Winter Meetings interview with Terry Francona
TERRY FRANCONA: And make sure it's noted in your article that you're the one who said he was the opening act when I sat down here, not me.
For a manager that's my age and I've said this over and over because it's how I feel -- he's kind of the gold standard of managers. When I was a young player coming up, he was a AAA manager, and you could see it, that he was the guy that everybody wanted to play for. So through his coaches, like Rich Donnelly and Gene Lamont, I was always asking questions about how Jim did stuff. I always watched.
There's about three hours during the night when we want to beat each other's brains out, but other than that, there's probably nobody in the game that I respect more.
Q. And that goes back a long way, right?
TERRY FRANCONA: 1981, but it just goes past that. He's always -- he's been a guy, when he managed in Pittsburgh, he had a way of making my dad feel important. Just the kind of person he is. I wish we didn't have to play him 18 or 19 times, and I wish they didn't have the lineup they did. I actually wish they didn't have the pitching they did.
But it's obvious how much I respect him.
Q. Terry, what's it been like for you kind of the last couple of years, from Boston to ESPN and now back to the game. Describe what it's been like the last couple of years for you.
TERRY FRANCONA: 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.
Q. Terry, now that you've had a chance to go through some of the organizational meetings with Chris and with Mark, how hard is this going to be to get the guys you want in place to kind of get things rolling to where you're comfortable with where you roll out on opening day.
TERRY FRANCONA: You know what, that's a great question, and I don't have an answer to that yet. I mean, we have had -- we have had considerable time on, okay, how do we want to get better? What are our options? What is out there? Internally, where were we at? That's probably the biggest thing, where are we at internally?
The one thing, I think we all agree, we need to get better. We want to try to do it in a way that makes sense, and that's not always easy to do. Those things don't necessarily come hand in hand. We're trying to be realistic and trying to, again, there's teams out there that have proven you can win without a payroll. Tampa Bay has done it consistently. They've also made tremendous decisions. Oakland did it by just loading up with arms, and then all of a sudden, the offense they get is flush instead of if you're down 9-3, that home run in the ninth doesn't mean anything.
Baltimore showed that, if you put a pitching staff together, you put a bullpen together, you can win. You can compete. It can get done.
Q. Terry, when you were with the Red Sox, a lot of times your team would beat middle to small market teams to a free agent. You were on the other side of that yesterday with Victorino. What's it like being on the other side of that?
TERRY FRANCONA: Bastards. 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.
Q. Terry, you with Shane, I think you reached out to him and talked to him, and Swisher is another guy whose name has come up. It seems like those guys are maybe more veteran personality clubhouse guys, who have some experience with winning teams. As a guy who's been there, do you think maybe that's the kind of guy you'd like to get there maybe to take some pressure off you and your kids? Is it important maybe to get that kind of Johnny Damon personality there?
TERRY FRANCONA: I think your idea is good. It has to match not just personality and leadership, but also on the field. I like the idea of maybe taking some of the heat off some of the younger players so they can develop into some of the players -- again, sometimes you ask young guys to do too much too quick. That's not development. That's getting beat up, especially with pitchers. If you can back him up and take a little pressure off of him, that can certainly help their development.
Q. How much more have you learned about the team that you have right now from when you got hired to now, certainly talking to them and everything, and reading more about them?
TERRY FRANCONA: Take every day since the day I got the job, and I've either talked to people or read stuff or watched video, so a lot. Even about the player development system. So it's good. I kind of hit the ground running. Chris and I left that day for good year the day I got hired, and it's been nonstop ever since.
Q. You've had other guys like Chew and Cabrera, who not through you necessarily, but always being mentioned in trade rumors kind of thing. As a new manager with the team, how do you sort of deal with that and those guys, they hear it a lot? I don't know whether you felt compelled at some point to reach out and plan the landscape for them.
TERRY FRANCONA: No. Again, there's a couple things. I'm here in Nashville. I'm new. I've been trying to make inroads with guys since I got the job here. Actually, chew called me yesterday just to say hello. I appreciated it. It was great.
We can't help what's out there. In this day and age, look how many people are around here right now. That's just the nature of the beast. I'm sure it affects some people more than others.
My talks with Asdrubal have been a lot of texting because he's down there in Cuba. But it's been upbeat. I don't sense a panic on anybody's heart. I understand the question. As a team, when you lose 90 something games, you have to listen. You have to figure out a way to get better. But we value those guys a lot, and they know that.
Q. I was going to ask you that. If you characterize sort of given an opportunity to sort of put that in perspective, where you see maybe moving those guys from your perspective, how would you sort of characterize it? That you really like him if you listen, kind of deal.
TERRY FRANCONA: You want both. You want to make the team better, but you don't want to lose your good player. That's the way everybody feels.
Maybe I view it different. I felt like yesterday was a good day because during the middle of the day I got to spend a half hour with Matt LaPorta, a guy that had been designated, still in the organization. Got a chance to reflect about ten days after having a pretty tough conversation with Chris, and is he in a position to have a productive conversation with him.
So all this stuff is flying around the meetings, and I'm walking up to Chris' suite, and I'm feeling good because I had a meeting with Matt LaPorta, and I'm feeling great about it. That's maybe where I'm at at a stage in my career that this is a challenge that's really exciting for me. It's a little different from where I came. I acknowledge that. It doesn't mean it has to be not a good situation.
Q. Was LaPorta here?
TERRY FRANCONA: No, I talked to him on the phone.
Q. Terry, you know about the Cleveland landscape. You know a lot about it. You know the fan base is dying to have a winner. But at the same time, when you use words like rebuild.
TERRY FRANCONA: I didn't.
Q. I know you didn't.
TERRY FRANCONA: Careful.
Q. I'm just saying fans don't want to hear that. What message do you want the fans to know? Can you compete right now? Once you get this thing going.
TERRY FRANCONA: We'll always compete. Again, we're in December right now. We don't know what our team is going to look like. And everybody expects, when the Winter Meetings are over, that's your 40 man roster. That's not realistic either.
Again, if you'd have asked Oakland last year in June -- who here thought Oakland was going to win last year? Nobody.
Q. I did.
TERRY FRANCONA: [I strongly disagree] on that. Baltimore competed all year from day one, but people didn't see that during the winter. It can happen. Once you get good and start developing confidence and play the game the right way, things happen, and it snowballs. Just like it goes the other way, sometimes it goes for the good.
That's our job is to show up my job is whoever we have is to try to make them the best they can be. I don't spend a ton of time worrying about what could be or what should be. Kind of get energized how are we going to make whoever we have better? That's what I get a kick out of.
Q. So the market can campaign of what if is not in your vocabulary. You're going to stay with who you have on the field and win with who you have.
TERRY FRANCONA: Sure. My responsibility is to take whoever we have -- I don't care if it's a six year minor league free agent that may not have a chance to make our club, but it's our responsibility to see who we have and make them the best that they can be, and I get a kick out of that.
Q. Terry, which way are you going? You've said -- there's been talk you're going to trade your best players. You're pursuing kind of some high profile free agents. What is the game plan?
TERRY FRANCONA: Why, I'd have to kill you. I can't tell you that. If we wanted you to know that, we'd invite you up to the suite. Again, there's a lot going on. I don't think there's anything we haven't explored. I'm sure you've talked to Chris about that a ton.
But exploring it and doing it are two different things. I don't know where it will end up. I don't think anybody knows.
Q. Terry, do you think that in 30 days of Spring Training you'll know what you have?
TERRY FRANCONA: 30 days? Not this year. Because there's WBC.
Q. Let's say 40.
TERRY FRANCONA: But WBC. That would not be my first choice as going in as a first year manager.
Q. Do you think you will have a sense of your club at the end of Spring Training?
TERRY FRANCONA: Sure. I'd better.
Q. And if you have deficiencies, how do you go about correcting it?
TERRY FRANCONA: If you have deficiencies over 162 games, more often than not, they get exposed. As a manager, wherever you're weakest at, you try to lessen that, and you try to expand on the things you do well. I think anybody's going to say the same thing.
If you have a couple of missing pieces in your bullpen, try to pick your spots. Fortunately, going in, our bullpen is solid. I'm just using that as an example.
If you have power hitters, you don't necessarily run. You let them hit home runs. If you have guys that can run, you've got to let them run. It's my responsibility to know who we have and put them in the best position to succeed.
Q. What's your take on the pitching rotation now?
TERRY FRANCONA: I think it's huge that we can do Ubaldo. Mickey has already made one trip. Mickey and I are both going down there next week. We get him back to what he was in '11 and we get Masty, that would be a huge step in the right direction.
Q. What about Ubaldo? What do you guys have going on? Going to go see him?
TERRY FRANCONA: He had some moving parts last year, that I think it's probably hard for him to sink the ball the way he used to. He's so conscientious. He wants to start so early. Mickey's made one trip, and I'm going to go with him.
It's nice to see someone in person, first of all. I'm going to see Santana and the guys playing winter ball. Spend six or seven days down there. Hopefully, see five, six, seven guys. Maybe see hag knot. Q. Is this Venezuela?
TERRY FRANCONA: Dominican, I believe.
Q. So they're all down there. You're going to go see them?
TERRY FRANCONA: Sure.
Q. Terry, this is different, obviously, from your last job. For you coming in, how is it different?
TERRY FRANCONA: 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.
Q. Did you do anything differently than you would have done walking in that first year in Boston the way you do your job?
TERRY FRANCONA: Will I know or would I then?
Q. Will you now.
TERRY FRANCONA: I think, as you gain experience, I think you gain confidence in dealing with people. So that helps. I think you learn as you go. If you don't, you've certainly missed the boat.
Saying that, again, you try to put the players in the best position to succeed and then let them go play. Try to have them feel confident about what they're doing. Then again, if we have the talent we need, we'll be okay.
Q. You've said all along that Chris and Mark, your relationship with them was really important to getting the job, or that's part of the reason you wanted to take it. Can you talk about the first Winter Meetings with Chris or how you enjoyed it, how you haven't enjoyed it. Has there been any fights yet?
TERRY FRANCONA: No. I was going to wait till some of the ESPN guys left. No. That was some of the easy, really easy part of taking this job.
When Chris introduced me the day I got the job, it wasn't like we were introducing ourselves. I've known Chris for 12 years, and we hit the ground running. There was no period where we had to step lightly or tread lightly around each other. We know each other really well. I got to know the other guys just about as easily.
So it's been it hasn't been that time period, where, again, it's uncomfortable. We kind of hit the ground running.
Q. You talked about LaPorta over the phone, going to Dominican to see these guys. Are there any other examples of those kinds of things where you made a point to talk to guys on the phone. How important do you feel that is for you to maybe affect the attitude and make it positive?
TERRY FRANCONA: You know, it's not as easy as it sounds. Like I'd love to visit everybody before. It's just not probably not able to do that. On the way back from the Dominican, I need to go to Cleveland. So I'm trying to stop in Tampa. I want to see Perez. The I told him, I'm going to make a trip to see you, and I want to do that.
Again, does something change? Is there rain out in the Dominican? So I told him, here's when I'm possibly coming. Are you going to be there? Yeah, just give me a call. So things like that.
Q. Why do you feel that's important?
TERRY FRANCONA: I'd like to get to as many people as I can. It's on the way. Santo Domingo, Tampa, to Cleveland was easier than Tucson to Tampa.
Q. What is it you hope to accomplish when you just talk to these guys?
TERRY FRANCONA: I think it's easier in person. I think that it would be important. Again, it's an important part of what we're doing. And the quicker I get to know guys, the more you establish a relationship, the better things work. At least I believe that.
Q. Terry, the Giants are now in a very similar position as you guys were after '07, a franchise that had not won the World Series in decades and suddenly wins two in a short spell. Did something change after '07, as far as expectations, challenges from other teams, or anything along those lines?
TERRY FRANCONA: No, I don't think so. People ask, is it hard to repeat? It's hard to win. And what happens is you try to put yourself in a position to win every year because things go wrong. I thought to be honest with you, I thought '08 was our best team. I really did. Beckett had that intercostal issue. And Tampa beat us. That was our best team. We got beat by a really good team, and Beckett wasn't quite able to be the Beckett from the year before.
But you put yourself in that position to give yourself a chance, and sometimes you're fortunate enough to win.
Q. Terry, you talked about Ubaldo and Masterson. What about 3, 4, and 5?
TERRY FRANCONA: We love McAllister. We love Cooper. We're thrilled about Carrasco coming back. Saying that, we also know you have to be deeper than that or you get exposed. So we're trying to figure out how to add depth, where our young guys are exactly in your development, and go from there.
Q. Terry, what do you tell a guy like Swisher when you talk to him about -- how do you sell it? How do you sell this team to him?
TERRY FRANCONA: Again, I don't want to talk in specifics because I don't think it's fair to them. Guys who are free agents, if they want to talk about stuff, that's their prerogative. I don't think it's fair to me to do that.
In general, when I talk to any player, I just tell them the truth. I felt that works the best.
Q. Terry, at this point, which do you feel will be the toughest division next season?
TERRY FRANCONA: The Central because that's the one we're in. It's the one I care more about.
You never know. For years and years, everybody talked about the East, and then sometimes, for whatever reason, things change. You don't know. I mean, Toronto's made some unbelievable moves. But as I found out the hard way, the team that wins the winter doesn't always win the season. Sometimes it makes you an analyst. You've got to be careful.
Q. You mentioned the World Baseball Classic and how that kind of interrupts your spring a little bit. Can you just go a little further into that. How difficult is that?
TERRY FRANCONA: We don't know. We don't know exactly how many guys we're going to lose, but it gets in the way. Again, I'm not bashing the WBC. It's good for baseball. I know you're trying to globalize the game. I get all that. But as a first year staff, we'd love to have all our guys in place, and it's just not possible.
Every team is going to have their own challenges, and ours as a first year staff, that's one of them.
Q. You probably answered this when you got hired, but you're very accomplished, and I think people thought, well, he can wait around for a team that's first place, ready made to win team, and you got back into it with a team that has some hurdles to overcome. I don't know if it's because you really were anxious to get back in or probably because you like the situation here with the people you worked with. But you probably get asked that a lot, I'm sure.
TERRY FRANCONA: I did. And what I answered, what I believe is, 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.
Q. You sound like you're excited.
TERRY FRANCONA: I am, yeah.
Q. Are you counting the days to Spring Training?
TERRY FRANCONA: I think, honestly -- and the guys from Boston probably know -- as we get closer to Spring Training, it's just sort of -- I don't know if it's in your DNA. I don't know how you say it. It's baseball. I'm excited to put a uniform on. I miss that. So that will be exciting.
Q. Terry, what have you thought about the staff that John's put together in Boston?
TERRY FRANCONA: 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. I want to kind of stay away from that. I don't need to rate everything John does. That's not going to work.
Q. Terry, you have a book coming out this winter. What's the reaction to that going to be in Boston?
TERRY FRANCONA: I don't know. I hope people want to buy it.
Q. But do you expect there to be fallout?
TERRY FRANCONA: 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.
Q. How did that happen?
TERRY FRANCONA: I don't know. 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.
Q. Being away for a year, do you get a lot of time, that one year that you were removed from the game, to kind of go through ins and outs of what you want to do better? Is there something you want to do better?
TERRY FRANCONA: 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.
Again, it's just get home maybe when you go through what we did at the end of '11.
Q. What kind of player is Aviles?
TERRY FRANCONA: Hard nosed. Be a good teammate when he's not playing every day. A guy we're thrilled to have.
Q. He can play every day at short?
TERRY FRANCONA: He can play every day in a few positions. At the same time, you can run him out to second, short, third, and probably left and right, and he'd be thrilled to do it. That's a good guy to have.
Q. The way things ended in Boston is obviously tough on you emotionally. Now that some time has passed and you're back in the game, are you a little more at peace with your relationship with the city and the organization?
TERRY FRANCONA: 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.
Q. Is it sort of cathartic a little bit to get out there and see the ovation.
TERRY FRANCONA: 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.
Q. Terry, being on TV with all the managerial experience you have, do you think it might have made you a better manager just having that perspective?
TERRY FRANCONA: 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.