Corner of Carnegie and Ontario: And the coaching staff is?...
By Jim Pete
October 17, 2012
As I stroll along the plaza here at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, I can’t help but ponder the circumstances in which the Indians find themselves in on this October afternoon. It’s a dichotomy of sorts, as most of the Indians’ faithful were looking for a massive change in philosophy.
In some ways, that’s exactly what the Indians got with the hire of Terry Francona.
In some ways, that’s exactly what the Indians didn’t get with the hire of Terry Francona.
As I’ve said many…many…many times, Francona looks like the change in culture that the Indians need. He clearly carries more clout than any Tribe hire…maybe ever. He brings two World Series victories, credibility, and a belief system in the game of baseball that is head and shoulders above any other managerial hire.
Of course, he’s pals with the front office.
You know...the front office that led the Indians down the path they were on prior to the Francona hire…and there’s your dichotomy.
With all of that said, let’s take the rosy approach going forward with regards to the Indians. Let’s say that the Indians took that first fork in the road, and head down the path of new direction. Terry Francona is their first move (or second, if you include the firing of Manny Acta, which I don’t), so what will be their second (or third...pot-A-to, pot-a-to)?
The Indians will be shaping their franchise in the next month by hiring a coaching staff, and it has already begun to take shape. While I’m never big on thinking that a coaching staff is the end-all and be-all of an organization, I feel dramatically different about this one. Francona has the ability to continue to create that winning, credible culture with the hires he makes.
Think Urban Meyer at Ohio State, who hired the cream of the crop staff after his hire.
No, I don’t think the Indians will start off their 2013 season the way the Buckeyes did in 2012. Even though the Buckeyes are 7-0, clearly there are still some on-field holes there at Ohio State, even after their hires, as their defense looks like dogcrap (sorry Luke Fickell, I’m looking at you). There are distinct parallels here, in particular, with the philosophy.
Meyer immediately righted the ship with regards to the Buckeyes as a former two-time national champion. He came into a program that was leaking after a major scandal, had their first losing season in over a decade, and immediately added the credibility needed to fix things. Of course, this is college football, and Ohio State is one of the top programs around. The Indians are not.
With that said, Francona, in many of the same ways, brings that type of credibility with the Indians as a two-time World Series champion.Without Francona, this team is far lower on any totem pole with regards to this offseason. Of course, it's much...MUCH harder in the MLB salary structure to improve a team than it is in the many flaws of the NCAA, but the philosophy is the same.
Meyer immediately acquired many top-notch coaches to tag along with them, bringing in both guys from his past, and up-and-comers.
A program in turmoil immediately took a turn in the right direction.
Now, there are MASSIVE differences between the Indians and the Ohio State Buckeyes (c’mon…the Buckeyes football program could buy several MLB teams, and still go strong), but the theory is the same.
Change the culture and the belief system by hiring the best.
The Indians will be jumping into that next step, and the signs are pointing to the Indians following the same path as the Buckeyes with regards to a coaching staff.
Yes, the path will be longer for the Indians, as the ability to turn around a football juggernaut like the Buckeyes is much more simple than it is for the Indians. I'm not focusing on the money aspect. Instead, I'm focusing on the philosophy and perceptual change that should take place.
Thus begins my 4,500 word diatribe opus in my next Corner installment. Yes, leave it to me to spend that much time talking about a coaching staff…
The Indians coaching staff should begin taking shape over the next week, with a couple of known commodities already on board. Jordan Bastian is reporting that Sandy Alomar sent a text message to MLB.com on Tuesday, confirming that he agreed to be on Terry Francona’s staff. It’s believed that Alomar will return to his duties as the Indians’ bench coach in 2013. It’s also been announced that hitting coach Bruce Fields and third-base coach and former Amazing Race participant Steve Smith won’t be returning.
There’s been no announcement as of yet with regards to the futures of interim pitching coach Ruben Niebla, bullpen coach Dave Miller or first-base coach Tom Wiedenbauer. My best guess is that the only reason these coaches haven’t either been fired or re-assigned is because Francona doesn’t yet know who their replacements will be. I’ll get into that in a minute.
There is no doubt in my mind that Francona and the Indians will base this search on coaches that Francona trusts. It’s likely that the new Tribe manager will reach back into his long history in baseball and pluck most of his staff from there. He’s historically hired people that he’s familiar with, so look for that pattern to continue here in Cleveland. I’m not excluding contenders either outside of the “inner circle” or carry overs from the previous coaching staff, but his most trusted field generals have been guys he’s familiar with. Based on Francona’s press conference after the Boston fiasco, this is clearly an important factor going forward.
One of those guys in Francona’s “inner circle” is former Houston Astros manager Brad Mills, who has already been mentioned as a coaching candidate by Chris Antonetti. Mills is the father of former Indians’ first round draft pick Beau Mills, who was traded in a minor deal earlier this season. He was hired by the Astros as their manager in 2009 after the Indians swooped in and signed Manny Acta to a three-year deal, with an option for a fourth. The Astros had already interviewed Acta and had reportedly offered him a two-year deal, with an option for a third season. After Acta was hired by the Tribe, Houston went ahead and hired Mills. Talk about a small world.
Mills spent several years playing and working with Terry Francona. They were teammates for three seasons from 1981-1984 with the Montreal Expos. Francona was hired as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997, and Mills, who was a Triple A manager for the Rockies at the time, was quickly brought on board as his first base coach. Francona also brought his friend aboard in Boston as his bench coach, a position he held from 2004 until his 2009 hire by Houston. He was the bench coach for both the 2004 and the 2007 Red Sox World Series victories.
Mills compiled a minor league managerial record of 539-514 in eight seasons with the Cubs, Rockies and Dodgers organizations, and while his major league record is a substandard 187-299, it was with the Astros. I’m not giving him a pass, but the Indians aren’t hiring him as the decision maker either.
Tribe GM Chris Antonetti has already made reference to Brad Mills as a potential member of the staff, so I’m sure that the only question remaining is whether or not Mills gets any opportunities to manage again this offseason, and where in this staff he’s going to fit in.
Sandy Alomar Jr. and Brad Mills are the only two “confirmed” members of the 2013 staff so far, and I have to believe that Alomar Jr. is going to be the bench coach, and Brad Mills is going to be the “first base coach.” I throw quotes around that based on the simple fact that Mills is excessively overqualified to be simply a first base coach or even a first base coach and the outfield coach. In essence, he’d be another guy that Francona could turn to, and I wouldn’t doubt that bringing in Mills was a contingency in his hire to begin with.
I know that the assumption is that Alomar Jr. is going to be the guy on the bench, but I’m not 100% sold on that yet. It’s distinctly possible that Francona and the Indians included the bench coach gig as part of his return when Francona reached out to Alomar after he was hired, but if they didn’t, I could see a scenario where Mills takes the bench coach job, with Alomar returning to his role as first base coach with more responsibility (and pay). I could also see either Mills and/or Alomar Jr. slide into the role as hitting coach going forward, but also believe that’s a reach. My best guess is that Francona is going to hire someone with experience in that role, but it’s not a necessity.
There are a slew of other interesting candidates that Francona could bring in from his storied past with the Red Sox. It’s just a matter of who is going to be available. Prior to his hire in Cleveland, Francona mentioned his top four candidates to take over the manager’s job in Boston. The four he mentioned were Mills, Toronto manager John Farrell, Baltimore Orioles third base coach DeMarlo Hale, and current Red Sox third base coach, Tim Bogar.
Farrell became friends with Francona in 2001 when both were hired as members of the Tribe’s front office by Mark Shapiro. Francona thought so highly of him that he replaced highly respected pitching coach Dave Wallace with Farrell in 2006. The only reason why I even mention Farrell is that he’s likely holding up the coaching process for Francona.
DeMarlo Hale would be one of the first realistic guys that Francona would call for a job here in Cleveland. Hale was hired by Francona in 2006 to take over the third base coaching job, and was promoted to the Sox bench coach gig when Mills left for the Astros.
Still, there are three reasons that could keep him from coming. Hale has this small interview on Thursday for the Boston Red Sox managerial position. The Red Sox have already interviewed Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach, Yankees first-base coach Tony Pena and San Diego Padres Special Assistant Brad Ausmus, and while Hale likely isn’t their top choice, you just never know how things are going to go over there. At the end of the day, that’s still Farrell’s job to win or lose, and that announcement could clog up things with regards to the Indians potential hire of Hale to the 2013 staff.
Secondly, would Hale really want to come to Cleveland with Baltimore launching themselves into the elite? The facts are fairly clear that Buck Showalter and company have put together a team that looks to be good for the foreseeable future. The Indians aren't close, at least in their current make-up.
Finally, the best that Hale can bet on is to take the third base gig here in Cleveland, and I can’t fathom he’d want a lateral move to the Indians. It's actually funny when you think about it: the Orioles now make the Indians...the Indians.
The wildcard in hiring Hale is his relationship with Terry Francona. I certainly don’t believe for a second that it will overcome any of the three reasons I listed above, but you just never know (as I cue up my Wednesday edition of Koombaya). Sometimes the relationship with the guy you work for can supersede just about anything, and I would have to believe that if Hale doesn’t get the job as Boston manager, that he’ll at least consider coming to Cleveland…if he’s asked.
One of the most intriguing options is Tim Bogar. Bogar was brought on board the Red Sox express by Francona in 2008 as their first base boach, and he took over the third base gig from Hale when he became bench coach. When Bobby Valentine was hired, he promoted Bogar to be his bench coach. Their relationship was qualified as “uneasy” at best, and perhaps the stink of Valentine has kept Bogar from becoming a managerial candidate with the Red Sox.
Bogar was interviewed earlier this year for the managerial job with those Houston Astros, and while he didn’t get that gig, it was assumed that he would be one of the favorites, behind Farrell, to take over the top job in Boston. The Red Sox clearly thought enough of Bogar to force Valentine to keep him on as a coach, but something has clearly changed over the past year.
What makes Bogar most intriguing are his ties with the Indians organization. He was hired as manager of the Akron Aeros in 2006 after two highly successful seasons as manager in, you guessed it, the Astros organization. In 2004, he was the manager of the year in the Appalachian League when his team won the championship there. In 2005, he took over the single A Lexington Legends, and was the manager of the year there.
His success continued with the Aeros in 2006. He led Akron to an 87-55 record, and was one game from winning the Eastern League championship. He was named the manager of the year for a third straight season, in three straight levels. He continued as the Aeros manager in 2007, and again had a highly successful year, going 80-61. During his tenure, he managed current Indians Asdrubal Cabrera and Tony Sipp. Wow…it’s actually shocking at how few members of that team are currently in the Indians organization…which is a solid explanation for why the Indians are in a hole right now, but that’s for another past day, and another already did 100 stories story.
Clearly Bogar could be a top candidate for either first or third base coaching gigs, and like all of the guys mentioned prior, could also be considered a candidate for the position of hitting coach. Again, I get the feeling that Francona will look for a veteran hitting coach here, but having a coach he trusts could overcome that. I actually think that Bogar is a lock to come to Cleveland, with one exception. I’ll get to that in a bit.
The top candidate for the Indians hitting coach should be Dave Magadan, the current hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox, and another guy (like Bogar) that Bobby Valentine threw under the bus. In baseball circles, Magadan is often considered to be one of the top offensive coaches in the league. Magadan has been a hitting coach since 2003, and while he struggled in his initial run as the batting coach with the Padres, he took off (with obviously more talent) with the Red Sox in 2006. He has stated in the past that he took the job in Boston to work with Francona, and would be another inner circle guy.
The most important coaching hire for Francona will be the pitching coach, as the Indians rotation was in complete disarray this season. Former pitching coach Tim Belcher will be a candidate for sure, but I don't think he'd be the change in philosphy that this team needs. Belcher’s basic approach of throwing strikes really got across during his tenure as pitching coach with the Tribe, and while his team ERA and overall stats weren’t much better than under Radinsky, walks weren’t an issue. He also breathed life into Justin Masterson as an ace, and that methodology was clearly missing with regards to the entire staff. They struggled throwing strikes. While I think Belcher would be an improvement, I don’t think he’ll be the answer down the road.
So who is the best answer for the all-important pitching coach gig? There really isn’t a clear potential hire that I can see, but I'm sure Francona has more than one choice. I mentioned Dave Wallace previously in this column, and he was a former pitching coach under Francona for a couple of seasons. He's a highly respected guy in baseball circles, and I'm sure his name will be bantered about, as I did a week or two ago. Wallace served as the interim pitching coach in 2011 in Atlanta, but isn’t a likely hire for the Indians, since Francona and Wallace parted ways after the 2006 season, when Francona brought in Farrell.
An intriguing option may be another guy in the Red Sox organization, Triple A Pawtucket’s Rich Sauveur, who’s given a lot of credit in helping guys like Clay Buchholz get to the big leagues. Francona thought very highly of Sauveur, but he may not have the experience at the big league level that he wants. Of course, John Farrell didn’t have any experience as a coach when Francona hired him. At the end of the day though, why would the Indians hire Sauveur over a guy like Niebla, unless they think he represents a clear change in direction.
One of the most intriguing options out there is Charles Nagy, who is the current pitching coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Nagy was, of course, a workhorse for the Indians in the 1990’s, and came to the club in 2004-2005 as a special assistant after his career ended in 2003. He worked his way up as a pitching coach since then, including a stint with the Columbus Clippers in 2010. He likely would know Francona from his days in the Indians organization (he was still pitching in 2001), but the question would be whether or not he’d come to the Indians in the same capacity as his job with the Diamondbacks. It's another lateral move, but Cleveland would be "home" for him in many ways, and it's not like the D'Backs are a dominating presence in the National League.
The discussion for coaches could go in many different directions going forward, but it will be interesting to see where Francona goes. I’m certain that you’ll see some of the names mentioned in the final equation when the jobs are announced over the next two or three weeks, but there are several factors involved, that I've already briefly mentioned.
John Farrell is at the center of a lot of this discussion and for many different reasons. For one, the Red Sox won’t hire anyone until they figure out whether or not they can get Farrell. The Red Sox certainly don’t want to tie up their search, as they did last year. They bungled everything, from the dismissal of Francona and Epstein, to the hiring of Ben Cherington, and ultimately Bobby Valentine. It...took....time...and...screwed....up...their....entire...season. That hire didn’t come until December 1st, over a month after their initial interviews. Valentine was thrown into the mix by ownership, and they were never able to catch up in hiring, and in basic organizational knowledge.
Farrell is tricky in that the Blue Jays are asking for a large amount of compensation, and rumors are rolling that Clay Buchholz is at the center of the discussion. If that’s the case, the Red Sox may cut ties with Farrell, and move forward to one of their other candidates. It's interesting in that all their candidates not named Tony Pena have zero experience. I’m sure these current interviews are serving as lobs to Toronto that they are ready to move on…and hopefully force the issue, which will take the Indians search into two directions.
If Farrell is hired by the Sox, two things will occur. First and foremost, Sandy Alomar Jr. would clearly become a candidate to go to Toronto. If he did, it would free up Francona to manipulate his staff a bit more easily, as Mills would clearly slide into that bench coach role. That said, Sandy would then need a staff there in Toronto, and it’s likely that the Indians and Alomar would be looking at some similar options, as Sandy could take some folks with him from the Indians…such as Niebla and Sarbaugh. Of course, that could also make Francona’s job easier as well.
It could also free up some intriguing options for the Indians, as Torey Lovullo could become a coaching option at the big league level.
Farrell will then need to fill his staff in Boston, and a lot of the Boston guys that are being mentioned for Francona would be immediate options for Farrell, and the Indians would be directly competing for the same candidates. It’s likely that Boston’s coaching staff could remain somewhat intact, which would send Francona in a different direction altogether.
If Farrell isn’t hired, then many of the names mentioned immediately become options here in Cleveland as part of the 2013 coaching staff. Of course, that’s not taking into account contracts and options, as most of the guys mentioned above have contracts with their current clubs. Usually, that’s not a huge deal going forward for guys that aren’t currently bench, hitting or pitching coaches. I believe the rule in MLB is that you can leave your current position as a coach if you are getting promoted, but even in scenarios where you aren’t, most clubs will allow their guys to leave unless they are considered future managerial candidates. If Francona wants a guy, there likely won’t be an issue coming from their current club.
There are other intriguing options out there. Could Brad Ausmus, an Ivy League graduate who is on everyone’s short list to manage, come to Cleveland in a coaching capacity? What about guys like Tim Wakefield and Mike Lowell, two players who may be able to step into coaching shoes right now. There's even been some talk of Jason Varitek, although he just took a special assistant job in Boston, and I think he's a few years from taking on a coaching job in the bigs. Besides, his wife already claimed him in a tweet, stating that she has vacation plans for him next summer. I'm sure Tek loved that. I haven’t mentioned Mike Sarbaugh in any meaningful capacity either, but get the general impression that he's getting the Torey Lovullo treatment from a few years ago.
The options are endless, but the potential is great for this staff to be impactful.
In the end, it's just a coaching staff, but I still believe that this is the second step in creating that all-important culture that can impact a club from years to come. Terry Francona has the ability to put in place a group that is respected not only in the clubhouse, but in all of baseball. At the end of the day, that’s not going to bring in big-named free agents, but it could put them in a better position going forward with regards to both avenues of improving the line-up, and improving the clubhouse approach. The play has to improve on the field, and the front office has to draft and foster better players and acquire better free agents, but the major league staff can set the tone for the entire organization. In other words the coaching staff can be the check and balance that's been missing for the past three years. Antonetti has to step up, because the on-the-field management won't be questioned going forward.
It will be interesting to watch and see how it all pans out, and impactful or not, it is another piece of the offseason that brings interest to this team. It says a lot about the organization over the past three seasons that the hiring of a manager and coaches is innately more interesting than the team’s performance on the field.
But like the Urban-Meyer led Buckeyes, this is a hire that could change the face of the franchise for years to come. It will take longer to foster, but if the Indians stand true and keep everything aligned, the long-term future could be bright.
Step three is much more complicated...and involves the actual baseball players. I'll start diving into that next week.
The bullpen is the one area that should remain solid with regards to the Indians in 2013, in whatever shape or form it takes going forward. Of course, the two scenarios involved are with regards to Chris Perez staying, or going. I’m truly not sure where they go with Perez at this point, as the Terry Francona hire makes his immediate demise a bit more hazy.
If he stays, the bullpen will look something like this:
The one unknown in there may be Tony Sipp, but he gets the nod as the most likely left-hander to start the year with the Tribe. Nick Hagadone should figure into things, but of course, his issues with the club have to be squared away. He’s a Boston guy though, so it will be interesting to see how Terry Francona’s emergence into the organization will have an effect. Hagadone was in the minors, so I’m not sure how much interaction they had, but I’m sure they are familiar with each other. Francona may be just the fix that Hagadone needs going forward.
Other potential lefties include Chris Seddon, David Huff and Scott Barnes. I’m not sure contractually where some of these guys stand, but they could all potentially be a part of the rotation as well. If that’s the case, then the Indians are in big, big trouble…if they aren’t already.
Of course, things get really interesting should Perez get traded.
In a perfect world, Hagadone figures everything out, and becomes a part of this equation. He’s been terrible, but anyone that has seen his stuff when he’s right knows just how good this kid can be. The key is getting his head on right. If he does, the bullpen is awesome. If he doesn’t, I think Perez getting dealt would leave an opening that might not be easy to fill early on in the season, and leave more questions than folks want to admit.
Rafael Perez is another guy worth mentioning. He has one more year of control before he becomes a free agent, but like Hagadone, is a bit of a mystery thanks to injuries.
For one, are we sure that Esmil Rogers is a real deal? I know that he’s had some issues cleared up, and he seems to be a different pitcher, but history shows that this year is the “which one of these, doesn’t belong here” years. What if he regresses?
I love Cody Allen, but he’s still just a kid who’s only 1 ½ years into the system. Can he continue his Pestano-like progression?
What about that sixth spot in the bullpen, who will take it out of spring training?
What’s up with Tony Sipp? He rebounded in 2012, but his numbers have shown regression over the past couple of seasons. Which trend will continue going forward?
Can Pestano really carry the load as the closer for the entire season?
Every year, the bullpen brings these types of questions, but you have to admit, Perez going leaves more doubt than many would like to admit…and I’m the optimistic one. With that said, Francona isn’t afraid to shake things up, as he did in 2006 when he put Papelbon into the closer role with Keith Foulke still on the team. If Perez can fetch something worthwhile, than he’ll likely be the one commodity that the Indians will deal…considering money and potential windfall.
It’s a risk-reward that the old regime wouldn’t often take. Will the “new” one take it, and is there enough trust in the new which is the same as the old except for Terry Francona regime to make a deal that will improve this club going forward?
Michael Brantley continues to impress, even in the offseason. Listen, if you read my stuff and can make it through, you know that I have a certain affinity for one Michael Brantley. My 2012 Tribe MVP showed up even more moxie when it was announced that the Tribe centerfielder underwent sports hernia surgery this past Thursday in Philadelphia.
Brantley led the team in hitting this past year with a .288 average, and while it was clearly his best professional year, you get the distinct impression that he’s on the verge of breaking out. The fact that he was playing injured for the past few weeks of the season only lends more weight to that assessment. The bottom line with regards to Brantley is that he didn’t have to finish the season out thanks to the August collapse, but did.
Hopefully the Indians reward him with a contract extension.
The Tigers are on the verge of sweeping the Yankees. Listen…I hate the Yankees, and would say that my disdain for the Yankees is on the verge of maniacal. I recall a Yankees fan calling me a bandwagon Indians fan back in 1997, when the Indians beat the Yanks in the ALDS. I, being a Tribe fan my whole life, asked him where he was from, and he replied, “Massillon.” I then asked him if he ever lived in New York. “No, I’ve lived in Ohio my whole life.”
My point is this. I was watching the game last night (and yes, I watched the entire 2-1, affair) in a sort of glee, as the Yankees were going through a bit of Ahole Arod turmoil. The “Yankee-Nation” was bitching about two hilarious forms of justice botched calls that helped them lose game one and two, and all was right in the world.
Then I actually paid attention to who they were playing.
Is there anything more hateful than Cliff Lee facing off against CC Sabathia in the World Series than having to watch the Tigers and the Yankees?
Go San Francisco…I think.
Seriously folks, this is what we are dealing with right now. I know, I’m sick of the have-nots bitching about the haves, but who cares. The Yankees have 27 titles, the Cardinals have 11 titles, the San Francisco Giants have six titles (five in New York), and the Tigers have four.
Hey…did you hear the Browns have a new owner?
Jim is currently the co-site editor, the ATF/Carolina Mudcats/Indians/General Site Columnist, and the co-host of IPI's weekly online radio show, Smoke Signals. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IPI, or contact him via e-mail at email@example.com.
Cleveland said late next week, so that's where I'd start...
Lots of good candidates.
Any word on announcements?