Francona participates in Q&A at Town Hall event
Indians manager discusses building on 2013 success, the latest at third base
CLEVELAND -- Terry Francona already has his bag packed for Spring Training. It is waiting for him back home in Arizona, while the Indians manager navigates his way through snowy and frigid downtown Cleveland this week for a variety of events.
On Friday afternoon, Francona headed to the Idea Center at Playhouse Square for the Indians' annual offseason Town Hall event. Season-ticket holders braved the cold for the chance to ask Francona questions in a face-to-face environment, and the manager welcomed the opportunity.
"This is fun. It's relaxed," Francona said. "These are the true people that love baseball. To come out in this weather? It's a fun day. I enjoy this, because we're getting revved up for the baseball season and we get to talk baseball."
That included talking with one boy who asked Francona about the roots of his life in baseball.
"I'm happy I have a snow day so I could come see this," said the young Indians fan, creating an eruption of laughter from the crowd.
The inquiries targeted a wide range of topics, ranging from the seemingly unlimited pitch counts back in Bob Feller's days to the ongoing extension talks with right-hander Justin Masterson. There were plenty of laughs and even more applause for Francona, who captured the American League Manager of the Year Award after guiding the Tribe to 92 wins and a playoff berth in his first year at the helm last season.
The event kicked off a weekend filled with fan-related activities for the Indians, who are holding Tribe Fest on Saturday and Sunday at Progressive Field. The Town Hall event was filmed and will be aired on SportsTime Ohio at 6:30 p.m. ET on Thursday and broadcast again on Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., and on Feb. 1 at 7 p.m.
Foremost on everyone's mind seemed to be how to build on the strong foundation established last season, especially after a relatively quiet offseason.
"Even though a lot of the names are the same," Francona said, "we'll show up in Goodyear [Arizona] in a couple short weeks, and we'll do a couple things. One, we begin to build not only a team for the long haul, but we start to build that unity and that personality. And that takes a little while, even with guys coming back."
One hot topic of late has been the possibility of having catcher Carlos Santana move to third base, which he has worked on this winter in the Dominican Republic. Francona reiterated that no decisions had been made and that the organization still has high hopes for Lonnie Chisenhall. The manager emphasized the importance of developing homegrown players.
"Can [Santana] play third base every day in the Major Leagues?" Francona said. "I don't know that. We're going to find out. We're going to give him the opportunity to go to Goodyear and play some third base, and when we leave Goodyear, we're going to take the best third baseman that we feel for our season."
One asked Francona to delve into the kind of working relationship he has with general manager Chris Antonetti.
"We don't need meetings," Francona said. "Even during the winter, I probably talk to Chris every day, and some days four, five, six times. It's just easy. If Chris has a question, he calls or he texts me, and I'm on every e-mail loop. Every conversation he's having with a player or an agent, I'm involved in that."
As for signing a player like Masterson -- eligible for arbitration this winter and free agency next winter -- to a long-term deal, Francona explained how it is a complicated process.
"It's not as easy as it sounds," Francona said. "He's on the brink of going to free agency. Did you see what Clayton Kershaw just signed for -- $215 million? Those affect everything. You've got to be realistic. ... In baseball, with some of these TV deals spiraling up so high, it's going to make it hard for teams like Cleveland to tie up young players. That's just being honest. Believe me, the effort is there."
Francona described the signing of veteran outfielder David Murphy as an "under-the-radar pick up," and named Trevor Bauer when asked for a young player who might impact the Indians at some point this season.
As for the roots of his time in baseball, Francona offered an anecdote for the young fan in attendance.
"When I was in high school," Francona said, "the guidance counselor calls you in and you have to put what you want to be when you grow up. I'd put, 'Baseball.' He'd call me in every year, 'Terry, you've got to put a job.' I'd say, 'But this is what I'm going to do.' This is all I've ever done."