Francona on State of Indians in Year 3: ‘I love it’
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Most times during opening press conferences announcing a hiring of a manager, things said rarely come to fruition. Hugs and hats are exchanged between the manager and general manager then both sides go their respective ways.
As the Indians enter their third season of the Terry Francona-Chris Antonetti partnership, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Many of the things uttered on Oct. 8, 2012, when Francona became the 42nd manager in franchise history remain true today.
"I feel better now than I did then. All of the reasons I wanted to be here I get to go through it all the time," Francona said earlier this week. "We have the right to disagree, we have a lot of fun, we mess around a lot but we care about what we do and we have fun doing it together. When we need to pick each other up we do. That is why I wanted to come here and so now that I’ve been here awhile, (shoot) I love it.
"These are hard jobs, even sometimes on the good days and doing it with people you care about is the best thing that happened to me. I know it. I’m able to enjoy myself so much here. It’s a great atmosphere."
The Indians come into the season with the reigning American League Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and one of the emerging outfielders in the game in Michael Brantley, but a big reason why they are the chic pick to win the division and the darlings of Sports Illustrated to win it all is due to Francona along with some of Antonetti’s moves that have started to pay off.
Of the Opening Day roster, 14 of the 25 came to the Indians via trade, including Kluber and Brantley. Seven were drafted, four came via free agency and one was signed as a non-drafted free agent. Francona has directed that group to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2001.
On a team that saw 14 rookies make appearances last year, the Indians won 85 games and were in contention for a playoff spot until the final weekend of the season. Considering the struggles last season’s team had with injuries, errors and the rotation early on, Francona did a better job than when he led the 2013 squad to the playoffs.
Another part of what made the Indians attractive to Francona is being able to develop players whereas in Boston most times he already had established veterans. He is also keenly aware of the market dynamics where there is a longer patience level with players because of the payroll.
"We each have our own eccentricities. On a serious note at the time we hired him we had a good idea of what to expect and what type of leader he was," Antonetti said. "I’m even more excited today than I was when we started working together because I’ve had the chance to work with him the last two-plus years.
"I enjoy the dynamic of the entirety of our front office, Tito and the coaching staff and how aligned we are. Tito deserves a ton of credit for that because he creates a welcoming environment and embracing. It is not only fulfilling but fun."
With only one free agent, it ended up being a mostly quiet offseason due to having most of the roster under team control. The trade for Brandon Moss has looked good early as he hit five home runs during the spring but the Gavin Floyd signing went for naught after he fractured his elbow for the second time in less than a year.
While some still rank the Indians farm system in the middle, they are better positioned with prospects in case they need to make a trade. Five of the top 10 are outfielders with Francisco Lindor likely to make it to the big club sometime this season.
With the Indians closing in on a long-term deal with Kluber, and possibly Carlos Carrasco, the only major arbitration headaches that would loom for the next offseason are Moss and Cody Allen.
If there is anyone best suited to guide a team through rising expectations it is Francona. After making the playoffs in 2013, the first half of last season was a good lesson that remaining at a high level is more difficult.
With Detroit not the unanimous choice to win the division, Chicago remaining an unknown despite a flurry of additions and Kansas City losing a couple key pieces, this could be the Tribe’s time.
"We play in the moment and don’t let outside influences affect our game," Francona said. "What it (the predictions) means is we have made strides on our roster. Whether someone picked us for last or first, our goal is to prepare, try to win the first game and move on to the next one."