Francona met with CEO Paul Dolan, team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti and had lunch downtown with the GM during a full day for the former Red Sox manager who arrived at Progressive Field in the morning.
“I thought they went great,” Francona said of the meetings. “We exchanged a lot of ideas and it was really genuinely fun.”
The Indians don’t have the relationship with Francona that they have with Alomar, one of the most popular players in franchise history and an assistant coach for the past three seasons, but they do have ties with him. Francona, 63, played a season for the Indians in 1988 and spent a year in Cleveland’s front office as a special assistant to then GM Shapiro. His father Tito is one of the Indians’ 100 Greatest Players, playing for the Tribe from —–.
“We’ve always had a great deal of respect for Terry,” Antonetti said. “We had the opportunity to work together for a little over a year and have stayed in close touch with him throughout the course of the last decade.”
“My prior relationships with Chris and Mark, the fact that my dad played here, it’s a good story,” Francona said. “It’s almost a family feeling. I don’t think you can take a job because of that, but it still means a lot to me. But because of Chris and Mark and my relationship, I am excited to attempt to tackle any challenge that comes our way and do it together.”
In the experience department, he has the clear edge over Alomar Jr., who called Francona, “a slam dunk,” and “the perfect guy,” when discussing his competition during his six-game stint as interim manager.
Francona managed in Philadelphia from 1997-2001 before winning two World Series titles in 2004 and ’07 during an eight-year tenure in Boston.
“Obviously Terry’s had a lot of success,” Antonetti said. “He’s won two world championships. He’s also had success in developing players. If you look at some of the young players that emerged from the Boston minor league system and became stars — Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester — there were a number of guys that he while he was manager there helped transition to the major league level. In addition to that, he’s a great communicator and an accomplished leader.”
Francona spent this season as an ESPN analyst after an unceremonious ouster in Boston last year. But he has told the Indians he wants to return to the field.
“I probably needed to take a step back for a while,” Francona said. “I think I had lost a little bit of perspective and I wanted to get back to things that were important to me. I think getting off the field for a year was really good. I got to stay in the game. It was a wonderful experience, but I did miss being on the field.”
One would expect that the proven big league manager Francona would come at a steeper price than the inexperienced Alomar Jr., but Antonetti doesn’t predict money holding up a contract.
“I don’t expect economics to be an issue in this decision,” Antonetti said. “I think we’ll go with the best person that we think fits best for the job.
“What we’re looking for is someone who has the ability to inspire and motivate a group of guys to achieve and perform at their best.”
Antonetti said the Indians have consulted countless sources in an attempt to figure out why the team collapsed over the final two months of the season.
“I don’t think there’s any one sole reason,” he said. “We’ve asked a lot of people that question to try to get a number of different perspectives on it. I don’t think there’s one single reason as to why we struggled the way we did. I think the one thing we all feel is that we have better talent than our record shows.
“It’s been really tough. We were a competitive team for four months and it disintegrated very quickly. That’s not how we wanted to finish the season. The important thing is how we move forward.”
Antonetti said there is reason for optimism concerning 2013.
“I feel good on a position-player side that we have a young nucleus of players that are still very talented. If you look at the talent up the middle with Carlos Santana catching, (Jason) Kipnis at second, (Asdrubal) Cabrera at short, (center fielder) Michael Brantley, that’s a pretty good up-the-middle foundation. And then you have (third baseman) Lonnie Chisenhall. (Shin-Soo) Choo’s obviously established himself as a very good player in right field.
“That’s a good foundation from which to build. We now need to complement that group, but it’s a pretty good starting point.”
Big League Choo
Though he is one of their more tradable players, Antonetti thinks Choo will be back in right field next year, his final season before becoming free-agent eligible.
“We have to be open-minded and at least engage in the dialogue to understand how other teams value our players. But Choo’s under control for next year and I expect that he will be an Indian next year.”
The Indians may have seen the last of Matt LaPorta. LaPorta, who has been a huge disappointment since being acquired in a trade with Milwaukee for CC Sabathia in 2008, is out of minor league options.
“It’s obviously an important offseason for him because he’s going to have to come into spring training and win a job,” Antonetti said.