Francona building staff, looking at roster
New Indians manager hard at work early in his tenure with Tribe
CLEVELAND -- It seemed fitting that Terry Francona stood in the middle of the Indians' locker room as he spoke. His childhood consisted of countless days spent in a big league clubhouse, and that is where he feels most comfortable to this day as a manager.
"I don't think you'll see me cooped up in my," Francona halted his thought and glanced around to get his bearings, "wherever my office is. I don't even know where it is. But I don't think you'll see me cooped up in it very often. I like being out here with the players."
On Monday afternoon, Francona was in the clubhouse with select members of the Indians' media. It was an informal session two weeks into Francona's time as Indians manager, providing a chance to catch up with him as he continues to do his homework and build his coaching staff.
As for the latter situation, the interview process is ongoing. Immediately following his meeting with reporters, Francona headed upstairs to Cleveland's offices to continue interviewing candidates for his coaching staff. It could be another week before the Indians unveil the men who will work alongside the team's new manager next season.
Sandy Alomar Jr. -- barring being hired as a manager elsewhere this winter -- has agreed to return to the Indians, most likely serving as Francona's bench coach. Former Astros manager Brad Mills, who is a long-time friend of Francona's, is also expected to be on the staff. Triple-A Columbus manager Mike Sarbaugh is believed to be under strong consideration for a role as well.
Alomar could be a candidate for the Blue Jays' managerial opening, considering he interviewed for the Toronto job prior to the 2011 season. As of Monday afternoon, Alomar had not yet been contacted by the Blue Jays for another interview.
"We can't announce any coaches yet for obvious reasons," Francona said. "Some guys are going to be leaving the organization, some are coming in. It's kind of sensitive and we have to be respectful for guys who are potentially moving on."
Beyond assembling his staff, Francona's focus is on improving the roster.
After his introductory press conference on Oct. 8, Francona flew to Goodyear, Ariz., with general manager Chris Antonetti for three days of organizational meetings. There were three more days of brainstorming sessions back in Cleveland following that first wave of face-to-face meetings with scouts and player development staff in Arizona.
"We tried to have not only an understanding of the organization," Francona said, "but maybe some strategy moving forward, or potential strategies. It's, 'Where are we as a ballclub?' Trying to honestly assess where we are and how we best go forward. Everybody had opinions on it and it was really helpful for me."
Asked for his initial thoughts on Cleveland's roster, Francona immediately pointed to the strength up the middle: catcher Carlos Santana, second baseman Jason Kipnis, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and center fielder Michael Brantley.
"That's a good place to start," Francona said. "You've got catcher, second, short and center that have some pretty athletic guys that know how to play baseball, so that's good. I understand right now there's some openings. You're looking at first, left, [designated hitter] that there will have to be some decisions made on how do we best move forward."
The Indians cycled through 10 left fielders this past season with no clear starter projected for the 2013 Opening Day lineup. First baseman Casey Kotchman, who underperformed offensively, will be eligible for free agency this winter. DH Travis Hafner will become a free agent if -- as anticipated -- the Tribe declines his $13 million club option for next season.
Francona is also beginning to evaluate Cleveland's options for the rotation.
"We have Ubaldo [Jimenez] and [Justin] Masterson," Francona said. "If we can get back towards the '11 guys, as opposed to maybe last year, that's a huge step in the right direction. That's something that I'm not arrogant enough to think that I have all the answers, but I'm also new enough and energetic enough where I want to try."
Francona is eager about that kind of opportunity.
Toward the end of his stint as manager of the Red Sox -- a successful eight-year run marred by a disastrous end to the 2011 season -- Francona felt he got away from being an on-field influence. He is excited about getting back to some of the coaching aspects that can go along with managing a younger team like the Indians.
"The last couple years in Boston," Francona said, "I felt like I was getting further and further from the field. My title didn't maybe need to be manager. It was like fire-putter-outer. I'm kind of looking forward to getting on the field a little bit and maybe having a chance to coach.
"We've got a clean start here, and there's going to be probably some younger guys. It's kind of fun to be out in the field with them, trying to impact them and seeing how good we can make them."
That includes being a presence inside the clubhouse.
"I grew up in a clubhouse," said Francona, whose father, Tito, played 15 seasons in the big leagues. "This is the place where I'm more comfortable than any place anywhere else."