Wow…..Wow….Wow. I still can’t believe it.
The day the Indians decided to fire Manny Acta as their skipper, the first non-Sandy Alomar-name floated out there was Terry Francona. When I saw it, I laughed. In fact, I scoffed at it to the point of being insulted by it being made public. Here were my exact quotes just over a week ago:
Save your Terry Francona pipe dreams. The guy isn’t coming here. He can sit back and wait for the right job and get paid in excess of $5 million to do so. Why would he come here to manage this train wreck under the current ownership?
Now, we have the reasons why. Straight from the horses mouth – “”Relationships,” Francona said. “(Mark) Shapiro and (Chris) Antonetti were reasons #1 and #2.”
While picking, choosing, and trading for players has not exactly been Antonetti’s strong suit, you have to give both he and Shapiro big marks for pulling off this coup. And make no mistake people, this is a serious coup. When asked by my mom, a lifelong diehard Browns and NFL fan how big of a move this was, I said she could equate this to the Browns going from Pat Shurmur to Bill Cowher. It is an instant credibility grab that is universally praised and will bring so much to an organization that is in dire need of a shot in the arm.
You all know Francona’s pedigree – he won two World Series in a span of four seasons in a town that hadn’t won one in 86 years. He is a brilliant baseball mind and a players manager who has about as sterling a reputation as you will find in a skipper. Name me the last time in this history of this city that one of our teams brought in a head coach/manager with this kind of juice? You can’t.
As much as everyone like Acta personally, he had lost the team and now that he is gone, the whispers of his lack of communication with his players have gotten louder. This young group needed a strong voice that commands respect. They now have it in Francona.
The best quotes I saw this morning were from ardent Francona supporter and former player Curt Schilling, who spoke with the Plain Dealer’s Dennis Manolloff:
“I always argue that, as a manager in the big leagues these days, it’s not so much about the X’s and O’s,” Schilling said. “The days of strictly being a great strategist are over. It’s about being a teacher, a friend, a mentor, a parent, a counselor, a psychologist. You’ve got to wear about 30 hats, and your players must trust you.
“Players trust Tito. And they’ll trust him in Cleveland not just because of the resume, not just because of the rings, but also because of Terry Francona the person. That’s not to say Tito won’t get mad at you, but he won’t do it publicly. You’re not going to hear of issues he’s having with players aired in the media. As a big-league manager, you want your players to take a bullet for you — not fire the gun.”
You think Chris Perez is going to pull that junk with Francona at the helm?
Again, I could not be happier with this move. Hiring Francona has to be a signal to the shrinking Indians fan base that they are committed to winning right now. This doesn’t mean they are going to be adding a bunch of payroll, but I can’t imagine Francona taking this job if he thought the organization was headed into the tank. It also shouldn’t be lost on anyone that having a two-time World Series champion manager could help attract mid-level payroll free agents that would normally skip over considering the Indians. I know that sounds ridiculous, but you know who was one of these players last winter? Josh Willingham.
While this is all well and good and it actually gives us some positives to talk about (which we haven’t been able to do since late July), there are still some serious challenges ahead. I love Francona, but he doesn’t come with three starting pitchers, a first baseman, a left fielder, and a DH. He can’t pitch for this team. Antonetti still has a ton of work to do shaping this roster and I still have serious doubts about his ability to do so. There are no top tier prospects above A ball. The pitching is bereft of an ace or anyone above a number three starter (which I consider Justin Masterson after his uneven 2012 season). If the Oakland A’s success has taught us anything over the past few months, its that you can’t win without quality starting pitching in a market like ours.
The 2005 and 2007 Indians – the best two Cleveland teams of the past decade – had quality rotations and deep bullpens. The ’05 Tribe had five guys make at least 30 starts (CC Sabathia, Kevin Millwood, Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook, Scott Elarton). The ’07 Tribe had twin 19 games winners (Sabathia and Fausto Carmona), backed up by two wily veterans (Westbrook and Paul Byrd).
It doesn’t matter who is managing the team, it is on Antonetti to put together a rotation that resembles either of those two, or else the Indians won’t contend. It is that simple.
At least this gives Indians fans so hope, something to get behind and excited about. Lord knows we deserve some of that.
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)