Francona say this. For all of Manny Acta‘s tactical missteps he actually wasn’t big on bunting (Cleveland’s 17 sacrifices in 2012 ranked last in baseball), but this answer should get Tribe fans excited about having a superior strategist in the dugout.
Gregg (Santa Rosa, CA): Paisan! Congrats on the new opportunity in Cleveland. What do you see with Justin Masterson this year? I was a little baffled by his regression last year. Any changes to his training regimen this off season?
Terry Francona (11:09 AM): It wasn’t so much his regimen — he had a shoulder injury on his non-throwing shoulder that nagged at him more than he ever let on. Because of my history with him in Boston, I’m betting on the person. He’s ready to go and we’re excited to build our rotation around him.
Well this is interesting. This nagging injury explains a lot about Masterson’s 2012 struggles. Just the identification of the problem that Francona says is now resolved should give Indians fans some confidence that they will see him return to ace-like form in 2013.
RyanC (Cleveland): Hey Tito, thrilled you’re on board. Is Trevor Bauer’s spot in the rotation out of Spring Training his to lose, or would he really have to impress in Arizona?
Terry Francona (11:13 AM): What we’re trying to do with all our young pitchers is to have them try to succeed and earn their spot. We want them to knock the door down and claim it by the way they pitch, as opposed to just giving it to them.
This too is good to hear—the Indians have quite a few rotation options for 2013, so it doesn’t make sense to guarantee a spot to anyone who hasn’t already earned it. However, Francona here implies that there will be a possible open starting spot come Opening Day, which doesn’t quite add up. Brett Myers and Zach McAllister are presumably guaranteed rotation spots, and Francona has offered votes of confidence for Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and (elsewhere) Carlos Carrasco. That makes five. Is there really room for Bauer (or another young pitcher) to break through?
Terry Francona (11:14 AM): We want Lonnie Chisenhall to get the majority of ABs at third. He’s young and talented, and injuries derailed him last year, but we want him to lay claim to that position. Mike Aviles can help at a number of different positions, but we want Lonnie to take charge there.
Not really a surprise here, but it’s nice to hear that Chisenhall has Francona’s confidence. A safe starting job and some higher-profile teammates to take the spotlight could be just what he needs to have a breakout year.
Alan Bonneau (Nashua): How do you plan to bring back success to Cleveland like you did with the Red Sox. By the way, thank you for all your hard work for the Red Sox.
Terry Francona (11:13 AM): It’s not a one-man show. I’ll spend all my energy making sure that these players spend all their energy playing the game right, respecting the game, and making Indians fans proud. If we do that, I think we’re on the way.
Again, this is kind of a softball question, but it’s nice to hear Francona’s humility. Despite what you might hear on ESPN, a manager really isn’t as important as an ace pitcher or a starting shortstop. Francona isn’t the star of this team, and while you wouldn’t expect him to say he was it’s reassuring that he acknowledged that he isn’t.
In short, this was a fun look inside the mind of the Indians’ new manager in his approach to working with his new team and in thinking about baseball in general. If nothing else, it got me excited about the 2013 season and the rest of Francona’s tenure in Cleveland.