Indians manager — yes, it still sounds a little weird to call him that — Terry Francona held court at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday in a media session that lasted nearly a half hour.
Francona spoke in-depth about his new challenges with the Indians while looking back fondly at his time in Boston, and sounding more at peace with how things ended with the Red Sox than he did a year ago.
Here is a sampling:
The swing of emotions from September of 2011 to a year as an ESPN commentator to, now, the manager of the Indians: “Uneven. A little bit of a roller coaster. I think you go back to September of ’11, and that was tough, man. I don’t care what city you’re in. When you go 7 and whatever, 20, if you’re the manager, you’re wide open for criticism. That’s just the way it is. And the way things ended was difficult. I thought stepping back was probably a smart thing. It’s not necessarily the easiest thing in the world to tell yourself you need to do that, but it was, I think, really healthy for me. I know I get back into it now feeling like I’m better prepared to do the job correctly because it’s got to be almost 24 hours a day to do it right, at least I think so. I was pretty beaten up by the end of that last year.”
Now on the other market of the small market/big market race, and losing out on Victorino to the Red Sox. “[Jerks],” quipped Francona. “You know what, it’s kind of hard to fault a guy like Shane Victorino for going to Boston. When guys get to be a free agent, they earn that right to go wherever they want, and it’s a great baseball town. Again, I have a lot of respect for him and the way he went about his decision. So it’s kind of hard to fault somebody for that.”
Difference in managing the Indians and the Red Sox? “When I took the job in Boston, the expectations were win or go home. I remember being very thankful that Dave Roberts was safe. I probably would have gone home. This is a little different now. We’re younger. We’re not in the same position. But our expectations, at least in my opinion, are still the same. We’re supposed to try to win. So Chris and I and all the guys are trying to put together the best roster we can, and when it’s time to put a uniform on, that’s when I get really excited, and we try to have our guys play the game correctly.”
People were surprised you took the Indians job? “First of all, people may not have known me as well as they thought they did, and the hurdle don’t scare me. I know they’re there, the challenges, but I wanted to do it with a group of people where I knew I’d be comfortable, and I wanted to be part of the solution. I didn’t want to be like a quick fix. When Chris and I talked, it became evident to me real quick ‑‑ again, I was either going to take this job or not this year. And I’m very comfortable with where I’m at. Again, having a challenge isn’t bad. Trying to find a way to tackle them is actually pretty exciting. And I’m not delusional. We have challenges. We have some things we’ve got to overcome, but trying to do that, I’m looking forward to it.”
What about the staff John Farrell has put together in Boston? “I want to be careful on rating everything that Boston does. That’s not my job anymore. I’m a manager of another team. I think, being totally honest, I think Boston’s biggest weakness is their manager,” Francona said to a chorus of laughs. “I want to kind of stay away from that. I don’t need to rate everything John does. That’s not going to work.”
Your upcoming book with the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy: “I don’t know. I hope people want to buy it.”
Do you expect fallout? “Fallout? I hope people buy it. I spent a lot of time. No, I think it’s more ‑‑ it’s eight years of a lot of funny, some emotional, a couple sad things. I think Dan busted his rear end on this thing. The fact that, first of all, me and him were together doing it was a shock to me. First time I picked him up, I told him, you have to blackout the windows because I don’t want people to see you driving me around. It ended up being probably ‑‑ I had a year where I could do it because under normal circumstances, you can’t do it. And it ended up being kind of fun. I think, for the most part, if somebody ends up being bent out of shape, that was not ever the intent. It was just to kind of tell the story, and I hope that people take it that way because I think it’s a really good story.”
Did you gain perspective on managing in your year away? “It’s hard to sit and just say, I should have put a hit and run on on April 13th or something like that. But in our game, the communication is so important, and if you get away from that at all, that can ‑‑ again, your talent level, if you don’t have enough talent, it’s going to get exposed at some point during a long season, but as a manager, if you have get your guys to play to most of their ability more often, you’re doing your job right.”
More at peace now with your departure from Boston? “You know what, I never had a problem. I think it’s a little bit of a misrepresentation. If you really think about it, it wasn’t like all of September me and you guys were feuding. We had a really tough September. It was a rough, uphill battle for us. We were leaking oil like every day, but our biggest concern was to trying to get to the playoffs. We didn’t deal with any of those issues until after the season. So it was kind of weird. I didn’t have a chance to like sit back and think about not having that job. Two days later, I was defending myself. So it was hurtful. And where it went from there was disappointing, but time does have a way of ‑‑ I don’t want to go through life being ‑‑ I don’t know if vindictive is the right word. I don’t know if that’s healthy. I have too many people there that are too special. I was disappointed with the way it ended, and I’ll probably always feel that way, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great seven years and five months.”
Coming back to Fenway for the 100th anniversary: “I was conflicted. I’ll be pretty honest about it. I wasn’t planning on doing it. I talked to some people who told me maybe I was a being a little too self‑centered. I wasn’t too thrilled about that. I was glad to be there, and I was glad to leave. But I’ve never felt like ‑‑ besides that one guy in the third row that used to scream at me, I thought Boston ‑‑ it’s a wonderful place. If you care about baseball, it’s a wonderful place. Sometimes things happen in that city. You can’t have all that good without having some of the bad, and I got caught up in it.”
Gain additional perspective on managing while working in the broadcast booth? “I hate to say this. I hope it makes me more respectful to the media’s job. Not you personally. Actually, it was a great learning year. One, you’re looking at a game not emotionally because, when the season starts, I don’t care what manager you talk to, you have no ability to view the game without emotion. When you lose, you’re beat up personally. You take it personally. Whether you have enough talent or not, you try to make it work. I also got to see what goes into putting that game on. I used to think those guys showed up and did the game, and it was a lot of work, but I learned a lot, and I was with people that were unbelievably good to me. So it was a great year. I just missed being on the field a lot, and that’s not a bad thing. I was kind of hoping I would. But I had a wonderful year.”
The Red Sox never confirm a signing until a player passes a physical, but Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was at least willing to speak about the pending Mike Napoli signing in general terms in a meeting with beat reporters earlier tonight.
“We’ve made some progress and he’s a guy who gets on base, has power, could be a good fit for our ballpark. We knew when we made the Dodgers trade, and moved Gonzalez, we were going to have to try to find a way to replace that offense and as we got into the offseason, we understood that that was probably going to have to come from a combination of guys and maybe not one guy. So that’s part of what we’ve been trying to do this offseason is add offense at a number of spots on the roster so we’re hopeful we can continue to do that.”
Will Napoli catch, or focus on first base? “He could catch, he can play first. If he’s here, we imagine he’d do some of both but that would be up to our manager to figure out.”
More details, please! “Hard to say. Obviously we’re not ready to announce anything. we can envision …there have been years when he’s caught a number of games, a lot, and there’s been years he’s caught less. We like his offense in Fenway, we like the versatility, so I’m going to say we’re hopeful to make some progress there.”
The Red Sox have a lot of catchers. Will they trade any of them. “We’ll see. I don’t have a good feel for that yet. It could be that that presents opportunities because of a potential surplus in that area, but I don’t know if that will turn into anything yet.”
The Red Sox have coveted Napoli for a long time. In fact, they claimed Napoli on waivers in 2010, but couldn’t work out a deal with the Angels at the time.
“Again we don’t have anything to announce,” Cherington said. “If we were to progress there, we’re looking at on-base, power, positional versatility and to collectively replace some of the offense we lost with Gonzalez and improve on the overall lineup performance. Someone like that can help us in a number of those areas.”
The Red Sox landed one of their top targets of the winter, agreeing to terms on a three-year deal. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that the deal is worth $39 million.
Napoli gives the Red Sox the type of power they need, and is a right-handed bat who can complement star lefty slugger David Ortiz.
While Napoli has primarily been a catcher in his career, there’s a strong chance he will get the bulk of his playing time in Boston at first base.
With Napoli on board, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington can now focus on other needs, such as finding an outfielder, a starting pitcher and possibly a shortstop.
While it should be noted that teams discuss hundreds of conceptual trades during the winter that never see the light of day, a a lot of them never even reach the rumor mill. However, one surprising one was reported on Monday night.
Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star reported that the Red Sox and Royals discussed a potential blockbuster that would send Boston lefty Jon Lester to Kansas City for top Royals outfield prospect Wil Myers. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford confirmed the report. Both writers said that no deal is close at this time.
It’s surprising, however, that the Red Sox would even discuss trading Lester, long a cornerstone of their rotation. But Lester is coming off the worst season of his career (9-14, 4.82 ERA) and is two years away from free agency.
Perhaps Boston just wanted to gauge his value. As for Myers, he is an intriguing soon-to-be 22-year-old prospect who hit .304 at Triple-A last season with 24 homers, 79 RBIs and a .932 OPS.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, the Red Sox had to get their 40-man roster in order ahead of the Rule 5 Draft. A few of the players they designated for assignment already had deals with the team for 2013.
Infielder Ivan De Jesus, right-hander David Carpenter (who came over along with manager John Farrell in the swap with Toronto) and right-hander Sandy Rosario had all re-upped with the Red Sox on Minor League deals. So too has righty Jose De La Torre, who was not DFA’d.
As WEEI.com reported Monday, whether Carpenter and Rosario pass through waivers — and remain with the Sox — is still to be seen. De Jesus has passed through waivers and was outrighted.
De Jesus, who turns 26 in May, went hitless in eight plate appearances and eight games with the Sox in 2012. He’s had just 80 plate appearances in the Majors total between this year and last with the Dodgers and Sox, hitting .205. A former second-round Draft pick, he’s done much better at Triple-A, where he has a .303/.355/.416 line lifetime.
Carpenter, 27, is 1-5 in 60 innings and 67 appearances in the Majors — with all but three of those outings coming with the Astros. Houston sent him to Toronto in an earlier trade in 2012. Carpenter has shown strikeout stuff with 60 Ks in as many big-league innings and 215 Ks in 202 1/3 innings in the Minors. His career ERA in 45 1/3 innings at Triple-A is 1.79.
Rosario, 27, has 10 games and 7 2/3 innings in the Majors between the last three seasons, all with the Marlins. The Red Sox claimed him off waivers in October. Rosario has a lifetime 3.15 ERA in the Minors and a 1.65 ERA in 32 2/3 innings at Triple-A. He was a closer in the Marlins system.
De La Torre has a Minor League deal with an invite to big league camp. The 27-year-old had a 2.45 ERA at Triple-A Pawtucket and has a 9.3 K/9 in the Minors lifetime. He came over to the Sox from Cleveland for outfielder Brent Lillibridge.
If in the Majors, all four would make in the range of $490,000 to $506,000 pro-rated.
– Evan Drellich
In the Majors with the Red Sox for one game in 2010, infielder Angel Sanchez has signed a Minor League deal with the Angels, a baseball source said. That includes an invite to big league camp.
Sanchez, 29, hit .320 in 107 games for Triple-A Oklahoma (Astros) last season. He’s a lifetime .255 hitter in the Majors (628 plate appearances).
– Evan Drellich
Red Sox president Larry Lucchino and general manager Ben Cherington sat down with media outlets individually Thursday at Fenway Park instead of holding a traditional press conference following manager Bobby Valentine’s firing. Here’s what they told MLB.com.
Would an earlier firing have made a difference?
Larry Lucchino: “Not very much. Our view was that, it’s been pretty consistent, we were going to wait until the end of the season to make any kind of changes or to do any kind of thorough diagnosis. We talked from time to time, but the plan has always been to complete the season.”
Could have changed the way the season was going?
Ben Cherington: “We were trying to diagnose what was going on with the team and looking at a lot of different things. As Larry said, we never really considered changing the manager at that point. We were looking at a lot of different thigns that weren’t going as well as they needed to. There was never any focus on changing the manager at that point.”
How much did communication issues play in?
LL: “We’re not going to get into specific topics or issues or diagnosis of problems. On balance, the record speaks for itself. There are numerous factors that contributed to it and by no means does the blame for this season fall on or exclusively on Bobby Valentine, on him or exclusively on him. We all share some full measure of accountability for the dismal year we presented. I will mention that in the first 10 years we were here under this John Henry and Tom Werner ownership, we have averaged over 92 wins a year for 10 years and none of us is smart enough of skillful enough to keep that going indefinitely. This is an ebb and flow, cyclical kind of business. We just experienced that in full measure.”
How did Bobby take it?
BC: “He took it with a great degree of class and maturity. We delivered the news and had a conversation about a bunch of different things. He handled it very well.”
LL: “I’ve been a part of several managerial changes over the course of my career and I think Bobby Valentine ended it with more dignity and class and constructiveness than anybody I can remember.”
Will Ben be more autonomous in this search than last?
LL: “I think the question is based on a false assumption, it really is. Ben led the search last year. He’s going to lead the search this year. The decision, there will be recommendations made along the way but the decision will ultimately be a consensus decision made by Ben and myself and John and Tom, but Ben will begin the leadership search immediately.”
How wide-ranging will the search be?
BC: “I think we need to, first of all, we’re not prepared to talk about names. It’s too early to do that. We know that there needs to be a bit of a reset with the culture in the clubhouse. We’ve lost too many games for the last seven months of play, Major League play, so that has a sort of wearing down, can have a certain wearing down effect. We need to revitalize the clubhouse, the manager’s part of it — the manager’s not the only part of it — but the manager’s part of it. We need someone to help us accomplish that. A lot of the qualities that we were looking for last year we’ll be looking for again.”
BC: “No, we’ll work hard and judiciously and we’d like to, of course, rather do it in less time than last year. We need to find the right guy, more than anything.”
How much do you look for experience?
BC: “Yeah, we’re at a different point in the team’s evolution compared to last year. At the time last year when we made the decision to hire Bobby, we were fully expecting to contend in 2012. We had a sort of mature roster that we felt like if some things went our way, and we got some breaks, we had a chance to win. So I think in the end experience weighed in our decision. It’ll still be a factor, but the teams at a different point. We’ll see, I don’t think there’s a particular resume blueprint. We got to get into and talk to people and just find the right person for this job and move forward.”
Can you rule out Jason Varitek?
BC: ”You know, we’re happy that Jason has joined the organization in the role he’s in. I think he’s enjoyed getting some time away from sort of the daily grind of being in the clubhouse for 12 hours a day, and he’s expressed to me that that’s been good for him. Look forward to working with him in this role for now, and we haven’t discussed anything beyond that.”
What about the coaches?
BC: “I’ll have a chance to talk to the coaches soon, I haven’t done that yet. Nothing to report there.”
LL: “We do think that Bobby may have talked to the coaches, but I don’t know that, you better check.”
But no guarantees for them, then?
BC: I just, I haven’t had a chance to talk to them, so I’ll do that soon.
With Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera perhaps being closer to winning the Triple Crown than any player in the last 45 years, it was the perfect timing for Carl Yastrzemski to be available for comment.
The former Red Sox icon was unveiled Wednesday night as the backup left fielder — behind Ted Williams — on the All-Fenway team.
When Yaz led the 1967 Red Sox to the Impossible Dream, winning the pennant on the final day of the season, the triple crown couldn’t have been any further from his mind.
But in all the years that have followed, with nobody else winning it, Yaz feels that the next Triple Crown winner is all but inevitable.
“Someone is going to do it,” Yaz said. “Whether it’s Cabrera this year or next year. I’m surprised it’s gone on this long to be perfectly honest. When Rose broke Cobb’s hit record I never thought that was going to happen and when Ripken broke Gehrig’s consecutive game record I never thought that would happen either. So it’s going to happen.
“One thing that’s going to help him is he’s in a pennant race. Of course there’s so much more publicity now a days, people calling and everything else. In ’67 the Triple Crown was never even mentioned once we were so involved in the pennant race. I didn’t know I won the Triple Crown until the next day when I read it in the paper. That’s how involved we were in the pennant race.”
“Like I said, I thought somebody would win it a long time ago. The surprising thing about it is in the 50s and when Mantle won and Williams and Frank, we had the higher mound. I’d like to see what some of the pitchers would throw today, what their speeds would be, if they came off a higher mound. I could see Verlander probably throwing 100 mph or more on every pitch. Like I said, I’m surprised it’s lasted so long.”
With the Red Sox now in a position where they are playing for the future, it was of note to see Daniel Bard return to the team on Wednesday, in preparation for being activated by Thursday.
Bard could be a vital piece for the 2013 Red Sox if he can figure out a way to get back to what he was from 2009-11.
Here are his thoughts on being back in the bigs.
“It’s good to be back. It took some patience, but I’m glad to finally get the call,” Bard said.
Was the time down on the farm beneficial?
“It just gave me a chance to work on some things without too much consequence in the results. I worked accomplishing some really good things, and I’m headed in the right direction, and now I just need to get back in a competitive environment and focus on competing.”
Mental or physical?
“It’s a little bit of everything. Pitching is a combination of both. It’s just a matter of getting out there every couple of days and trying to get better every day.”
How humbling was it?
“It definitely came as a shock when it first happened. I’ve talked about that enough. But it was an opportunity to work on some things I needed to work on. I’m glad to be back.”
Other pitchers have been sent down before and have recovered to have success.
“Pitching is never something that you figure out. It’s a constant process to get better. Once you do feel good about how you’re throwing the ball, it’s a constant work to maintain that. Every pitcher has his ups and downs. It’s another part of your journey.”
How has he felt lately?
“It’s good now. I feel like I’ve thrown the ball well the last few weeks. There have been a couple of hiccups here and there, but it was more just trying to tweak something in the mechanics and carrying it into a game maybe didn’t go as well as we wanted, but it wasn’t a confidence thing, it was working on some new things. The last few have been really good. I feel like I’ve simplified my delivery to the point that I can just go out there and not think about it and focus on getting the hitter out.”
“The initial shock of getting sent down and pitching in that environment after being up here for three years, it’s hard. There’s no adrenaline. It’s 100 percent development and just working on things. Once I got through that and got to the point that I forced myself to just go out and compete, those were the best outings I had. Getting to this environment up here is only going to help.”
Mechanics better now?
“It’s good. You know, I was never a guy that had the same arm slot on every pitch. I’d be higher on some, lower on some, throw some sliders from the lower slot and had success with it. When I stopped kind of lowering on that, it’s been kind of a tough change for me to be as consistent as I can, and things are better.
Was trying to become a starter a mistake?
“I think it was trying to morph myself into a starter too much, trying to change, throw my changeup, frontdoor cutters, backdoor sinkers, just trying to do things I hadn’t done in the past. It worked some days and didn’t work other days. I kind of lost the pitcher that I felt like I was the last three years. I had to kind of do what I had to do to rediscover that.
“I mean, you look at any video from the last three years, I was pretty much fastball-slider, attack the zone and hit it if you can. That’s the mentality that I’m back to now.”
Weird to be back with the Red Sox and see so many familiar faces gone?
“It’s weird. Definitely different. I’ve been following the last couple weeks everything that’s gone on. It’s sad to see those guys go. I’m close with them, and I wish them the best. But it’s an opportunity for the organization.”
Playing out the string is also different.
“Yeah. We’ve either been in the playoffs or in the race well past this point the last two, three years. It’s different, I guess, but I think everyone here still wants to win. We still have a lot to prove that we can be a good team without those guys, so I think there’s plenty of motivation here to win.”
Given all that has happened with the Red Sox of late, it seems like a good time to answer all of your questions. So please ask anything you want regarding the team. Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will answer as many as I can on the site on Monday. Please include first name, last name and hometown with your question. If it’s easier for you to just leave your question in the comments section of this blog, that’s also fine.
I look forward to the return of the inbox on Monday.