I almost find it laughable that Terry Francona is interested in the Indians managerial position.
Why in the wide world of sports would he want to come to the circus that is the Indians organization?
Now, I know his father, Tito Francona, played for the Tribe many, many moons ago, and Terry himself was a special assistant to then-GM Mark Shapiro in 2001. But for a guy who won two World Series Championships within the last decade with the Red Sox, doesn’t coming to the bottom feeding Indians just seem…backwards?
Francona talked to the Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes last week and said, “People don’t know me very well if they don’t know I like a challenge…I’m excited by a challenge and I’m not afraid of a challenge. Especially, when I can do it with people I respect and care about.”
Look, there’s a vast difference between “a challenge” and trying to roll a boulder up a steep hill.
It’s not like the Indians are on the brink of contention. They’ve lost 93 games and counting. They’re lucky the Twins are behind them, because this team deserves to be in last place. It went through a month with five wins and twenty-four losses.
And then you look at the “talent” in the high levels of the minor leagues, and what is there? Absolutely nothing. Matt LaPorta was in AAA for most of the season, and what has he done since his latest call up? Russ Canzler has done a deent job in the majors since his call up, but how much of that is a mirage—remember Shelly Duncan had a great September last year and we all know how well that turned out.
On the mound, the Indians had Jenmar Gomez, Zach McAllister, David Huff, Chris Seddon, and Corey Kluber all come up from AAA and start games this season. How many of those guys are highly touted prospects?
The point here is that even if Francona decides to come, this is not a quick fix. The fact is, the Indians won’t have any impactful major-league talent coming through the farm system until probably 2014 at the earliest. And that’s just for their 2011 first round pick Francisco Lindor.
The Indians need to embark on a “building” project. A lot of the time, people call it a “rebuild,” but in my humble opinion you have to build something before you can re-build it. The Indians haven’t had a substantial team since they were one game away from advancing to (and probably winning) the 2007 World Series. Since then, the Indians have gone 81-81 in 2008, 65-97 in 2009, 69-93 in 2010, 80-82 in 2011 and now, with two games to go, are 67-92 in 2012.
Now I’m someone who personally doesn’t understand how in the world Chris Antonetti is keeping his job after this farce of a season. But since the Dolans seem to have some strange, unjustifiable faith in Antonetti—and Shapiro for that matter—I sincerely hope that if (and that’s obviously a big IF) the Indians do in fact end up hiring Francona, the new manager makes some specific demands.
First off, he should demand that they try to trade every single value piece they have, aside from maybe Jason Kipnis and Vinnie Pestano. Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Perez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson, Joe Smith—all of those guys should be gone. The upper levels of the farm system are just so talentless, and they need to be stocked up somehow. Trading all those guys would be a good way to start doing it.
Next, he should demand the Indians decline the options of Ubaldo Jimenez, Roberto Hernandez, and Travis Hafner. I think it’s a foregone conclusion that Hafner’s won’t be picked up, but those other two guys? I wouldn’t trust Antonetti and Shapiro with those options at all.
The fact is, Ubaldo Jimenez has arguably been the worst starting pitcher in MLB since being traded to the Indians. He’s had one good month with the Tribe, and that was June. Remember that? Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer even wrote this column in the beginning of July about how Jimemez had turned everything around.
Jimenez responded by going 1-4 with a 6.09 ERA that month.
If the Indians are not going to be a contender in 2013—and they won’t be—there’s no reason to waste six million on Jimenez. Same goes for Hernandez, who hasn’t been any kind of consistent throughout his tenure in Cleveland—even under the name “Fausto Carmona.”
Honestly, if I were Francona and I had a nice, cushy job at ESPN where I could watch a bunch of ball games but spend time with my family during the week, there’s no way in the world I’d leave that to manage a directionless Indians franchise.
But who knows? Maybe Francona can be exactly the kick in the pants this organization needs to stop settling for mediocrity and start demanding excellence.