Editor's note: Originally posted in early November, we are re-posting this in the wake of the Edwin Encarnacion signing and with the start of the 2017 season beginning to come into focus.
Never has a more perfect fit come along.
After a very disappointing 2012 campaign where the team completely fell apart in the second half, fired manager Manny Acta and hit a low point for the franchise, the Indians needed to make a splash and regain control of a team which was in a downward spiral. They needed to regroup, make significant changes to their organizational philosophies and find a leader to bring it all together.
That person was Terry Francona.
With the official hiring of Francona as manager on October 8, 2012, in one fell swoop the Indians completely changed their organizational culture and started their makeover into becoming a perennial winner.
From the moment Francona was introduced as manager of the Cleveland Indians he brought a winning mentality and came from a winning organization, two things the Indians were eager to tap into and were very open to his ideas. The Indians were looking for a way to inject some energy and leadership into a team that sorely needed it in the dugout, but they were also looking for some outside ideas to tweak some of their long running philosophies which were not effectively producing a consistent winner.
Francona obliged by bringing a new energy and voice the organization sorely needed. For a long time, they had a risk adverse approach with constructing their roster and the manager fell in line with that approach, first Eric Wedge and then Manny Acta. But Francona came in and challenged the organization that they could be more if they were willing to accept more risk. His outspokenness along with his experience and success coming from a very successful tenure in Boston made the Indians listen.
Francona knew it took a lot more than leadership and a good manager to win games at the Major League level. He knew you needed talent and players that can consistently perform. You also needed a manager and front office to work in cohesion. The front office has since responded by being one of the more aggressive and active teams in the free agent and trade market and there may be no better front office-manager relationship in baseball.
Things quickly went into motion in Francona’s first offseason with the Indians as they went out and signed Nick Swisher to a four year $56 million deal, Michael Bourn to a four year $48 million deal and Brett Myers to a one year $7 million deal. They were also part of a big three team trade with the Diamondbacks and Reds which saw them send away Shin-Soo Choo and bring back Trevor Bauer and Bryan Shaw.
While those free agent signings didn’t work out in the short term from a financial perspective, they helped set the course for a new philosophy that they were going to take more risks to improve the team year to year and commit some money to those ventures. Most importantly, it gave the players and fans confidence that ownership and the front office wanted to win.
Those three free agents signings have since departed, but that first offseason with Francona was more about fulfilling the organization’s goals to establish a strong foundation with which to build upon going forward with the roster and their new organizational philosophy. And a lot of that came from the urging of Francona.
Since then, the Indians have continued to live by their approach to build from within by mixing in key pieces from the farm system with the likes of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Tyler Naquin and others, but have also taken some risks that were uncommon before Francona’s arrival. There is no better example of that than their big trade for Andrew Miller this season where they shipped away four prospects for his services, and also the deal they almost completed for then Brewer Jonathan Lucroy that would have sent away another four prospects.
Not only did Francona bring about cultural change to the organization, but with him at the helm the Indians finally had a true leader. A manager that players know is a proven winner and who will have their back. A manager they will play hard for and respect. It was a complete reversal in managing style from Manny Acta who had a passive approach, has never been a winner and was not trusted by a lot of his players.
Under Francona’s leadership the last four seasons they have put together four straight winning seasons, the first time they have done that since their string of success in the 90s when they had winning seasons from 1994-2001. They also own the fifth best record in all of baseball over those four seasons (352-294, .545 PCT), the best record in the American League and have been to the playoffs two times. Those efforts have not gone unnoticed as he has been named AL Manager of the Year in two of those seasons (2013 and 2016).
Francona brought a resume that impressed Indians fans and gave them hope. Some fans knew him as a former player with the Indians in 1988 when he made a 62-game pit stop in Cleveland. Some fans knew him as the son of former Indians’ fan favorite Tito Francona who played six seasons with the Indians from 1959-1964, the best years by far of his 15-year Major League career. But most fans knew him as the former Boston Red Sox manager from 2004-2011 who won two World Series’ in his eight seasons there and helped break the “Curse of the Bambino.”
Francona went on to win not one, but two World Series championships for a franchise that had not won one in over 80 years before his arrival. With the Indians he helped forge a new philosophy and developed a winning culture all while providing much needed leadership and a hope among Indians fans that their team can finally end their own championship drought.