By: T.J. Zuppe
Without question, Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti and the rest of the Tribe brain trust has a great deal of work to do this off-season. Coming off of a 94-loss season that saw the Indians go from first to battling for worst in the division, changes need to be made.
One such change has already occurred after the Tribe fired manager Manny Acta with six games left in the campaign.
But that is only the first step in what Antonetti feels is part of a larger plan that starts with the way they conduct business and make decisions. Bottom line, he believes some serious dissection is necessary to get to the bottom of why this team faulted as badly as it did.
“We have to examine what has transpired, not only this last year but where we are organizationally moving forward,” Antonetti said. “Because the mix that we had wasn’t working. So we need to figure out ways to be better.
“We’ve spent a lot of time looking at our current mix and how we do thing… We’ve re-examined how we do major league acquisitions, both free-agents and trades and I think we’ll continue to make adjustments going forward.”
When the Tribe canned Acta, Antonetti stood at the podium and preached accountability - as odd as that may seem. He felt the biggest reason the club did not compete like they anticipated was because he miscalculated in his judgment of the strength of the roster.
With that in mind, where does he feel he needs to get better as GM?
“I think we need to do a better job of shaping our roster,” Antonetti said. “There were some decisions we made last year that didn’t work out as well as we hoped.
“The good thing about them is none of those decisions we made last winter negatively impact us for this year. We didn’t enter into any bad contracts that are going to handicap us going forward. We have a relatively clean slate heading into this winter and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to capitalize on it.”
Despite all of the glaring negatives, Antonetti did feel some positive came out of this season.
“They’re still are a lot of positives just under the surface,” Antonetti said in reference to the club‘s strengths up the middle, third-baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and pitcher Zach McAllister. “We need to get better and figure out ways to surround that group and be more competitive going forward.”
Finding a Manager
As the Indians brass closes the book on 2012, the next item on the agenda is finding a manager. With Acta no longer in the picture, the Tribe has turned to two candidates publicly, interim skipper Sandy Alomar Jr. and former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
Alomar interviewed for the job Thursday, while Francona will interview with the club on Friday.
No matter which candidate they select, Antonetti feels confident that either man could be a great fit for the organization.
“We’re starting the process with two exceptional candidates in Terry and Sandy,” Antonetti said. “What attracts us to them and why we feel so strongly about them as people is part of what makes them such candidates. They’re people of great character, they’re people of great leadership abilities, they’re great communicators. Those are great attributes that also fit well as a manager.”
Despite Alomar and Francona being the only two candidates acknowledged by the front-office, the Indians GM says they have not limited the search to just those two individuals.
“We have not limited our search and candidate pool,” Antonetti said. “We’re just beginning it with two very qualified people that we feel very good about. That has not limited the candidates that we’ve considered.”
There is no question Francona has the most impressive resume of any person available on the market. He won two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox and has the experience that many teams can only dream of finding in a potential skipper.
“I think Terry is a very attractive candidate,” Antonetti said. “He not only has a demonstrated track record of winning with the two World Series (championships) and multiple playoff appearances but he’s also done a good job of developing players at the major league level and transitioning some very good minor league prospects to major league prospects and in some cases major league superstars.”
However, it is understandable to remain skeptical about the true intentions of Francona. Would he really want to accept a job that has several hurdlers to clear, including an ownership that does not spend an extreme amount of money and a roster that has several holes?
Would Francona be doing his old friends Mark Shapiro and Antonetti a “solid” by interviewing for the job, giving off the impression the organization attempted to land the biggest fish on the market?
Antonetti scoffed at any possibility of that being reality.
“With respect to his interest, I don’t think Terry would be coming in tomorrow if he wasn’t genuinely interested and we wouldn’t have him in here for an interview if we weren’t interested,” Antonetti said.
As far as how quickly the new manager question mark will be resolved, it could come very soon.
“My preference would be to resolve it as quickly as we can but I don’t want to do that at the expense at making sure we get the right person in place to lead our major league team,” Antonetti said.
There is no doubt the name Francona holds some serious weight, not only in regard to the credibility it could bring to the Indians organization but also in his ability to push the front office to bring in better talent and possibly spend more money. Yet, Antonetti still believes his objectives will not change, regardless of who the manager is.
“They’re not necessarily inter-related,” Antonetti said of Dolan’s willingness to spend money depending on who the manager is. “I think we’re focused on trying to get the best manager for our team and organization moving forward. We don’t look at it as a short term fit.”
How Can This Team Win the Fans Back?
With a club like the Oakland Athletics - boasting a payroll smaller than the Indians - heading to the post-season this year, Indians fans are understandably upset about the nature of how this team is constructed.
If a team like the A’s can overcome the odds - similar to how the Tampa Bay Rays have been able to compete in recent years - why can’t the Tribe?
“There is always pressure on us to deliver results and that’s not based on what other teams are doing, its because of our own standards and to try to deliver a winning team to our fans,” Antonetti said. “That’s ultimately what we want, the same thing that a fans want. That’s to win a lot of baseball games, to play meaningful games in September, to advance to the post-season and ultimately win a World Series. Regardless which other teams are doing and how they are doing it, that will not affect our goals.
“In the end, what is going to get our fans back and re-engaged is us winning games. We need to do a better job of that.”
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