Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Francona Hire - Cleveland Paranoia Edition

Something wicked this way comes...
The most enjoyable aspect of being a Cleveland fan is wondering just how things will go tits up this time. It could be a player acquisition or ownership change, a trade or a new manager. Whatever the move, no matter how positive at first blush, Cleveland fans are always sneaking glances into the corner where the shadows are. There hides the Paranoia Monster, an insatiable beast with yellow eyes and sharp claws waiting to unzip our collective guts for the umpteenth time since 1964. 

The Terry Francona hire should defy such unreasonable behavior. The Tribe's new manager comes in a shiny package of two World Series rings, earned through successful massaging of the egos that came with a heavily bankrolled Boston Red Sox team. Hell, Francona should get a banana sticker just for dealing with Manny Ramirez's antics. 

Getting Francona to coach up the Indians is like getting a Cowher or Gruden to commit to the Browns. It's an official "big deal" - one of those names Cleveland fans dream about but don't think we can get because woe-is-freaking-us.

Francona is in the fold for the next four years, a sign that Cleveland management is in "win now" mode despite a dearth of pitching and no help of any kind coming from the upper levels of the minors. A Pollyanna type (not this guy) would extrapolate Francona's presence to mean the Dolans are going to pry open their moss-covered Scrooge McDuck vault and hand out bags with dollars signs on them to a couple of mid-range free agents.  

The marquee hire should also signify that Indians president Mark Shapiro and general manager Chris Antonetti are on the clock. However, one look at press clippings surrounding the Indians' new dugout chief may have some people rolling their eyes toward the shadows, where a scaly something-or-other clicks its razor-like talons with terrible patience, as if to say, "Just you wait, Cleveland, this one is really gonna hurt."
Why the paranoia? Well, for one, what if the Indians, desperate to bring fans to Progressive Field, believe that reeling in a big name as manager will be enough of a PR boost to cover yet another off-season of roster inactivity? Or what if they truly feel that Manny Acta was the problem, and the dead spots in the lineup - left field, first base, DH, third base, not to mention at least two slots in the rotation - will magically heal themselves because Francona's in the fold?

Neither option is very palatable, nor was the "I'm besties with Chris and Mark" chatter at Francona's introductory press conference. This happy trio is so close that Francona allegedly has a clause in his contract that allows him to opt out of his deal should his two friends get the guillotine. If the clause is real, then Shapiro and Antonetti are safe despite two straight collapses marked by most every player personnel move exploding in their faces. That is worrisome, and will not help the Tribe in the public relations department no matter how big a name Francona carries.

For an ambitious, well-run franchise, a splashy managerial hire would just be the first move of an exciting off-season that gets fans pumped for pitchers and catchers to report in February. But the Indians under the Dolan ownership are not known for such adventurousness, due to their own payroll restrictions and the undeniably unfair financial fuckery of baseball as a whole.

Still, bringing in Francona simply cannot be the Indians' only major  move of the winter. Either open up the vault a crack or blow the thing up to replenish the bone-dry minors. A few Kotchman-esque bandages will not stop the team from bleeding attendance. Nor will it drag the eyes of Cleveland from the dark corner where the Paranoia Monster waits, ever hungry.