Sunday, October 7, 2012

Francona hiring makes no sense, unless . . . 

So Terry Francona is the new manager of the Indians.

Only one question. Why?

The only answer has to be Francona is desperate. To take a job with the Indians, one of Major League Baseball’s least progressive franchises, makes no sense after one of the most successful stints ever as manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Why would Francona, a solid baseball man, want to take over a team that has underachieved for the last several seasons? A team that has one of the worst and least producing farm systems in the major leagues?

Why would he want to take over a team that has a talent quotient that shows few signs of living up to its ability?

He said he did his homework. That means he has studied the Indians’ 40-man roster. He had to have noticed plenty of holes.

There is another answer to these questions that has not been pondered. And that answer could bode well for a baseball constituency in Cleveland that thinks the Indians could be headed for another one of those long, dark periods.

So again, why did Francona say yes when offered the job? And why did the Dolan family apparently say yes to pay him more than any manager they have ever hired?

The guess here is he told all denizens of the Indians’ Ivory Tower just what it would take to return winning baseball to Cleveland. After all, he knew what it took for the Red Sox to become World Champions twice.

And what will it take? The ability by the Dolans to not worry about the bottom line financially. The Red Sox built up a solid farm system, made smart trades and wise choices in the free-agent market, all the while disdaining what it would cost.

The cost, they figured, would be worth it if they got the right man to pull it all together in the dugout. And they were right.

They tapped Francona, whose previous managerial experience resulted in four losing seasons in Philadelphia, and placed him in charge.

Francona’s signing must mean the Dolans are finally ready to commit firmly to resurrecting what was a proud and winning franchise not that long ago. That franchise did not trade or sell off star performers. That franchise cared more about the bottom line on the field rather than the one off the field.

There can be no other explanation as to why he said yes. During his interviews with the front office, he most likely spelled out what it would take to turn this franchise around. At the same time, he probably told them he would take over only if certain conditions were met.

He didn’t want to waste their – or his – time if the Dolans insisted on traveling the same penurious path that has led to the Indians to once again plumb the depths of the American League’s Central Division.

If I’m wrong and those were not the conditions under which Francona agreed to return to the Cleveland organization, then he’s not as smart as I thought. He has a reputation to uphold, a reputation built carefully in a town (Boston) where managerial reputations usually succumb.

If we don’t see a radical change in the culture of the Indians in the next year or two, if we don’t see a radical change in the ownership’s commitment, if we don’t see a radical change in the 40-man roster, then Francona’s appointment makes no sense.

Francona will have to deal with an every-day lineup that does not know yet how to win. The Indians’ hot early start  this past season proved to be nothing more than an aberration.

This is not a team of clutch performers. It is weak in the field, particularly behind the plate and at the infield corners. Their power is virtually non-existent. Their pitching, with the exception of the bullpen, begs for substantial improvement.

General Manager Chris Antonetti faces a ton of work during this offseason. If the arrival of Francona is any indication the Dolans are ready to untie the purse strings, then the Indians’ roster for the 2013 season will look markedly different.

At Monday’s news conference introducing Francona to the Cleveland media, expect him to say all the right things. He’s smart enough to know this new venture will be nothing like the one he undertook in Boston.

Hopefully, someone will ask him just why he wanted this job so badly when it’s obvious he starts with one hand tied behind his managerial back.

His answer just might shed some light on which direction this team is heading.

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