Terry Francona has renewed my patience with the Cleveland Indians

Terry Francona, Chris Antonetti

Terry Francona, Chris AntonettiI find myself in a peculiar position this baseball off-season. As opposed to other years, I find myself feeling very patient with the Cleveland Indians. Consider that this has been most of the Indians news-cycle so far this winter.

The Indians lose Joe Smith to the L.A. Angels? Alright. The Indians lose Scott Kazmir to a two-year deal in Oakland? O.K. Winter meetings come and go without anything but some anecdotes about Chris Perez personal P.R. meetings with teams? Fine by me. The Indians have been really quiet, and this year, that’s just fine by me. It’s a new credibility for the Indians bolstered by a playoff appearance and most importantly their second-year manager Terry Francona.

The Indians have made some moves, of course. This week they signed John Axford to a deal that seemed pretty palatable to most fans I interact with. Maybe the brain-washing that Jon has been executing with regard to major league closers is finally starting to work. Now everyone say this with me in a brain-dead monotone! “The Cleveland Indians shouldn’t spend valuable resources on a luxury position like closer, because it’s a really inefficient way to add wins to your club.” See? It’s just rolling off the tongue now. Jon continues to tell me that this is reserved for the teams that don’t fret over $10 million. 

Same with the minor league deal the Indians gave to Shaun Marcum yesterday. He’s not exactly a Scott Kazmir type of a player, but it’s the kind of deal that feels like it might even be smart considering what Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway pulled off just a season ago with Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez. These guys were tinkered with from a mechanics standpoint, but it can’t be overstated how bold Terry Francona was in how he used those guys. Jimenez was put on a short leash that would have had most managers figuratively skewered and roasted over hot flames.

We know all too well that every move won’t work out. Brett Myers was an unmitigated disaster, and there’s no telling that the Indians won’t have a 2014 equivalent. The difference is that now that we’ve seen a year with Francona working alongside this front office and we’ve seen them take a team they didn’t even know all that well to an unlikely playoff berth, they’ve earned a little bit of my patience as they try to put some more pieces together for the coming season.

This is the kind of goodwill that guys like Eric Wedge and Manny Acta could never have garnered. That’s not to say that they aren’t good managers who don’t know the game. It’s just to say that in a situation like Cleveland’s, if we believe Jon’s efficiency theories with regard to closers, then you must also counterbalance that by looking at the Indians organization and finding the most efficient way to spend money. In the case of this organization, that means this team needed a confident, strong, expert of a manager if the club was going to go forward with the Shapiro/Antonetti front office.

It’s not magic that Francona brings to the club. He’s a guy who brings experience, confidence and leadership that many in the Indians fan-base didn’t trust or think was present in the organization before he arrived. Yes, the Indians made the playoffs last year, and that’s not nothing, but there’s more of a perception thing going on right now for me. Whether you are a fan of Shapiro and Antonetti or not – I have been – there’s no doubting the perception was that they’d failed. There was little reason to have confidence that these same guys would be able to change course and fix it.

With Terry Francona on board, the perception is totally different. As a result, it’s renewed my patience for this team, even as we endure what seems to be a pretty slow off-season.

(AP File Photo/Mark Duncan)

  • ToxicToast

    I’m going to respectfully disagree here. I feel more impatient this year because I have the knowledge that the team can be pretty good. There was a Jacob Rosen piece over the summer about 2014 being the year the Indians really needed to see results based on contracts, arbitration, etc. It’s hard for me to watch the team succeed under a great manager then wait while the front office gives the impression that they aren’t necessarily hungry for more. I was more willing to be patient under Wedge and Acta since those seasons seemed so far from anything resembling success.

  • mgbode

    fair enough, but I do not see that the team we will be fielding this upcoming year will be better than the one last year. we got a great run of starting pitching after the allstar break. we do not know if Kluber and Salazar can go a full season at those levels and have lost Ubaldo (and to a lesser extent Kazmir). we have alot riding on those 2 along with Masterson, McAllister. right now, Carrasco is SP5, which shows we don’t have much depth (as he hasn’t proven anything yet and should be depth himself). it’s possible these guys figure things out, but it’s just as possible we have a couple injuries and the SP falls apart as presently constructed.

    the hitting I do feel a little better about if Bourn and Swisher can have bounceback years. it’s also an issue as we still have a gaping hole at 3B (unless Chis can prove MLB-worthy) and SS (unless Asdrubal can bounce-back at the plate).

    the bottom line is that last year was a ton of fun and I don’t want to take a huge step back from it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    They are doing exactly what I had thought/feared/predicted they would do. So much for fan excitement and seeing the seats filled. Unless Francona can wield some magic again but I have my doubts.

    The worst part about this is you couple the fact that they have done very little with the fact that you’ll have the soon to be ending contracts of Cabrera and Masterson for me spells problems. Not to mention Santana taking ground balls at 3b (whatever that was supposed to signal) and Gomes as your full-time catcher. Everyone expects Gomes to produce at or better then the level he did a year ago and I just don’t think that’s smart. Not saying he can’t or won’t but at this point with as many holes as this team had and based on what they’ve done I don’t know if the reward outweighs the risk. That being said after I just typed that I think Gomes starting will be way down on the list of potential pitfalls for the upcoming season.

  • Natedawg86

    Agree on all. Hope Bourn, Swish, Asdrubal play to potential, and Brantley, Kip and Santana continue to impress.
    Tribe was very streakly last year. They lost 5+ in a row 5 times last season worst was 8. They did have 4 winning streaks of 5+ though.
    Fun to watch and follow, hopefully it continues.

  • dchabz

    You can’t just go make deals for the sake of making deals. If no one wants to give you anything for Cabrera or Masterson, then you hang on to them. To be honest, from a business perspective it’s smart. Say the Indians are in close contention come July and Asdrubal is having a decent season. Someone WILL overpay for him and we can use Aviles in the short term and Lindor in the next season, while acquiring more pieces to bolster the team. Say the Indians are out of it, but Asdrubal is impressing everyone. Trade him away for some more pieces. Or, Asdrubal is playing great and so is the rest of the team, you ride the hot hand and hopefully take care of business in the playoffs. Same for Masty. I have faith that Francona will know what to do with these guys in each scenario. And I also feel that he’s smart enough to not let the front office get underpaid for proven major league talent unlike in years past.

  • Steve

    We can wish in one hand, and you know what in the other, and see which fills up first. I’m not sure why people thought the Indians would go out and be big spenders again this year. They’re a small market, and will have to act/build a team like one. Not having made any moves is not a sign that the front office isn’t hungry for more. There are very real constraints that have to be worked around.

  • CB Everett

    I agree with you on Bourn and Swisher and bounce backs. Both seemed to be pressing pretty hard in light of the big contracts and both had minor injuries that set them back from getting going on the right track. Late in the season, especially with Swisher, they came on more. They’re proven enough to come back, and as far as intangibles, I like their energy and leadership.

    As for pitching, I don’t have the hand wringing that others had about Kaz. He was decent, but frankly, he waned in effectiveness the second half of the season (for obvious endurance reasons I’m sure). I’m not that worked up about Albers and Smith (the latter being shakier over the last 2 seasons). Ubaldo is the only big loss in my view. But I have to believe Kluber and McAlister can pick up the slack in the rotation.

  • nj0

    Kluber, Salazar, and Gomes were names your average fan didn’t know on the first day of the season last year. Hopefully we can say the same thing next year about a handful of different guys.

    We’ve been saying for a while- if we want to win consistently we’re going to have to produce our own talent. Maybe we’re finally there? (And yes, I know Kluber and Gomes weren’t strictly “our” talent.)

  • nj0

    Remember when trading for Jimenez was proof that Antonetti was a careless GM and that we are a hopeless organization? Now losing him is proof that Antonetti is a careless GM and that we are a hopeless organization. Can’t win for losing at 2401 Ontario.

  • nj0

    Cleveland fans have the memory of goldfish.

  • nj0

    I think this is going to be a new thing from here on out-
    All things good: three cheers for Francona!
    All things not good: stupid front office!

    Not to say this piece is precisely saying that, but nothing in the front office’s approach has really changed since Francona got here.

  • nj0

    And that’s another point: even if we did have the money to spend to retain Ubaldo, how comfortable would fans be in giving the guy 3/$54M (or whatever he’ll get). It’s going to be a pretty sizable chunk of money for a pitcher who has been about as inconsistent as any starter out there.

    I think if we did have money to spend and make some moves, people would just be fretting and complaining about those as well.

  • Steve

    I want to see this team make a great addition as much as anyone else. But I find the response to not having made any big moves as the assumption that front office doesn’t care, or isn’t trying, or something similarly inane.

    Like you said, can’t win for losing.

  • Ed Carroll

    Lol, it is kinda funny. Whatever. Francona isn’t here without this front office and if Antonetti and/or Shapiro are ever removed/leave, Francona has the option to opt-out.

    They seem to be working in tandem. It’s interesting to see. Only one year, but so far they seem to be all on the same page, which despite the comments and reports that Shapiro and Wedge were viewed as a team, they never seemed to be quite in synch together. Very little disconnect.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    Agreed with Steve. Plus, if free agency is an inefficient market, then being in the first wave of it is the most inefficient time to participate in an inefficient market.

  • mgbode

    finding talent and drafting talent still means you have talent. noone complains when they show up to play. yes, I also hope that we have another wave of unknown players step up and help. but, I am not going to be extremely confident about it happening today.

    I really hope in the future we spend Nov-Jan wondering which of the mostly unknown names is the guy to help the next year because it keeps happening.

  • mgbode

    your memory is incorrect on Kaz. he was better in the 2nd half.

    1st half: 86IP, 80SO, 30BB, 14HR, 25-2B, 1.372 WHIP, 4.60 ERA
    2nd half: 72IP, 82SO, 17BB, 5HR, 9-2B, 1.264 WHIP, 3.38 ERA

    Just to prove how meaningless W/L are though:
    1st half: 5-4
    2nd half: 5-5

    And, Sept/Oct was his best month for SO:
    43SO, 4BB, 2.57ERA, 1.214 WHIP

  • Achilles

    Great post. This team doesn’t need much tinkering and I would rather see the organization save money to allocate towards keeping players like Kipnis and Masterson long term. People say the Indians front office are bargain basement shoppers and I want to say: What is wrong with that? They try to catch lightning in a bottle, people complain. Well yeah, and they are pretty successful at it. Maybe a few more low risk/high reward signings and I’m ready for spring training.

  • mgbode

    also, not sure why you think Joe Smith has been shaky over the last 2 seasons?

    2012 & 2013
    130IP, 2.63 ERA, 1.192 WHIP, 107SO, 48BB

    2011 was his best year, but the last 2 were by far his next best 2 seasons in MLB.

  • nj0

    Yeah, I don’t want to downplay Francona’s contributions. From some of the stuff I read, it does sound like the front office does value his opinion on player acquisitions.

    I think Wedge just stayed too long and became the unfortunate rolling head when things went south post-2007. I know in the recent piece trashing the Mariners, Wedge spoke highly of Shapiro and Cleveland.

  • CB Everett

    As for Kaz, maybe not “second half,” but my memory was somewhat correct in that he was bad in August (1-3, 5.40 ERA) but you’re right had a good Sept (3-2, 2.57). Yet I would point out that down the stretch in Sept we faced some patsies, so take those later stats with a grain.

    As for Joe Smith, his ERA was solid this year, yes, but he seemed to be getting hit a bit more often (evidenced in a rise in BABIP, WHIP, AVG, HR/9). Not saying he’s terrible as overall those are good stats, but a seemed susceptible to a little more contact and got a little lucky this year. Also, did it seem like his velocity was down?

  • Jason Hurley

    I want to think they’re still a 92-win team, but, who knows? Maybe Chiz will produce more than Reynolds did last year and that will help us net a few more wins in June/July so we don’t need to go on a crazy tear in September to make the playoffs? Maybe Asdrubal won’t be awfulsauce? Maybe Kipnis will hit for an entire season, and not just half?

  • ToxicToast

    I know that realistically your point of view is right. But I feel frustrated that if we factor in potential regression for Gomes or Raburn, plus the lack of known quantities (despite the potential) of the rotation beyond Masterson we could see a legitimate step back this year. And I am concerned that the FO is over-confident in the current talent on hand like they were going in to the 2008 season. I’m just hoping we can avoid that kind of precipitous drop off.

  • Steve

    “FO is over-confident in the current talent on hand like they were going in to the 2008 season”

    Sigh.

    I don’t think the FO is “over-confident”. Just out of money. It’s going to be up between 80 and 90 million, which is probably a stretch for a team that can only draw 1.5 million in a playoff year.

    And, pray tell, what move in 2008 should they have known to make? And that’s before we get into how much it cost to keep everyone from a 96 win team around.

  • ToxicToast

    My hopes for the offseason were just that we would pursue a #2 or #3 starter, preferably with 1-2 years on his contract, and a decent run producer also with 1-2 years left on his contract, both via trade. This would definitely inflate this year’s payroll to an uncomfortable level, yes but if the players are leaving via free agency it would not be a long-term burden. Now that I’ve read what Tampa asked for in return for David Price I can understand why this kind of thing didn’t materialize.

  • Kildawg

    Looks like the Indians patient approach could pay larger dividends. Instead of scrambling for the name-brand products, they go for the store brand counterparts and maybe a couple name-brands on sale as well. Scrap Heap Guys FTW!

  • markn95

    Wasn’t it just 12 short months ago that the Dolans cashed in Sportstime Ohio to the tune of $250 million? For all the kvetching the Indians (and their media allies) do about attendance, the real money in sports these days is TV money. And, starting in 2013, that TV money now also includes the tens of millions of dollars the Tribe will reap from the national TV deal this year (and yes, I know every team enjoys this. Which is why notoriously small-market Oakland can throw $20M to 2 years of a Mickey Callaway-less Scott Kazmir. While the Indians splurge on platoon players like David Murphy…sigh.)

    I know everyone on this site is sick of the Dolans are cheap debate. But the reason this debate won’t go away is because…well, the Dolans are pretty cheap. Attendance may consistently be in the bottom 10 of MLB but team payroll is always in the bottom 10 as well, and the fans notice this. Have the Indians conceivably “lost money” the last couple years? I’m sure they have accountants that say so (but no outside auditors to confirm, of course). The bottom line is that the Dolan family bought (nay, overpaid for) this team for almost $300 million in 2000. Almost fifteen years later, that team is conservatively worth $500 million (and likely much more, look at the small market Padres selling for $600M last year). And that doesn’t include the $250M Fox paid them for their Indians-based TV network. This family has done very well for itself by investing in a major league baseball team, despite the horrible terrible small market they always talk about.

    Bottom line is these guys cut corners and count pennies while their net worth soars. I can see sitting out free agency when a couple players won’t make a difference; but when you have a 92-win team that you don’t want to put over the top, what’s wrong with this picture?

  • Steve

    Selling STO for $250M doesn’t mean you have $250M burning a hole in your pocket. Yes, I know the real money is in TV deals, but the Indians are still near the bottom of the league in that. The “small-market” (in a MSA twice as populous as Cleveland) A’s make about 10-20% more on their local TV deal than the Indians do.

    And the cutoff at bottom 10 is very convenient. The Indians usually are around 10th from the bottom in payroll, pretty much where they are in the market rankings. Their attendance is frequently bottom 5.

    I’m not sure how you suggest they overpaid for the team in the same breath you claim they did very well for themselves. To get to the actual facts, they have a rate of return of about 3.2%, which, after taking out inflation, is a pretty terrible return on a risk as huge as $323M. This is using the $500M number, and I’d say the Padres, who make 50% more than the Indians do on local TV deals, may not be a great comparison.

    So I’m not seeing where their net worth soars, and while they aren’t big spenders, they certainly don’t “cut corners”, though I’d say they do “count pennies” just like every other small market team.

    The Dolans aren’t cheap. The city is poor, declining, and generally doesn’t like to go watch baseball. The Indians can only work in the market they’re actually in, not the fantasy one of many Tribe fans.