Winter Meetings Interview with Terry Francona

Q. You had Moss in Boston when you guys were there. What can you tell us about him and how much you're looking forward to having him?

TERRY FRANCONA: He was a younger kid at the time trying to establish himself in the Major Leagues, then when he left Boston, even by his account, I think he was almost out of baseball. Then he kind of found it.

I remember talking to him at the All Star Game this summer. I pulled him aside and didn't know we were going to trade for him, but I said, "Man, I'm so proud of you." He had turned into this man. That happens.

Now to get him that many years later, he's a tremendous teammate. He's the type of player that we're really excited to have, and we wanted to get a bat and not disrupt what we had. I thought Chris did a great job doing that. We've got a guy that can play first, left, right and DH, and that kind of mixes in with everybody else. Not knowing some of our health issues going into Spring Training, we have some flexibility.

Q. Moss is a low ball hitter historically, and the strike zone in Major League Baseball was lower this year. Is there any correlation with that acquisition?

TERRY FRANCONA: No. Maybe you'd have to ask Chris that. We just thought he was a pretty good hitter, and getting that hip fixed I think we thought the last part of the year that hip was bothering him, and you don't know where the game's going as far as strike zones next year. So that would be a little bit a little more advanced than I'm capable of.

Q. How much better has the Central Division gotten in your mind with what Chicago did (indiscernible)? Do you still think (indiscernible) is the top dog?

TERRY FRANCONA: Right now we're all even. You don't know. It's December. When the meetings are over, everybody's like here are the winners, here are the losers, here's the guy.

The season hasn't started yet. Teams aren't complete. There are some really good pitchers that are still out there, and when that starts to unfold, you'll start to know where people are going to lean towards thinking who is going to win.

But our division is tough. I think the whole league is tough. When you look at the schedule, it just seems difficult.

Q. You had a special relationship with Jon Lester in Boston. Your thoughts on him going to the Cubs?

TERRY FRANCONA: You know what, I don't think it's a coincidence there were a lot of teams that were chasing him around for his services. He's a big strong, left handed kid that gives you 200 innings every year unless you need more. He can pitch in the postseason, and he's a great kid. That's a pretty nice combination.

Q. You were part of that '04 team in Boston, a lot of talk about part of the lure for him was to go to Chicago and do something similar. What would that be like for somebody like Jon to be part of?

TERRY FRANCONA: Well, that and $150 something million, probably (laughter). I don't know. I really don't know. Again, I know Jon and I'm thrilled for him. I don't need to be the Cubs GM today or the Red Sox GM. You know what I mean? I would have much if he was coming to the Indians, I'd be thrilled to talk about it. Just I don't know what they're all really thinking.

Q. Is Moss going to be a slow go in Spring Training?

TERRY FRANCONA: We'll completely go off of him. From all accounts, he's doing very well, and I just kind of said hello to him the other day just really quick.

I said, "Hey, when I get home, I'll call you and we'll dig in more on where he is." But it will be completely on him. But I think he thinks he's going to be full go. But, again, if he's not, that's not the end of the world.

Q. With him and Santana at first and Swisher, Murphy and Raburn still in the fold, how challenging could that be to rotate those guys in and out?

TERRY FRANCONA: I hope it is because then that means we've got guys that are healthy and producing. That would be the best situation if we have to try to feel like we've got to get guys in there, because that meant guys came, they're healthy and they're hitting, so that would be wonderful. I hope that happens.

Q. The baseball world, for whatever reason, it keeps aligning back to Lester for a minute. But Theo and the Red Sox continue to do these battles. Are you amused or entertained?

TERRY FRANCONA: I'm not sure what other battles there were.

Q. Well, Dale Sveum, with a manager right out of the gate. They both were

TERRY FRANCONA: Well, I think that's just in baseball in general you gravitate towards people that you not only know, but because you know them and you trust them. I mean, it can be said the same. Jon Lester is on a different level.

But last year with the Indians, we went after Scott Atchison. There was a reason. We knew him and trusted him. That was a non roster deal and it was 154 short of Lester, but it was for the same reason. That's not just I don't think it's one organization pitted against another. It's acquaintances. And as you know people and you trust them, that is the people you want to align yourself with.

Q. It always comes back to money with you?

TERRY FRANCONA: When in doubt.

Q. How about a thought on Justin Masterson, Tito, what you think may be going forward with him?

TERRY FRANCONA: I actually don't know. It's hard to speak for somebody when they're not your I mean, I love Masty. Everybody knows that. I think everybody that's had contact with Masty loves him. But when he's a free agent and he wasn't our player at the end of the year, it's hard for me to kind of speak to that. And I don't think it's fair to him.

Q. Could you see a spot where possibly he returns or you could add him to the rotation?

TERRY FRANCONA: I think it's fair to say that we'd like to add pitching. I think Chris is trying very hard to add depth to not only our bullpen, but to our starting pitching. I don't think we quite have a name yet, but I think it's safe to say he wants to add depth.

Q. With such a young staff, is it vital or important to get a veteran arm here?

TERRY FRANCONA: I don't think it hurts. I think our staff, they were young last year at the end of the year and they did just fine. I mean, I think Kluber is understanding his importance and his responsibilities to the staff, a lot like Brantley is to our lineup. On the day they pitch, you know, that's how they affect the game.

But I didn't see any of our youth really getting in the way last year down the stretch.

Q. Have you seen Kevin Cash here

TERRY FRANCONA: Yeah, but not as much as I would have liked. I think we were sitting at the same table at lunch, I believe.

Q. Think he'll look any different as manager?

TERRY FRANCONA: I saw him this morning. No, he actually had a sport coat on. I'd never seen that before.

Q. I know we talked the other day, but do you think there will be much of a transition for him? Do you think this will be something that just kind of evolves?

TERRY FRANCONA: It's a transition. When you haven't done something before, you're learning. He has the ability to learn so fast that whatever it is he needs to learn because when you go through something the first time, you're learning. I'm guessing it will be seamless.

You guys, I know I told you the other day on the phone, but you guys really got a keeper. You got lucky. After you have spent years around him, he's a pretty amazing person. To do what he did for the Indians in the short amount of time that he was there, to impact the organization the way he did, it kind of speaks volumes about him.

Q. There's been a lot of talk this off season about pace of play and the Arizona Fall League stuff. As a guy who literally has been around this game your entire life when you were a kid, that fine line between you just want to win a game whatever it takes and understanding that maybe there is a younger population that wants to win the game. What are your thoughts on that dichotomy?

TERRY FRANCONA: We talked about that today in the general manager (meeting) with the league. I think I'm starting to maybe change my opinion a little bit. I was always under the I always felt like a good game was a good game, and nobody complained about the time. It does seem as though if we're trying to keep a younger audience, we may have to make some adjustments. I still think a good game is a good game. I think there are ways to take some of the fat out of games without getting in the way.

And I think Joe Torre, when he explains it, he does an unbelievable job because he managed, he played, he knows. There is that fine line. They try to not go too far. That's easier said than done.

Q. Was there a feeling that other managers are kind of coming around as well?

TERRY FRANCONA: I honestly don't know that. There wasn't a whole lot of give and take in the meeting, so I don't know.

Q. Just take?

TERRY FRANCONA: Just listen, mostly.

Q. They didn't ask you to make fewer pitching changes?

TERRY FRANCONA: Not in there. They probably did behind my back (laughter). But I'd have no problem with a clock. You tell a pitcher, Man, you have this amount of time. When that thing says go, we're going. Because we have a responsibility to have them ready, and if they want to spend more time on the mound, get into the game. I think that would be a quick change that would not be very difficult.

Q. A few more warm ups? I know that's been talked about a lot.

TERRY FRANCONA: But I don't think you need to do that. If you have a clock in between innings, they're going for commercials. So there is never going to be less time. If you want to throw five or 15, the clock is in front of you. You get to the mound and do what you do. It really doesn't matter how many pitches you throw. It's the time allotment.

Same thing with making a pitching change. When the umpire signals bullpen and the clock starts, if the pitcher wants more, come in. If you don't, loiter.

Q. You're talking about the clock during the breaks in play, but not the actual clock between each pitch?

TERRY FRANCONA: Yeah, that's more difficult. That's that line that I know they're trying to follow, but it's difficult. You get to a certain amount of seconds and the pitcher holds the ball. Is a hitter allowed to step out? You're starting to get into competitive things that it's just difficult. It's not to say they can't do it, but it gets to be a lot of gray areas.

Q. They're doing things that literally make this not the game, your father's game in terms of clocks and instant replay. What was your opinion on how the review of plays impacted the game?

TERRY FRANCONA: I was probably I had as much anxiety going into the year probably than anything, because we don't do really well with change. And I was pleasantly surprised at how well it went. Nothing's perfect. But I think there was a lot of cooperation with the managers, umpires. I know when I went out there, I didn't get thrown out of a game last year. There is not really a reason to argue. You kind of say, hey, give me a second here. And I think we can clean up that process a little bit where you don't have to go out on the field so much.

But the object is to get the plays right, and you have a chance to do it or not, so I thought it worked pretty well.

Q. What was perhaps your most interesting conversation around the stall waiting for a thumbs up or thumbs down?

TERRY FRANCONA: I don't know about the stall. But I do remember late in the year, Joe West was at third, and I had gone out, this was the second time. So Joe wasn't thrilled. I told him, "Joe, I think you got the call right." I said, "Millsie is making me review this." And Joe laughed, so just tried not to have him be mad at me.

Q. Have you talked to Swisher?

TERRY FRANCONA: I texted with him a lot. He continues to try to hit goals along the way. Every week or so there is something else he can do or at a more intense pace. I guess the first time I'll probably see him is at the Trifest.

Q. How important is it for him getting back to be the guy that you thought you signed as important as getting Moss? He could potentially be a similar type?

TERRY FRANCONA: Yeah, and having him, we'll have to be very not cautious but very cognizant of the fact that he had knee surgery and we want to give him a chance to be healthy so he can be productive. And we'll certainly keep an eye on him.

But we've had Joe Kessler, I think, visiting twice and James Quinlan to try to make sure what he's doing is appropriate so he gives himself the best chance to be Swisher.

Q. Is he a DH first until he shows you he can help at first?

TERRY FRANCONA: No, I wouldn't say that. I actually think he thinks that playing some outfield is easier. So, again, those are conversations we can have. But this in no way limits him to just DH first base.

Q. With an opening on the coaching staff, have you thought about manipulating it so Giambi could come back or have you even talked to Giambi about his plans?

TERRY FRANCONA: I did in the past, and that's probably some of it is personal that I would rather him share, but he's not a candidate for that job by his own volition. Because of the timing of Cashy getting the job, it's kind of late. But I think we're really comfortable with our internal candidates, guys that are available, so there probably won't be a rush to do it.

Q. In terms of Santana, is he your regular first baseman now?

TERRY FRANCONA: Well, I mean, it's kind of hard. He deserved that last year. He really, we've been through how much he worked at third and how much it helped him at first. I don't see any reason to do something different unless there was a reason. The only reason I say that is, it's December. We still have a couple months before we go to Spring Training and then when you have your full team in place, then it makes it easier to make that statement.

Q. How was Japan? Did you have a better time than the last time you went?

TERRY FRANCONA: Yeah, I was less grumpy. The trip itself was fun. It's hard because the way we were talking about it today. It's such a great idea, but trying to get players to when do you do it? You know, if they could ever come up with a concept that worked, it's a great idea. Just we weren't quite at the level that they were.

Q. Looked like Santana was having a lot of fun while he was over there?

TERRY FRANCONA: And guys did have fun. And that's where you're balancing too. It's six weeks after the season is over, we had a couple of practices, we played one game and then you're sort of on a tour. So the balance, you try to strike that balance.

Q. I know you were in Japan when it happened, but what time did you find out that Kluber won the Cy Young?

TERRY FRANCONA: It took me about a week over there to realize we were ahead, not behind. So I was walking down the street with John Farrell, actually. We were going for a walk, and at times my phone would work and at times it wouldn't. All of a sudden I had a bunch of messages like, "Congratulations. Congratulations."

I was like, "What the hell happened?"

Then finally somebody said Kluber. And I said he must have. So I called him, and it just so happened my phone worked and Kluber answered, so it was kind of cool.

Q. Did he have a lot to say?

TERRY FRANCONA: Normal. "Thanks."

Q. How much did you like the fact that Kluber wasn't a big name guy? He's going up against Felix who is and has his reputation, the fact that people kind of overlooked that aspect of it?

TERRY FRANCONA: I think that's how it should be. I mean, there is a reason Felix has a reputation, because he's done it year after year after year, and he continues to do it. He's about as impressive a pitcher as you're going to find. But for this one year, Corey Kluber went toe to toe, and in the writers' opinion, probably edged him out. And I would have a hard time disagreeing with that.

Q. How much did that mean to get Brantley in the top three for MVP voting?

TERRY FRANCONA: I was glad because leading up to the end of the season, I try to shy away from maybe talking about some of that stuff as we're trying to compete for a spot in the playoffs. But I was a little disappointed that he wasn't getting more play. Then you start hearing about other guys in the league. It was like, man, why aren't they talking about Brantley? Well, evidently they were. People must have been listening because that was pretty impressive where he ended up, and I thought it was very deserving.

Q. Can you talk about Trevor Bauer a little bit from the time you got here from the Diamondbacks to now?

TERRY FRANCONA: Oh, boy. He's made a lot of strides. He's a very intellectual, little bit different thinker than some other guys. We've tried to allow him to have space, to have his thoughts, but just sharing them with us so we understand. We have one common goal, and that is for him to be the best pitcher he can be. He's been really good about sharing stuff with Mickey and understanding that. We've tried to get him to command his fastball and work off of that.

He redid his mechanics a year ago and that took a while. But for a kid that isn't real big, he looks very durable. He competes like crazy, and I think we think his better days are still ahead of him. He's still a young kid.

Q. If the game has sort of transitioned to maybe lower scoring, scouting reports that come and even in Spring Training when you see guys, is there more room in space for guys that maybe a handful or plus a might not have gotten a look? Baseball IQ, extra 90 feet, playing defense, do you almost look at guys a little differently? Does it give more guys a chance to make clubs and push their way up?

TERRY FRANCONA: Well, you'd have to maybe explain to me how. I don't know that there's ever been a year where we've gone to Spring Training regardless of how much offense we had or how much. You're trying to gauge every guy that's in camp, what they can do, what you think they can do, where they can help you. Are they depth? Can they make your team on of Spring Training? If you have an injury, you maybe don't think that guy can help you win. I think we've always tried to do that. I don't know if I answered that appropriately.

Q. I think is the pool a little bit more open for guys who might not have been hot shot prospects because they hit the ball a long way and hit a bunch of home runs?

TERRY FRANCONA: I don't know that the pool has ever been closed. I don't know that it matters how many runs you score. If you think guys can help you win, that's what you're looking for. The game changes from time to time.

Back in the '60s, they lowered the mound. Then there is the offense. It evolves. Teams make adjustments along the way. Shifting is a big thing now with defenses. Now we'll see what the hitters do. Sometimes it takes a while to catch up.

Q. You've managed a lot of great pitchers. You mentioned Kluber, Lester, Schilling. Pedro Martinez is up for the Hall of Fame. Just your thoughts on him and his career?

TERRY FRANCONA: You know, I caught him where he was on the back end, but photographic memory, intense desire to want to be the best and want to pitch, and also saw him across the field when he was in his heyday, and it was electric. I think he enjoyed the fact that people said he was little and wouldn't hold up, and I think he always pitched with that right on his shoulder.

Q. How about his stuff?

TERRY FRANCONA: He had four of the he didn't have one great pitch, he had four. I think if he wanted to have a fifth or sixth he probably could have. He had that ability. I think electric is probably the best word I could come up with.

Q. How do you view your shortstop position coming into this season? And how satisfied are you with the overall infield defense with a (Indiscernible) staff.

TERRY FRANCONA: We weren't really happy with our team defense last year as a whole. That was something that we fought from day one and kind of it interfered with some of our trying to win a lot of games. So that was something that we really want to try to work on in Spring Training, overall team defense. I think we have guys that can play better than we did statistically last year.

As far as shortstop goes, I think we're really comfortable with Jose Ramirez and Mike Aviles, that combination. Jose came up and kind of showed that he not only belonged in the Major Leagues, but could hit the top of the order.

Q. Can a player like Francisco Lindor earn an opportunity out of Spring Training or do you think he doesn't have enough reps?

TERRY FRANCONA: A player like Lindor, I wouldn't say he couldn't. Lindor's not going to, but I can't speak for other teams, that's not fair. So when you say like Lindor, I don't know. But we're not going to do that. He needs to his development needs to be just that. When he's ready, his play will show us that.

By a guy hitting .400 in Spring Training, that doesn't show you they're ready to handle the rigors of a full season. It can certainly excite you about seeing some of their tools, but that's not a genuine show of what they can do.

Try to be very careful about going off guys batting averages or ERAs in Spring Training.

Q. It's two months since the end of the season. Is this one of your more rewarding years? You had 12 rookies that saw time during the year, and injuries and a lot of challenges.

TERRY FRANCONA: I don't know. Every year you kind of collapse when the year is over. It's funny because this year I didn't collapse as much as normal which maybe is a good thing. But I think what it meant was as much as stuff that didn't go right, it was a fun group to be around. We kept plugging, we kept plugging. We just weren't good enough. But it wasn't for lack of trying. When you have that many young guys, there is some enthusiasm there and things like that. I think I felt like we left it on the field for the most part. There were very few nights where I was like maybe frustrated with our defense, but not frustrated with our getting out there and playing. So you kind of go home and you're tired, but I felt like we did our best. Now how are we going to get better?

I think pretty quickly this winter I shifted into how are we going to get better. Where it usually takes me a couple months to decompress and get some energy, quickly I was like we need to start doing this, this, and this.

Q. It seemed like late last season you guys made an emphasis, we want to talk to Bauer during the off season. We want to go to the Dominican and talk to Salazar, make sure the conditioning is going well. Is that taking shape?

TERRY FRANCONA: Yes. We don't want to have any excuses. You know, when you have some familiarity now and you've been with the team for a couple of years and everybody knows each other, it can go one of two ways. You can use the familiarity and it can be nice and relaxed or you can still try to get better. And we don't want to just stay stagnant. We want to get better.

So even as a coaching staff, we've kind of challenged ourselves, what can we do in Spring Training? What can we do better? We've talked about our defense. We need to do better. We don't want to make stuff up. At the same time, we don't want to just shake hands, say hello and throw the bats and balls out. We want to find a way to make up enough ground where we can be in the playoffs. When you have younger guys, it's easier to do that because they're still getting better.

Q. Is that like with Chisenhall at third, and Kipnis at second base? Is that what you're talking about?

TERRY FRANCONA: Everybody, really. We have room for improvement. Our defense was kind of our Achilles heel last year. You give teams extra outs or extra opportunities, it makes it more difficult to win. Doesn't mean you can't win, but it makes it harder.

Q. Is there anything specific you're going to do with those on infield?

TERRY FRANCONA: We're going to try as much as we can to have live drills, and again, you have to pick your spots because you can't have three live drills a day or you're going to kill guys. They'll have sore arms. But we'll try to also have drills where we run them to completion.

You know in the past, we've had a day where we've had rundowns, and you kind of force the issue.

What we'll do, I think, next year is whatever the play ends up, we'll finish the play. If it ends up being a rundown, we'll do a rundown. If it's an out at third, we'll do an out at third. But it will be completely live and we'll always finish the play.

Q. More unpredictability?

TERRY FRANCONA: Yes. Like when we're doing cutoffs and relays, if the coach didn't hit the ball right where the ball was supposed to be, you kind of screwed up the play, we'll just play it like we do in a game. I think the intensity of the drill will help maybe have some repetitions.

The other thing, quite frankly is when we take our ground balls in the morning, that is the first thing we do, we need to take more in the shift. It's funny, because you see guys take ground balls, then when the game starts we're very rarely right straight up.

So we need to have Kipnis out in short right and take ground balls there. We probably didn't do enough of that.

Q. Is Raburn okay?

TERRY FRANCONA: He's doing pretty well. He's actually going into Cleveland this week. He's coming in for a check up.

Q. Giambi didn't tell you if he wanted to play again?

TERRY FRANCONA: I'd rather you guys ask him. I'd just feel more comfortable. When you talk to somebody, I'm just not sure that was supposed to be public.