By: T.J. Zuppe
New Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona has been a busy man. Amongst compiling a short list of coaching candidates and reaching out to men to potentially join him on his staff, Francona has been trying to get a grasp on his club’s roster.
With big decisions to be made and major gaps to be filled, Francona and general manager Chris Antonetti are putting together a game plan, while assessing where the team is at organizationally.
As they go about putting that game plan together this off-season, Francona feels confident in the front office but understands they have to back it up with good, solid decisions.
“The people that are in place here are off the charts,” Francona said. “Now we have a responsibility to put a team on the field. And the more consistently you do that, the better chance you give yourself to win.”
But what about the team he currently has in place? Roster turnover is on the horizon, but how much and in what areas does Francona feel those changes need to come?
“We seem to be strong up the middle,” Francona said of his team’s strength. “I understand right now there are some openings. You look at first-base, left-field, DH, there has to be some decisions made on how we best move forward.”
Those holes are just in Francona’s every lineup. The pitching staff – the area Francona has keyed on many times in his brief stint as skipper – may have the biggest question marks of all.
He hopes the hurlers at the top his rotation – Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez – can find consistency between dominance and ineffectiveness.
“If we could get back towards the 2011 guys, as opposed to the guys we had last year, that’s a huge step in the right direction,” Francona said. “That’s not something I’m arrogant enough to think I have all the answers. But I’m also new enough and energetic enough that I want to try.
“(For the new) pitching coach, that’s a huge thing, one of the first priorities,”
Why does Francona feel those two are so important?
“If you have those two guys anchoring your staff, it makes it a lot easier for the younger kids coming up,” Francona said. “They don’t have to carry such a big load.”
Back to Coaching
Francona has stressed how excited he is to get back to being on the field, tossing batting practice, hitting ground balls and most importantly, coaching his new club. The purist form of his job – the actual coaching – is something he feels got away from him in Boston as manager of the Red Sox.
“The last couple years in Boston I felt like I was getting further and further from the field,” Francona said. “I felt like my title didn’t need to be manager, it needed to be ‘fire-putter-outer’. With everything in Boston, there are no little stories.”
Now with Cleveland, Francona will be getting his chance at hitting the reset button. A clean slate awaits him as manager of the Indians.
That same opportunity awaits several of his new players, some who might have found themselves in the dreaded dog house.
“For the guys that have done well, I recognize that,” Francona said. “For the guys that need a fresh start, they’re going to get it.”
ESPN Allows Francona to Get Up to Speed
One of the biggest things Francona is thankful for is how flexible his current employer has been through the process of becoming the manager of the Indians.
While originally expected to be a full participant in the network’s baseball post-season coverage, ESPN allowed Francona to step away from his commitments and familiarize himself with his new organization, something he feels has been extremely valuable.
“If I wouldn’t have been (with the Indians), I don’t know how I would have caught up,” Francona said. “I don’t think I realized that. I knew I was glad when the guys at ESPN said I could do this.
“I would have been overmatched (if I didn’t get a break from ESPN). I’ve been going until late at night, every night anyways and that’s without having that job hanging over me, so I caught a break there.”
As for where he is at now?
“I feel like I’m catching up in a hurry,” Francona said.
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