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Winter Meetings interview with Terry Francona

MLB.com

Q. After last year you energized the city. How important is it for you guys to sustain the success?

TERRY FRANCONA: I'm hoping that it's kind of a springboard into next year, as opposed to a nice little year that ended quicker than we wanted. But it was still a fun year.

Q. After last year you energized the city. How important is it for you guys to sustain the success?

TERRY FRANCONA: I'm hoping that it's kind of a springboard into next year, as opposed to a nice little year that ended quicker than we wanted. But it was still a fun year.

Saying that, it's going to be hard to do, but if anything, our goals are set higher. But it's challenging, but it's also fun doing it, with the people we're doing it with. It's enjoyable.

Q. Joe Maddon was saying the other day that he actually kind of has come to embrace that underdog aspect, that you know that you're going to not have the payroll of some of the teams you're going up against, and it presents a challenge. Having been with big market teams earlier, do you now feel that or do you still kind of feel your way there?

TERRY FRANCONA: I think it's realistic. I think if you don't -- if you deny it, you're missing the boat because you're kind of playing in different neighborhoods in the winter. But when the season starts you're in the same one.

I certainly understand his point. I think for me it's more of a comfort zone of who I'm working with and things like that. We have our challenges and I knew that coming in. But I have enjoyed immensely showing up and trying to figure out how we're going to do it with these guys. So it's probably maybe a little different.

Q. Salazar (INAUDIBLE)?

TERRY FRANCONA: No. I mean there's no limitations going into the season. Now, he's a young kid that we value. We're not going to abuse him. But all the limitations are completely off. He's far enough removed that he'd be treated like any other pitcher.

Q. What are the chances that you guys bring back Ubaldo, and what kind of affect did Ubaldo have in your rotation?

TERRY FRANCONA: I don't know what the chances are, you'd have to ask Chris that. But in the second half of the year he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. We were trying to manipulate a start at the end of the year, that's a pretty big turnaround. It kind of coincided with us getting better. The second half of the year he was one of the best pitchers in baseball.

Q. More challenging? Last year you're chasing the Tigers, now you're seeing the Kansas City Royals spend money, Twins?

TERRY FRANCONA: You know what, I don't pay a ton of attention during the winter. I really kind of focus on what we're doing, because I guess I always figured if we played good enough when the season is over, we're going to be where we're supposed to be, and it's usually the way it works.

Q. You guys have Murphy in the mix. How do you feel about your offensive balance, improving where you were last year?

TERRY FRANCONA: I think Murphy was a nice piece that will fit well into what we're doing. He's not the 30 home run, 100 RBI guy, but he's a solid Major League player. Probably part of the reason we had a chance to get him, because he had a down year. Same thing with Raburn, and maybe we can take advantage of that and he'll come in and be an instant good teammate and a contributor, a guy that can hit all through the lineup and play the corners and be a great teammate and just fit in with exactly what we're trying to do.

Q. Last year you came into camp, you just coming in, you had a lot of new players, and as the season went on you had a lot of ups and downs. When did your clubhouse, team when you walk in the door expect to win?

TERRY FRANCONA: The last ten days of the year we had to win. So I don't know that there's ever a day that you show up and you think you're going to lose on any team. And to be honest with you, I don't know that there's ever a day that you wake up and you know you're going to win. You always think you're going to find a way.

But those things are easier to answer when the season is over. I can remember being asked in September, hey, are you frustrated? You're falling out of it. Then all of a sudden a month later, hey, when did you know you're going to be so special (laughter).

That's just the way our game is. That's part of the fun of it.

Q. How did the team avoid losing faith when they were on the losing streaks?

TERRY FRANCONA: I think we were very -- guys like Giambi saved us. We had very good leadership in the clubhouse, because we did have our share of ups and downs, and some downs that were really difficult.

But instead of just imploding, we kept our head above water enough to where we gave ourselves a chance the last month. Then when we reeled off those wins, it was meaningful as opposed to getting to .500.

Q. From the beginning of Spring Training to the end of the year, how rare is it for a guy like Gomes to come as far as he did (INAUDIBLE)?

TERRY FRANCONA: It's one of the best stories. I wish I could sit here and say, yeah, I saw this. I had no idea. When we came -- I remember Chris talking about him and Kevin Cash had just been hired, I think this guy is a catcher. And we went to Spring Training and he was thinking about going to play for Team Brazil. And he asked me, he's like, he goes, what should I do? And I'm like, man, I can't tell you not to go represent your country. But I can tell you that Carlos is going for the Dominican, and you would be catching every other day. He goes, that's good enough for me. Because he wanted to show us that he could catch.

And he did well enough in Spring Training, we'll send him to Triple A, as opposed to being a utility guy in the big leagues. He did so well there, okay, we called him up, and we still weren't ready to give him the every day. But when he caught it was like so striking like how much of an impact he's making, that when we finally did kind of turn it over to him full time, he took it and ran with it.

Q. Have you talked to Masterson in regard to trade rumors?

TERRY FRANCONA: I called him yesterday and told him whether he liked it or not, he's not getting rid of us. He said, knowing you, I doubt if you're reading it. And he said, But my mom might. I said, Tell her you're not going anywhere. I thought it was getting a little out of hand, so I did call him.

Q. Tito, what is your take on the home plate collision, the stuff the MLB is trying to change?

TERRY FRANCONA: I think it's well intended. I might be a little bit in the minority. I think there is liable to be more injuries with baserunners than maybe we realize. I guess I'm just -- again, I might be in the minority. I guess I feel like if you don't want your catcher not to block the plate, just tell him not to block the plate. You don't have to enforce rules, just tell him not to block the plate.

Q. With Buster Posey, the runner was not blocking the plate.

TERRY FRANCONA: I would have to go back. I'm having a hard time thinking that Buster Posey wasn't -- the baserunner didn't go out of the baseline to hit him.

Q. He did a little bit, yeah.

TERRY FRANCONA: Then I didn't get a good look at him.

Q. You managed a Japanese pitcher before. What's your thoughts on Tanaka?

TERRY FRANCONA: I have not seen him.

Q. You have not seen him at all?

TERRY FRANCONA: No.

Q. Sometimes Jason obviously had a couple of big home runs and they're memorable, but a guy like Michael, or some other pieces sometimes get lost in the shuffle when a clubhouse is trying to make the transition. I know 130 games that he played, can you talk about other parts and pieces?

TERRY FRANCONA: Yeah, I'd love to. He's so conscientious. And I think he'll put up better numbers next year with some -- knowing the League, knowing our ballpark a little bit more.

But he shows up every day and he plays hard, and like I say, he's conscientious, he runs from left center to right center, tracks everything down, hits left handers, hit an occasional home run. He's a solid teammate. I hope guys like him don't go under the radar, because it shouldn't. That's a big part --

Q. Do you think he'll be more effective stealing bases next year?

TERRY FRANCONA: I think so. It was interesting, because when we went to some of the National League cities it seemed like he was more aggressive. So he's a pretty conscientious kid, go ahead and go, if you get thrown out, I'll tell people I told you. Because we do value percentage a lot. But we also value his ability to disrupt the game.

And I think to be honest, I think pitchers in the League are doing a much better job of addressing the running game because it's coming back to being more important with the power numbers going down.

Q. Carrasco, did you talk with him and catch up? What are you looking to see from him, and how much of an impact do you think he could make this year?

TERRY FRANCONA: We envision him starting a lot of games this year. That's our goal. To be a starter and log a bunch of innings and take off. We all feel like it's his time to take the ball and go. And since we were an hour away, we thought doing it in person was -- would be kind of fun. A couple of things Mickey wanted to show him mechanically and did it in person and bought him lunch, and I think it was important.

Q. What does he need to do to kind of take that next step, in your opinion?

TERRY FRANCONA: I just think it's to understand. He's done it at the Triple A level, he's done it at times at the Major League level. Part of it is just giving him the opportunity when he gets roughed up, he's not going to get taken out of rotation.

He came up from Triple A, and he got the suspension, and then he got sent down. We just need to let him pitch and when he has a hiccup, know it's a hiccup and just get him back out there. His stuff is so impressive. And his delivery is so -- he should log a lot of innings.

Q. With Salazar, given the small sample size you saw last year, how much are you looking forward to seeing what he could do over a full season?

TERRY FRANCONA: I can't tell you how many times last year we said that. Like I wish it was next year. He'd be in the 4th or 5th inning and he's cruising. But we had an obligation to take care of this kid. And next year that won't be a case. He'll be a year removed from Tommy John. He'll be a year more mature, not just knowing the League, but stronger. This has got a chance to get exciting in a hurry.

Q. Would third base be a position where we're (INAUDIBLE)?

TERRY FRANCONA: I honestly don't know yet. Everybody has mentioned it. Santana is down at winter ball just kind of trying. I don't know where that's going to go. We have Lonnie that we are hoping so bad turns into a really good Major League player. You kind of walk that balance when you're trying to win and develop a young player that sometimes it's a little bit of a delicate balance. And it's difficult sometimes.

To be honest with you, Spring Training doesn't tell you everything that you want to know. So it makes it hard.

Q. If Santana can play at third base, how nice is that versatility?

TERRY FRANCONA: His versatility really affects our lineup in more ways than -- I think last year we used the platoon advantage almost -- I think it was second to Oakland. A lot of that was because of Santana, his ability to move around, to get somebody else's bat in the lineup. It's huge.

Q. When a team hasn't made the playoffs in a long time and perhaps loses in a five game series, do you at least kind of look at what you need to improve on, okay, they were better than us at this, and we need to -- when it happens in one game in nine innings, your postseason comes and goes before you know it, is it harder to get a sense of that next step you have to take when you only played one postseason game?

TERRY FRANCONA: I get your point. We could very well improve our team and still have the same number of wins next year. That could happen. We didn't do a very good job with the majority of the teams that were the upper echelon in the League. Detroit, Boston kind of pushed us around little bit.

We played everybody else I think it was a testament, our guys showed up every day and played, and because of that I think we took advantage of teams with subpar records, but we have to find a way to match up against some of the sturdier pitching staffs and lineups, and that will be our next step.

Q. Did you feel the team was perhaps intimidated against some more powerful or big market teams at times?

TERRY FRANCONA: No, no, I never felt that. I just think that we had a tough time scoring runs or we gave up too many runs.

No, I never felt that. In fact, I think as some of the younger guys got a taste of the last couple of weeks of the season, I think that loss to Tampa was crushing. It really stung. It was hard for me to talk to them after the game. It hurt so much because we were having so much fun together that we didn't want it to be over. But I think the guys that got a taste of it liked it and want it again.

Q. When you're moving guys defensively and trying to do things, how much confidence do you have to have, and are there enough pitchers in today's game that throw where their location is right there, not giving up a run here or there, because of not having an ability to throw where you're supposed to?

TERRY FRANCONA: When we shift guys that dramatically, we actually don't -- the guys that we shift dramatically, we're not worried about pitch location. Those are guys that are proven that wherever you throw it, they're going to hit it that direction.

I understand your point, that if you don't pitch to where you're playing. But it's kind of been proven out, at least with some hitters, regardless of where you throw it, that's where they're going to hit it.

Now, making the pitchers understand that, that can be another chore.

Q. Are you confident that you guys can internally replace the type of innings Ubaldo and Kazmir gave you or do you need to supplement the group that you have?

TERRY FRANCONA: I think we probably need to supplement our staff somewhere, whether it's in the bullpen or -- in the starting rotation. We probably need to get some help there, but it could be one or the other, because we do have some flexibility in some of those guys that they can do both. I think we're definitely trying to get somewhere.

Q. With the progress the club made last season, now you've lost Kazmir and you lost Joe Smith, could Ubaldo, three other relievers are free agents, do you think this team still has the ability to improve, to take the next step or are you going backwards?

TERRY FRANCONA: Well, I think we're going to have -- you don't know what's going to happen. But going into the year we have a Danny Salazar that we're going to have for a full year. Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister. There's some younger guys that should be better, not only better, but have them for the whole year.

So I think we feel pretty good about things. We know we need to get better, but we have the guys that can do it. And again, you don't know what's going to happen. But at least in the beginning of the year with the intent you're going to have them for the whole year. We didn't have Danny Salazar for, what, six, seven starts. So having him for 35 is pretty exciting.

Q. Do you feel like Cody Allen, he's a guy that can take a closer opportunity and run away with it?

TERRY FRANCONA: I think he could handle it with very little hiccups. Saying that, I'm not sure that that puts our ballclub in the best position to win. He's such a -- at an early age we used him in so many high leverage situations, from the sixth inning on, bases loaded or snuff out a rally, we basically went to Cody, right, left hand, it didn't matter. He was so good at. And I would think he'd continue to get better.

It's hard to lose that guy. That one guy can make your whole bullpen so much better. So many times you get the situation, it could be three run game, nobody on, and the game has already been won or lost in the 7th or 8th.

Q. What about a guy like Shaw?

TERRY FRANCONA: Same thing. He could do it in the 9th, I have no doubt. But what he does earlier is valuable. We'll have to see how the winter plays out and then we'll get him aligned.

Q. (INAUDIBLE)?

TERRY FRANCONA: No, I agree. But we scored I think we were 4th or 5th in runs.

Q. (INAUDIBLE)?

TERRY FRANCONA: That's why I think it's realistic that we can maintain or maybe get better because there's some youth, and like I said, nobody drove in a hundred. Kipnis had a very good year, but we all think he's getting better, Bourny is probably going to do more. I think we feel like Swish is going to be more consistent. We had a great September, but up to that point it was up and down. But we feel like we should be okay.

Q. Kip, the first couple of postseasons he was good first half and tailed off a little bit in the second half. Is that the result of a young player figuring out how to pace himself?

TERRY FRANCONA: You know what, I don't have if I had the answer, he wouldn't cool off so much. I think that trend, he has a little bit of -- he's hard on himself. Like Kevin Youkilis was the same way. It was almost like a football game. Every at bat was a tussle and he was worn out after the game.

And you can see that with Kip. He's maturing, but you don't want to take away his fire. But you also don't want the guy to wear himself out. And the good ones, they kind of figure it out as they go. We tried to settle Youk down for years, and then we realized it was taking away from his game. So you just steer clear when he throws the helmet and realize he's a better hitter.

Q. Can you describe the impact Nick Swisher brings to the clubhouse?

TERRY FRANCONA: He's certainly enthusiastic. And he's consistent with that. That's why it works, because it's him. I don't think he can do that every other day or when you're going well. But he did that from the first day of Spring Training until the last day and that's the way he is and that's why it works. He's full of energy, man.

Q. (INAUDIBLE) if you have a team where you know any place one of those guys can get that hit, is that

TERRY FRANCONA: It's actually a fun way to go about it. I think the team -- there's a lot of ways to win, a lot of ways to lose. But I think our guys -- Aviles knew he was going to get 350 at bats, Raburn knew he was going to probably get about 300 at bats. They knew if somebody got hurt they were going to play, or if there was a left hander they were going to play. And I think they wanted to be everyday players, but I think they enjoyed their roles, because they knew they were important.

When Ryan Raburn played against left handers, there were days he would clean them. And days he would have carried us for a week or ten day stretch more than anybody on our team. It's a fun way to play when you come in after the game and most of the guys have played or contributed in one way or another, everybody feels like they're doing something.

Q. Is there also less looking around to have that guy have another big moment. It's a little more internal?

TERRY FRANCONA: I don't know about that. I don't know that I get caught up in thinking about that. I'm not sure guys do, either. They take their at bats very serious. You play the game and try to play it right and hopefully you're one run better than the other team.

Q. Did you tell Gomes at the end of the year that he was going to be the starter next year?

TERRY FRANCONA: Yes.

Q. What was that like for you given the way his season went?

TERRY FRANCONA: I think he kind of knew. The last two months he was playing just about every day. But for the sense of being honest with people, we wanted to talk to Carlos, too, so he could get about his winter. And we wanted to sit with him. And we also wanted to tell Gomes so he could get ready; coming in and catching a full year is taxing. He's never done it before. We wanted to give him a head start, because it will wear on it will be a wear on him, the wear and tear that he's probably never had before.

Q. Do you worry at all that less time behind the plate could hurt Carlos's defense at all?

TERRY FRANCONA: No, I think as long as we keep Carlos's bat in the lineup, he's a switch hitter that will amazingly take a walk. With the violence of that swing, I don't know how he does it, but he does. With two strikes he can shorten up and get the ball in play and hit good pitching. We need to keep his bat in the lineup.

Wherever he ends up playing. I don't think he understands yet his value to us in his versatility, how valuable it is. That it helps us immensely.

 

Q. Can you put a number on how many games behind the plate would be good, you'd like to see from him, as far as --

TERRY FRANCONA: Gomes or --

Q. Santana.

TERRY FRANCONA: I don't know, to be honest with you. Some of it would be how Gomes is doing. We'll see.

Q. When you guys are in the midst of a run like you were last year, Santana obviously bought into that very well. Is it a different thing going into the year?

TERRY FRANCONA: Yes.

Q. How do you --

TERRY FRANCONA: We talked about it when the season was over. I knew he wasn't real pleased about it. But like I said, we're winning and it made sense.

But going into a new year, he wanted us to know how he felt. And he was really good about it. And we appreciated it. He didn't do it in September when we were playing well, he waited until the season was over and told us how he felt. So we sat and listened and talked to him and kind of told him how we felt. And now we'll see where it goes.

Q. Will he continue to play third base in Spring Training or does that depend --

TERRY FRANCONA: I think some depends on how he goes. Mike Sarbaugh is going to go down hopefully before Christmas and spend a couple of days with him. This is really in the infancy stages. He's open to it. So I think we'd be kind of silly not to be open to it, also.

Q. Who are some of the young relievers you're counting on to maybe replace Hill and Albers and Smith?

TERRY FRANCONA: I don't know that we want to anoint anybody on the team yet. I think names like C.C. Lee are intriguing. That's part of the reason we had him there in September, was to give him some experience, because it seemed like every level he'd go to would take him a little while to get comfortable, and once he was comfortable he could get pretty nasty. He's very intriguing.

We'll see.

That's part of the fun of it is sometimes the names change. It's interesting to see how Vinnie is going to come back. Vinnie seems like he's a driven -- he wants to reclaim what he was. And we all desperately hope he does. To see Frank Herrmann come back and see what he can be. I think -- we know it's a challenge, but we're excited about it.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.