CLEVELAND -- Guardians manager Terry Francona found himself thinking more this year than any other about how long he wanted to keep managing.
Francona’s health has been tested the last few years, undergoing so many procedures he’s lost count of the total. He left in the middle of the season in both 2020 and ’21 due to gastrointestinal problems, blood clots and a staph infection. This year, he was ready to get through 162 games as healthy as physically possible, but the reality of how long he could continue this kept popping up in his head.
He has yet to figure out an answer to how long he can keep managing, but the one thing he knows is that 2022 was not his last season.
Francona confirmed on Friday afternoon in an end-of-the-year media session that he’s planning to be back as Cleveland’s manager in 2023. All of the details of his contract are not worked out yet, as he has yet to sign a deal, but he knows it’s best to stick to one-year contracts for the rest of his career (however long that may be) given his health situation.
“There was never a question in our minds of Tito returning,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “It was more just on what made sense for him.”
Francona sat in his office in Kansas City early in September when Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff began having discussions with Francona about his future. The relationship between manager and front office in Cleveland is different from nearly any other Major League club. The ball is always in Francona’s court. The team has been clear that this job is his for however long he wants it. So with his current contract set to expire at the end of the ’22 season, the group got together, had a five-minute conversation about his future and came out in agreement that he’ll be back in ’23.
“This is the only place this could ever get done like it did,” Franona said. “It wasn’t a negotiation. We just talked about things that are important to me. Things that are important to them, and then they tried to help me. That’s the best way I can put it.”
Francona’s health is always going to be a concern. He’s already set to undergo his first procedure of the offseason on Tuesday to help some of the ongoing gastrointestinal issues he’s been battling. But his love for the game, especially the group of young players he managed this season, has not waned.
“I love the fact that we have something, I think, that could be pretty special here moving forward,” Francona said. “I enjoyed the heck out of our players this year. I want to see that group grow, and I'd like to be a part of that.”
Francona joked from the start of Spring Training with his players that he recognizes he’s old and they’re young, but if they all worked together to meet in the middle, they could be successful, which is exactly what they did. The skipper got his team to buy into the idea that small ball can compete with the big sluggers of today’s game, and it carried the club to 92 victories and a division title. It’s only fitting that he sees the next step in this group’s growth.
“We’re just super grateful that Tito remains energized and enthusiastic about where we are and wanting to continue in the role he’s in,” Antonetti said.
Francona has had an extraordinary run in Cleveland. He joined the organization in 2013 and has led his team to six postseason appearances, four division titles and one American League pennant. In his 10 seasons, Cleveland has only played 19 regular season games after being eliminated from postseason contention (most of which occurred in ’21 when Francona wasn’t actively managing). His 845 wins (and counting) are the most by any manager in franchise history.
The 63-year-old skipper knows this job is getting more difficult for him to handle, but it hasn’t reached the point that it’s too daunting to overcome. He’s relied on his coaching staff to handle some extra duties that allowed him to take an extra breather at times throughout this past season. But because of the legacy he’s already built in Northeast Ohio, his staff and the Guardians front office are more than willing to make adjustments to keep him at the helm.
Mix that extra support for Francona’s love for the game and this organization, and he couldn’t help but come back for 2023.
“We talked about being nervous during the playoffs,” Francona said. “I was nervous on the last day of the [regular] season when we had a lead. I think that means I still care. When the day comes that losses don't affect you, then it's probably time to hang it up. I'm not there.”