Energetic Francona anxious for baseball

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona during batting practice before the American League wild card playoff game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field.

David Richard/David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

CANTON, Ohio – The weather outside is, well, frightful. And that might be a nice way of saying it.

On Monday morning, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona rode his scooter into work at Progressive Field.

"Not smart," is how Francona judged his transportation decision to an audience of a few hundred at the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club Monday afternoon. "That thing doesn’t have snow tires."

Francona’s visit to the club allowed all involved a chance to think warmer, brighter thoughts — and talk a little baseball. Judging by his trip on the scooter, which Francona said he got last year during spring training and drove two blocks to every Indians home game last year, Francona’s mind is already there.

"I ride it every day, into the stadium, down the tunnel and right to my office," he said.

One year in to his stint with the Indians, if Francona decided he wanted to ride a camel to work the organization and much of the fan base would probably oblige. The Indians won 92 games and played in the postseason last year for the first time since 2007, and Francona’s presence is a big reason for that.

In two weeks, his second spring training in charge begins. The challenge is for the Indians to be even better than they were last season against the American League’s big-spending big boys.

We don’t have the ability to make mistakes

-Terry Francona

"I said this last year and it’s the same this time around," Francona said. "I can’t give a win amount because I don’t know who’s going to be healthy or what else might happen. I promise that if you are an Indians fan, you’ll walk away from our stadium being proud. That’s important to us."

Asked during the Q-and-A portion of the program about continuing to win against teams that outspend the Indians two and three times over, Francona said that the Indians "aren’t in the same neighborhood" during the winter signing period as some teams, specifically the team he used to manage the Boston Red Sox. To co-exist in the same neighborhood from April to October, he said just takes more work.

Francona said the Indians made their big additions last winter, signing Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn to long-term contracts, and are always looking at ways to keep up that don’t include $25 million per year contracts.

"We don’t have the ability to make mistakes," he said. "The reality is…it’s not a fair fight. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be in it, or that we can’t win. There are just more challenges."

Getting to the postseason as a wildcard team but failing to advance in 2013, Francona said, "stung as much as it could."

Francona goes to camp next month with players he knows but a few jobs at stake. He said Yan Gomes earned the right last year to be the everyday catcher, which helps Francona feel comfortable using Carlos Santana as the cleanup hitter. The Indians will have flexibility in their lineup with Santana catching "once or twice a week," playing first base and possibly playing some third base.

"Carlos basically told me he didn’t want to be a 27-year old designated hitter," Francona said. "He volunteered to go play winter ball and try third base. We sent (coach) Mike Sarbaugh down to see him and work with him a bit. He had a long way to go. The reports I get now are that he’s getting pretty damn good at it, so we’ll see."


Among the other issues Francona discussed…

**He said prized shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor will be in major league camp but has "no chance of making the team. He’s too young. He needs to go play (in the minors)."

**Asked if the Indians planned to re-open discussions with pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, who remains unsigned, Francona said "I think we’ve had them open. We just may not be in his neighborhood." He said he’s excited to see what Carlos Carrasco can do in trying to win a rotation spot, and that "we need to see Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar pitch. Those guys have talent. If we can get (reliever) Vinnie Pestano back throwing the way he can, that will help, too."

**On Jason Giambi, his future as a player and his future as a manager, Francona said that he hopes Giambi doesn’t take his job with the Indians. "He’s not a veteran — he’s the veteran," Francona said. "He has carte blanche in our clubhouse to talk about whatever, whenever. When he did last year, we were better for it."

 

**On newly-signed John Axford replacing the departed and never boring Chris Perez as the closer, Francona said Axford "should tidy things up."

Then he smiled.

Francona is doing a lot of that. He’s really ready for baseball season.