Well, it came up in the brief negotiations about his salary, but new Indians manager Terry Francona said he never asked if the Indians would commit to spending more money on players, or if the payroll would increase.
“I don’t want to say it’s none of my business,” Francona said Monday morning at his introductory news conference. “But that wasn’t one of the questions. I don’t need to be the GM or the owner.”
What Francona wants to be is the guy who guides the team on the field.
And what he really wants is to work with Indians president Mark Shapiro and GM Chris Antonetti.
“I didn’t come here to go to pasture,” Francona said. “I was either gonna work here or go back and work at ESPN (as an analyst). I came here because I’m not afraid of a challenge, and (because of) the people here that I’m doing it with.”
Francona respects Shapiro and Antonetti so much that he said he knew he wanted the job the second he took Antonetti’s call about succeeding Manny Acta.
But the world in which he now resides is far different from the last one he left. As manager of Boston, Francona won two World Series titles with two of the largest payrolls in baseball.
In 2003 the Red Sox Opening Day payroll ranked sixth at $99.9 million. In 2007, it was $143 million, which ranked second. In Francona’s last season in Boston, the payroll was $163 million.
The Indians highest Opening Day payroll since Francona won his first World Series was $81.6 million in 2009, and its average was $57.9 million.
Boston’s lowest in the same time: $99.9 million.
Consider the teams that advance in the playoffs and the challenge for Francona seems even more daunting.
Since 2003, the average Opening Day payroll of the four teams that reached the League Championship Series is $102.5 million. Since 2008, 14 of the 16 teams that reached the championship series had payrolls higher than the Indians peak since ‘03. Thirteen of the 16 had payrolls higher than $90 million.
But Francona shrugs it off — almost as if he ignores the payroll numbers.
“That’s not something I spend a whole lot of energy on,” he said. “My job is to get the players that we have to play to the utmost of their ability, and even beyond that to care about each other on the field, fiercely. And start building some loyalty. If we do that, if we get our team to play to the most of that ability, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Did he pay attention to payroll more in Boston when he had one of the league’s higher ones?
“No,” he said. “Again, that wasn’t my job. I know the payroll was a lot there. It wasn’t limitless, but it was a lot. I understand that. But I’ve also been in Philadelphia. I don’t really care what players are making. What I want them to do is play the game right.”
A higher payroll, he said, does allow “you to cover up some of your mistakes,” so the Indians “have to limit mistakes.” But clearly Francona believes a team like Cleveland can compete, and win, regardless of payroll. A guy with two World Series rings does not join a team like the Indians or a market like Cleveland if he doesn’t have faith in himself and the people around him.
“I would say Tampa has done it for years in the AL East,” Francona said. “They’ve gone toe to toe with Boston and New York. They’re to be commended. They make great decisions. Oakland is doing it.”
He also knows having a high payroll does not guarantee success.
“You’re darn right it doesn’t,” he said. “It’ll make you an analyst.”
Antonetti said Francona truly did not ask about the financials.
“He understands the challenges,” Antonetti said. “He’s a very smart guy. Very humble, but very smart. He understands we have to build teams a little bit differently than they built them in Boston. But as he told you, that foundation starts with young players, scouting, player development and making sure (players are) improving at the major league level, that their development doesn’t stop when they get here. That’s paramount for us to be successful.
“We talked about that, but as for specific payrolls, and things like that, no.”
Francona’s response to the money talk?
According to Antonetti, it was to the point: “I’m all in.”