Francona Hire Illustrates Bigger Issue with Indians Front Office

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Francona Hire Illustrates Bigger Issue with Indians Front Office
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On the surface it looks like a slam dunk move. When you read the headline, “Indians hire two-time World Series champion Terry Francona as manager,” you can’t help but think that this is a great move.

Right?

I’m not sold. I’m not convinced that Francona is a great hire by the Indians.

Let’s start with the obvious facts:

  1. Francona did not have success as a manager in four seasons with the Phillies where he had a .440 winning percentage.
  2. He was very successful in Boston for eight seasons where he never had a losing record and finished with a .574 winning percentage.
  3. However, his success with the Red Sox was with a roster that always had one of the highest payrolls in the league and included players such as David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling...to name a few.
  4. Francona will not have any of that in Cleveland.

 

The manager of a baseball team bears that specific title for a reason: He’s a manager not a coach. In the NFL and NBA the head coach can implement his own offensive and defensive schemes to better utilize the players he has, accentuating their strengths and weaknesses. Those sports are largely about X’s and O’s, breaking down film and making adjustments.

A manager in baseball is more similar to the manager at your local McDonald’s than he is to the head coach of an NFL team. His job is to manage people and put them in the spots that best utilize their abilities more than it is to plan, scheme and outwit the other team.

Having said all that, I think Francona is a fantastic manager. In Boston he demonstrated that he’s a smart and intelligent man who knows how to deal with people whether they be his players, the front office or the media.

The point is that just being a good or even a great manager won’t magically get .240 hitters to start hitting .310 or 5.87 ERA pitchers to get down to 3.30. You can't trick baseball players into looking better than they are like you can in other team sports.

In fact, baseball is an individual sport that masquerades as a team sport. More than anything else it comes down to who is better? The pitcher or the hitter?

Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti have played off this managerial change as if it’s going to solve all their problems. This leads me to my real skepticism with the move: Shapiro and Antonetti.

Francona has made it eminently known that the reason he left the announcing booth with ESPN to come to Cleveland is because of his relationship with Shapiro and Antonetti from his time between managerial positions when he was a special assistant with the Indians. And according to Buster Olney there is an out clause in Francona’s four-year contract that allows him to leave if Shapiro and Antonetti leave.

Francona didn’t come to Cleveland because it’s a great opportunity or because he thinks the team is loaded with untapped potential and that they’re on the verge of being a great team. He specifically chose to manage the Indians (and they were literally the only team he would manage) because his buddies were the running the team.

What troubles me about the whole situation is that it appears that there is a gross lack of accountability within the organization. Paul Dolan owns the team. He really likes Mark Shapiro and promoted him to team president despite the team having very little success under his time as GM. Shapiro then promotes his right-hand man and protégé Chris Antonetti to take over GM duties. And now they have brought in their old pal Terry Francona to be the manager.

One big happy family.

I understand that this how many companies, corporations, and teams work. But typically that’s the case with winning teams and successful companies. The current Cleveland Indians are far from being characterized as either “winning” or “successful.”

I'm troubled that a manager like Francona who has experienced so much success is so willing to trust Shapiro and Antonetti implicitly despite their lack of winning. The Indians front office has not demonstrated an ability to make signings, trades or draft picks to positively affect the team.

We could list a dozen moves that have been abject failures, such as the trades of C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, the signings of Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe, the decision not to sign Josh Willingham and of course re-signing Grady Sizemore.

It blows me away as a fan of this team that there appears to be a completely an utter lack of accountability or urgency. The team is terrible but they carry on like they're on the verge of the World Series.

News flash...you lost 94 games in 2012 and your minor league system is bare.

I've been reading the book Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN and something very interesting stood out to me. Dan Patrick, widely regarded as one of the best sports media personalities of all time said that there was one factor that always drove him to be better: insecurity.

It floors me that a man who is as successful and talented as Dan Patrick still feels insecure and that that feeling is what drives him to always be better and never be satisfied with his craft.

Dan Patrick is at the pinnacle of his profession and needs the feeling of insecurity to continue getting better. To the outside observer it appears that there are no more secure people in all of baseball right now than Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti and Terry Francona.

I'm not trying to be a downer or a contrarian and say that this is a bad move just to make noise. In fact, if the Dolans would have fired Shapiro and Antonetti and the new front office people had brought in Francona I'd be all for it.

But you can't get so sucked into looking at the one point that you miss the whole story. Francona wanted to come to Cleveland because it was going to be comfortable. Shapiro and Antonetti are comfortable in their positions despite their many failures.

Where is the accountability? Where the urgency? Do fans have confidence in the Indians front office as currently constituted to get them a winning product on the field?

I, for one, do not. And until there is either a change at the top or they finally figure out how make winning moves it doesn't matter who fills out the lineup card every game. It'll just be the same old Tribe, which unfortunately, are losers.

 

You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.

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