NEW YORK -- The soon-to-be-Guardians are planning to have Terry Francona at the helm for their inaugural season.
Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti explained on Saturday afternoon that Francona’s positive progression after his two recent procedures has the team leaning toward believing he’ll be back as the 2022 Cleveland manager. However, the organization knows it’s too soon to be definite, as his road to recovery is still lengthy.
“We have to be cognizant of that, but with where we are right now, we continue to plan looking at ’22 with Tito as our manager,” Antonetti said. “If at some point that changes, we’re going to have to reconsider and relook at things at that point. But we have no reason to think that will be the case.”
Francona stepped away from the team in July to first address his hip that had been causing him problems. After a five-week recovery period, he was cleared to have his second procedure on his left foot, which had been diagnosed with a staph infection in January. Francona had been limited to walking in a boot during the season to try to delay his need for surgery, but it reached a point where he couldn’t wait any longer.
“I was really concerned when it obviously led to our collective decision to have Tito step away and get his health taken care of, because we were concerned, I was concerned and he was concerned,” Antonetti said. “The path he was on was not a good one and it wasn’t sustainable. And if he stayed on that path, I think it would’ve been a real question of whether or not he would’ve been able to have a quality of life that he wanted to, let alone manage.”
Francona will remain in Cleveland for the foreseeable future to stay close to his doctors at the Cleveland Clinic. He’ll need to stay in a cast for another eight weeks before his next step in the rehab process begins. But the plan will be for him to get back to his home in Arizona at some point soon.
“We’re working through that right now,” Antonetti said. “He’s going to continue for at least the near term in Cleveland. Then at some point, when the doctors feel good about things and they feel it’s safe to travel, he can eventually go to Arizona and do some work out there until he’s ready to come back here and get rechecked by doctors.”
Francona’s 21-year Hall of Fame-worthy managerial career has included nine memorable, successful years with the Indians, highlighted by a 744-593 record and the 2016 American League pennant. His next win with Cleveland would be his most with any of the three teams he's helmed; he finished his eight-year run as Red Sox manager at 744-552. Health problems forcing an early retirement would not seem like an appropriate ending to Francona's storybook career. And now, the indication is that another chapter will begin in 2022.
“His mindset is in a much better place than he was a couple of months ago,” Antonetti said. “So he’s excited, and we spent a lot of time talking about what’s happening now with this year’s team, but a lot about 2022 planning, too. So he’s recovering well. … All signs are pointing to, you know, by the time he comes to Spring Training, he should be in a good place.”