Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: Culture Shock

1The Cleveland Indians have hired Terry Francona as their 42<sup>nd</sup> manager.

Terry Francona was clearly the hottest managerial commodity on the market heading into the 2013 offseason, and the Cleveland Indians actually did hire him. You all know who Terry Francona is, because he has won two World Series in the past eight years. The Cleveland Indians have won two World Series…ever…and none in the last 64.

You all know who Terry Francona is because it very much appears as though he <strong><em>chose</em></strong> to manage the Cleveland Indians, and while the more apropos statement may be that Terry Francona <strong><em>chose</em></strong> to work with his good friends, Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti, that’s almost beside the point.

One of the best managers in baseball chose to bring his talents to Cleveland.

If you want to put that into perspective a bit, go back three years to October 25, 2009. The Indians hired Manny Acta to a three-year deal. While I’m not going to get into the specifics of that managerial search, let’s just say that the Indians played around with hiring Don Mattingly (he wasn’t going anywhere but Los Angeles) and Bobby Valentine (he had no interest whatsoever, even though he interviewed), and Torey Lovullo, and Ron Roenicke, before finally settling on Acta.

Shapiro (and this was really a Shapiro/Antonetti joint production) only hired Acta after the Houston Astros really forced their hand by offering Acta a two-year contract, with an option for a third year. Cleveland trumped the Astros offer by offering a three-year deal, with an option for a fourth season. Yeah, it nearly seems ridiculous now, when you think about it.

Terry Francona <strong><em>chose</em></strong> the Cleveland Indians.

Chris Antonetti did call Francona the second he fired Manny Acta on September 27<sup>th</sup>, but this deal with former Red Sox manager really seems like something a lot more than the GM reaching out through that phone call to gauge interest.

It was very clear from Terry Francona’s interviews, as well as his press conference, that his friendship with Antonetti and Shapiro was a bit deeper than a standard “hello” in the hallway. These men clearly stayed in touch, and with Francona working for ESPN over the past year, it’s likely that they were in contact more than would be ethically possible as it would have been with Francona managing the Red Sox.

My point is simple: good friends would likely know if there was interest in a particular job.

I’m not saying there was collusion involved prior to Acta’s firing, but it’s likely that Antonetti would have known that Francona was interested in getting on the field again, and that he was intent on working for a front office that he could trust.

Francona’s not an idiot. He got to see, firsthand, the Indians drop off the face of the planet in August, and you didn’t have to be an analyst for ESPN to see where Acta was heading.

So, if it seems as though I’m still a bit shocked that Terry Francona <strong><em>chose</em></strong> the Cleveland Indians over the multitudes of other teams that would have come knocking on his door this or next offseason, it’s because I am.

It definitely goes to show you what his dismissal after the 2011 season did to him mentally. His divorce with Boston was particularly nasty, which likely aided the Indians during this process. Francona clearly had one word on his list of must-haves for his next job: Trust. Mark Shapiro really “rescued” Francona after he was fired by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2000, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is payback, I definitely feel that both the Tribe front office (Shapiro and Antonetti) and Francona are “all in” with regards to this tenure.

In other words, you can now start calling these guys the Three Amigos. Francona signed a lucrative four-year deal with the Indians, and clearly wants to be here in some form or fashion for the long-term. If, after those four seasons, Francona is bringing winning baseball to Cleveland, Antonetti and Shapiro will still have jobs. If the opposite occurs, and Francona loses more than he wins, you’ll no doubt see Francona and Antonetti gone for sure, and likely Shapiro as well…and I doubt it will take four years.

<strong><em>It’s really time for a culture change here in Cleveland, and if there is one thing that I’m absolutely positive that Terry Francona can do, it’s change that culture.</em></strong> I’m not talking about the culture with regards to the fans, but what I am talking about focuses on the media, the clubhouse, and ultimately, the entire organization. Francona will have an impact on all three.

He immediately becomes the focal point of the locker room, in that he immediately becomes the most respected person wearing the Tribe jersey. A word that’s been passed around a lot, and for good reason, is credibility. Francona has a lot of it. It’s what happens when you win two World Series rings.

The Culture change is simple…the Indians are now managed by a winner. It goes back to that old adage that if you want to win, you hire winners. A lot of time is spent at combines and workouts looking at raw skills, but what is often overlooked is that mentality of being a winner. That’s what Terry Francona brings to the Indians’ clubhouse.

It’s apparent that Manny Acta’s lack of communication was a massive issue throughout the final months of his tenure. While he spent a lot of time talking to the media, it’s now common knowledge that he didn’t spend much time at all talking to the Indians’ players.

That’s not Terry Francona, who has spent much of the past five days contacting nearly every working member of the Indians roster. His former Red Sox players continue to speak highly of him, and knew that he was a warrior that led by example.

You don’t come back from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 ALCS, and come back from a 3-1 deficit in the 2007 ALCS if you don’t believe what the manager is selling. I recall an interview by Francona right after the Red Sox went down 3-1 against the Indians. He got in front of the cameras, and in a very matter-of-fact statement, said that he thought he believed in his players, and that they would take it one game at a time. He didn’t guarantee victory by saying “We’re going to win,” but you could clearly see that he either really though they were going to win, or was trying to send out that message.

I don’t think Chris Perez lasts all that long with the Indians if he mouths off to the media with Terry Francona as his manager. Not because I think Francona is a confrontational sort, but because he handles his business in a different way, and it NEVER involves the media. He’s a player’s manager for sure, but he’s one that demands hard play from his players, and demands an old school, “keep it in the clubhouse” outlook on things.

When he left Boston, their front office leaked several items to the media with regards to clubhouse behavior. That single-handed, back-stabbing approach is likely what brought him to Cleveland. I wouldn’t want to be the player that does it to him in Cleveland.

It’s that mentality that leads me to believe Perez might actually have a chance with Cleveland going forward….but that’s for another piece, and another time.

My biggest worry is still that front office mentality. I do happen to think that the culture with the approach that Chris Antonetti takes as the general manager changes immediately. Think back to the left field conundrum last season. Do you really think that if Antonetti called down to Francona’s office and said, “Hey Terry, I’m getting you Johnny Damon,” that he would have said yes?

This will be the interesting watch though this offseason. Francona has maintained that he manages the players that are given to him, but I just can’t fathom he not have input into the shaping of this team. No, I don’t suspect the Indians to go on an all-out barrage of player-signings, but I do think that Antonetti will have a bit more urgency in his movements, and with a guy like Francona, I do believe there will be a bit more direction.

Remember, at the end of the day, the family atmosphere is great. But if the Indians don’t win, these guys are going to be gone.

I will admit, there is a small part of me that is wondering about this friendship. Remember, we are talking about Chris Antonetti here, and his tenure as general manager has been about as unproductive as you can get. In a market where you don’t have money to bail out your mistakes, he’s made far too many of them. So, could he screw this up? Could he and Francona allow this “family” and “friendships” to blind them to moves that each other are making?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes…and certainly more on Antonetti’s side than on Francona’s. I think the one thing that’s annoyed me the most about the Dolan-Shapiro-Antonetti regime is that there aren’t any checks-and-balances in place. It seems like moves are made (or not made), and that everyone sits in their offices nodding and smiling and patting each other on the back saying, “Well good buddy, it’s the market.”

Of course, I don’t know that to be true, but boy, that’s the perception that is certainly there.

The hope for me is that Terry Francona becomes that check &amp; balance. Unfortunately, until Antonetti starts showing structural changes in the Indians’ mentality, it’s just as likely that nothing changes…other than having a shiny, new manager. Will see how shiny and new Francona looks if Antonetti does nothing again, and blames the market.

Chris, it’s a tough world out there, we all get it.

<strong><em>What’s next?</em></strong>

I know, what kind of world do we live in where we are 100% judged by the next move. Here, the Indians make a massive strike by hiring Terry Francona BEFORE the playoffs get started, and we’ve already moved on to the next thing.

That’s life.

Sandy Alomar Jr. has already stated that he’ll be back for the 2013 season. I say this is about 60% true, as I do feel as though he’ll get some looks as a managerial candidate for other teams. If he doesn’t get hired, he’ll be the Indians’ bench coach for 2013. That’s a good start.

Past that, there are several other interesting candidates that could join him, including names such as Brad Mills, Mike Sarbaugh, Dave Magadan, Gary Tuck and Dave Wallace. It should be a top-notch staff, regardless.

Let’s be honest, the coaching staff is one thing, but what the Indians do this offseason is another. With Francona’s statements at the press conference and in recent days, it seems as though he’s in this for the long haul. If that’s the case, look for the Indians to continue making over their team with the future in mind.

Look for Shin-Soo Choo to get dealt, as well as Chris Perez. The Indians will likely be looking for near-major-league ready prospects in return.

Look for the Indians to address their weaknesses with young players, or one-year contract players, unless they can get a veteran presence to sign a cheaper deal over the next two or three years.

In other words, look for the Indians to continue along their path, hoping that Francona can light a charge under this team that will cause them to overachieve.

Of course, the Indians could take a different tack.

They could make offseason moves to build a contender for next year. They could go after a couple of starting pitchers with the money they save from the bloated contracts of Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore. They could combine that with players they get in trades to put together an extremely competitive club in 2013.

Either option is available, and somehow becomes more workable with Francona at the helm.

It will also be interesting to see if Francona’s presence can bring a veteran or two to the team in some capacity. David Ortiz is old, only a DH, and only played in 90 games this year, but hit .318 with 23 homers, and has played in 128 or more games in eight of his ten seasons in Boston. He might be an interesting one-year sign with the Indians, for the right price. Kevin Youkilis will likely be available as well, and perhaps can be had on the cheap. While he only hit .236 for the White Sox, his 15 homers, 46 RBI and .346 OBP would be a welcome addition.

Perhaps there is a couple of starting pitchers in there as well, which is a necessity to win anything next season.

My focus is on those two former Red Sox for the simple reason that they come in to create that atmosphere that every team needs to win down the road.

In the 1990’s, the Indians brought in Orel Hershiser, Dennis Martinez and Eddie Murray to create a similar atmosphere.

I’m also curious as to how he handles Justin Masterson, his former reliever with the Red Sox prior to the deal that brought VMart to Boston. Masterson was a part-time starter for Boston in 2008 and 2009 when the deal was made. Perhaps their past relationship will help reshape him as the ace he can be, or perhaps Francona can find a deal that will get Masterson to a team. Remember, Francona couldn’t figure him out either.

I’m less focused on the names, but more focused on the culture.

The Oakland A’s don’t always make the right moves, but they always move forward.

Cleveland hasn’t moved forward in a year-and-a-half. I’m sure there are some that believe they haven’t moved forward since 2007. I can argue that point, but not a lot.

Point is, this team and franchise can’t stop now. In 2011, they traded for Ubaldo Jimenez, and while you can shred the merits of that deal (which I’ve done over and over again), what’s really deplorable about that miss is that there wasn’t follow up.

Regardless…this offseason should prove to be an interesting one.


Terry Francona<strong><em> chose</em></strong> to come to the Indians.

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