Francona, new faces bring hope to revamped Indians
Terry Francona helped exorcise the Bambino’s curse, bringing the
Red Sox a World Series title for the first time in 86 years.
His new challenge is ending a 64-year championship drought.
And this time, it’s personal.
Refreshed from a year away from the game’s ruthless grind
following a messy exit in Boston, Francona has come ”home” to try
to take the Cleveland Indians to the top. Chosen as the club’s
manager in October, Francona has invigorated a franchise he has
known since childhood, when his father, Tito, played for the
”This where I wanted to be,” Francona said. ”This was the
only job I wanted.”
Loving every minute so far, he even agreed to dress up as a baby
for his players this spring.
The Indians, who collapsed last season under Manny Acta, have
been overhauled for Francona. Cleveland owner Paul Dolan,
criticized for penny-pinching in the past, spent $117 million on
free agents this winter, a striking, big-ticket spending spree that
brought All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn, first baseman Nick
Swisher, pitcher Brett Myers and slugger Mark Reynolds to
Cleveland. The club also traded for outfielder Drew Stubbs and
infielder Mike Aviles and signed Jason Giambi, Ryan Raburn and
Cleveland got real serious.
”You don’t bring over a guy like Terry Francona if you don’t
expect to win, and win soon,” said Swisher, who signed a
four-year, $56 million contract – the largest for a free agent in
Indians history – after playing the past four years with the
Yankees. ”Not only bring over Terry, but you bring in all these
other high-profile guys and all of a sudden this young core of guys
you have here are like, `All right, here we go, this is what we
The Indians needed an infusion of something, anything, following
their disappointing 2012 season, when they were in contention for
four months before going 18-45 after July 27 and finishing fourth
in the AL Central.
Francona’s arrival has changed everything. The Indians sold out
their home opener in 6 minutes and predictably pessimistic
Cleveland fans, who have seen many promising and pennant-winning
seasons end short of a first World Series championship since the
last one in 1948, are beginning to believe this could be a magical
The outlook is bright, but there’s also reason for caution.
With the speedy Bourn in the leadoff spot, Cleveland’s lineup
should score. The Indians were second from the bottom among AL
teams in runs last season, but in Swisher, Reynolds and the
42-year-old Giambi, who will serve as a part-time designated hitter
and clubhouse leader, Francona believes his club has some proven
middle-of-the-order run producers who will not only rack up RBIs
but take pressure off Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Carlos
Bourn was the cherry on top of general manager Chris Antonetti’s
scrumptious offseason overhaul. In addition to giving the Indians a
needed base-stealing threat, the 30-year-old changes the dynamic of
Cleveland’s outfield with his Gold Glove. Bourn takes over in
center field with Michael Brantley moving to left and Stubbs
playing right, giving the Indians perhaps baseball’s fastest
”I just hope we don’t run into each other,” Brantley
But the trio should be able to run some potential doubles into
outs and save runs for Cleveland’s staff, which will hold the key
to the Indians’ chances of closing the gap on defending division
Pitching, or more precisely, the lack of it, is a major concern.
The Indians’ rotation is a little rough around the edges.
Justin Masterson, who will start on opening day and is
considered the ace, won all of 11 games in 2012 with a 4.93 ERA.
Ubaldo Jimenez led the AL with 17 losses and has been a major
disappointment since coming over from Colorado in 2011. Myers
pitched in relief last season and was battered around in spring
training. Zach McAllister won six games as a rookie last season and
Scott Kazmir pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters, an independent
”Over the course of a long year, if you don’t pitch, you get
exposed,” Francona said more than once this spring.
The Indians, though, do have a solid bullpen anchored by
charismatic closer Chris Perez, who has promised Francona he will
be better behaved following a tumultuous 2012 during which he
criticized Cleveland’s fans and Dolan, exchanged profanities with a
fan and taunted opponents.
Perez is one of the many Indians players who said Francona
didn’t have to earn their respect. It arrived before he did.
”He’s has instant credibility,” said Perez, a two-time
All-Star who had 39 saves last year. ”He’s going to tell you
something, and it’s, `OK, how high do you want me to jump, sir.’
With what he’s done, somebody like that could be a complete jerk
and say `I want to do it this way, I’ve done it this way.’ But he’s
working with guys he’s asking, `Hey, how have you done it in the
past?’ He’s still learning and for a guy who has won two World
Series already sometimes you don’t see that. It’s really
When the Indians filmed their version of the ”Harlem Shake”
during camp in Arizona, Francona not only agreed to participate but
became the video’s star, shimmying across the clubhouse and dancing
in a baby’s bonnet.
His willingness to be open yet firm has already won over his
”His boundaries are perfect,” Giambi said. ”Look what he did
in Boston. To win two World Series there and the guys loved him.
He’s fired up to be here, and it rubs off downhill.”