[caption id="attachment_5878" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Terry Francona October 2012 David Richard/AP[/caption]

The Cleveland Indians needed a new manager and Terry Francona wanted to get back into managing. A perfect fit? Not yet. But the Indians made a bold move by signing Francona for four years.

For one, it’s saying that the Indians planning on winning over the next four years, because Francona probably wouldn’t just sign with Cleveland if there was no hope that they could be contenders in the near future.

Heck, he could probably manage almost any other team he wanted to, at least the ones with openings. But no, he went with the dreadful Indians. That’s saying something, especially considering that Francona is an elite talent evaluator.

Secondly, it’s saying that Cleveland want experience over fresh blood. Sandy Alomar Jr. certainly seemed like the front-runner for the job in the preliminary stages of the searching process. But the prospects of that happening quickly faded as Francona emerged.

And now that the deal is official. Overall, the overwhelming response was that the Indians were very wise to hire Francona. He’s a winner. A proven winner. The coaches he will draw are quality assets. And most importantly, he wants to be with the Indians. He wants to make them winners in the American League Central. Is there anything more that Cleveland can ask for at this point?

When I said that he’s a winning manager, I meant it. In eight years with the Boston Red Sox, Francona never had a losing season, totaling a .574 winning percentage. I’d say that’s winning-worthy, wouldn’t you? If you’re not sure, ask Bobby Valentine what it’s like to manage in Boston. Definitely not an easy role.

But Francona’s successful stint often gets overshadowed by the conclusion of that stint. Yes, his tenure as Boston’s manager didn’t end very well. Everyone with some baseball knowledge is well aware of that.

The moment when the Baltimore Orioles walked-off against the Red Sox, and Evan Longoria hit a walk-off home run to overtake the Red Sox for the Wild Card lead just moments after won’t be leaving the minds of Red Sox faithful anytime soon.

But for the Indians, it’s nice to have a manager that boasts a winning portfolio. For the past three years, ex-manager Manny Acta had not done enough where it counted most. Wins and postseason appearances.

So it’s clear by now that Francona is highly regarded as a winner, correct? Well now, let’s go back to the days when he wasn’t winning. Shocking, I know. But really, there was a time when losing was a common theme for Francona. In 1997, Francona began his managerial career with the Philadelphia Phillies.

He managed them until 2000 before being fired. Let’s just say that his first go around as a manager didn’t go well. Francona didn’t lead the Phillies to a winning record in any of those four seasons that he was at the helm, and finished with a total .440 winning percentage as their manager. For Francona, that ugly experience will be his best friend in coming years.

Not only are the Indians currently bad, but they will be bad for the next couple of years at least, barring a miracle of course. A manager whose only had winning experiences probably wouldn’t thrive in the Indians current situation because they are used to winning. Not rebuilding.

Realistically, tempers would flare, frustration would be sky-high, and it would just be a complete mess. But Francona brings forgettable experiences along with memorable ones. When the Indians sit deep in the cellar, he will know how to react. That’s a nifty tool, folks.

The assumption that was true until just a couple of weeks before Francona was hired, Sandy Alomar Jr. would in fact be the next manager. He has minimal experience and is the definition of “fresh blood” from a managerial perspective. From that explanation, he surely seems like a better option then Francona given the circumstances.

Take a look at how Robin Ventura did with Chicago and how Mike Matheny is still doing this year. But from the Indians’ perspective, Alomar was the riskier alternative. The Indians want results sometime soon, presumably. They don’t have time to sift through another batch of coaches.

Plus, their President and GM are both sitting on the hot seat. They couldn’t afford to take a chance with this hire. It could have cost them their jobs. Plus if the Indians didn’t turn around quickly, their already dwindling fan-base won’t be much of one at all before long.

While Francona is the safer option, that doesn’t mean that his proven managerial tactics are instantly going to lead to positive results. Frankly, that shouldn’t even be an expectation based on the current state of the team as a whole. To get back on the winning track, the Indians obviously need to have a couple of good off-seasons.

They have some young talent in Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis, but their pitching staff is appalling, and still have multiple holes to fill. Terry Francona might be a fantastic manager. But he needs at least some decent talent in order to pile up the wins.

If Cleveland has a couple productive off-seasons, than Francona might have something to work with. But that is a big “if.” It will require adding cheaper players, finding bargains, and making worth-while trades (unlike the trade the Indians made for Ubaldo Jimenez). Perhaps if management does those three things, they could be the second coming of the A’s or Orioles.

Time will only tell though.


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