MLB.com: Speaking of Spring Training, you have quite a few guys involved in the World Baseball Classic. How concerned are you about the kind of impact it's going to have on your camp?
Francona: I think it's going to be our job not to let it affect us. These are the rules we're playing under. It's a great idea. I think everybody is a little uncertain of health, because when we get down to camp, we're so careful of guys' health, especially pitchers. All of a sudden you're asking guys to compete at a real high level. I think we all agree the concept is cool. When they're your guys, you worry about them. You just hope they come back intact and ready to go. As far as bonding as a team and everything, that will be our job to get around that and to make things work in the time we have.
MLB.com: When Theo Epstein left, I know that was unsettling for you. Now that he's back, how much does that ease things for you just knowing that he is going to be around and that you guys can continue working together?
Francona: Yeah, it is good, and I will say this. I thought our guys did great. Ben [Cherington] and Jed [Hoyer], it really wasn't that much different in the way things worked. The guy that was running the show is back. It's like that trickle down effect. Almost like the bullpen with [Keith] Foulke. You have your guy in place. Theo grew up here, he should be working here. This is his job. I think everyone around the Red Sox is glad, I know I am. I think that the timing is good, it will give him a couple of weeks before Spring Training to give him time to get his feet wet, get him back in the office. By the time we get to Spring Training, everything will be working like normal.
MLB.com: Have you spoken much with Curt Schilling this offseason and how is he doing?
Francona: Yeah, I've talked to him quite a bit. I've talked to not only Schill, but the people that work him out. I think he's doing OK. He feels pretty good about himself. He's stepped up his intensity. I think he's raring to go.
MLB.com: Similarly with Foulke, have you been able to touch base with him?
Francona: I have not talked to Foulkie, he's a hard guy to run down. I will say this, I've heard from our trainers and our strength and conditioning guy [recently] and they say he's doing outstanding. They said his program has been a very intense program. His weight is down, his knees are good. They were really raving about him. So that was really good news. He's such a weapon. If you can count him in at the back of the bullpen, pencil him in and say, 'We have Foulkie for this,' it really makes it easier to use the other guys.
MLB.com: Your team has amassed a lot of bullpen depth this offseason, that was something that really hurt you guys last year being so thin out there. How excited are you just to see all this depth?
Francona: We have a lot of depth and it's funny because you look at all the names and say, 'Oh my goodness, how are you going to get everybody innings?' You know what? It's never a problem. We just came up short last year. And actually in '04, we came up dangerously short for a while during the season. We tried to remedy that and I think we did. We've got a lot of good pitchers and then if somebody goes down, which always happens, we should have a good pitcher to replace him.
MLB.com: Right now, you have seven starters for five spots. How do you handle that if you get to camp and there's more guys than spots, especially when all these guys are established with the exception of Jonathan Papelbon?
Francona: You're right, you're not talking about young kids. That's a good point. Well, if we get to camp, and we still have that problem, we'll discuss it as an organization. I really think that these things have a way of taking care of themselves. If we get to a point where I have to make a decision, I'd almost be glad to have to do that. Having too much pitching, you don't hear too many guys complain about that. If I end up being the one guy to complain about having too much pitching, I think we're going to be OK.
MLB.com: I've heard you mention in the past how important first impressions can be. What were your first impressions of Josh Beckett after getting to meet him at Fenway recently?
Francona: I saw him in the clubhouse. I was actually in there icing my knee and he walked up and shook my hand and I was laughing ... my whole body shook. I mean, this kid is a strong kid. You know that but then when you finally meet him up close, it's like, 'Oh my goodness.' His hands are just monstrous. He's strong. It just kind of gives you confidence when you look at him and think, he's just such a strong kid. I've talked to enough people about him, he loves to compete, I think he's looking forward to the atmosphere. I think he's looking forward to getting to know Schill and kind of getting to learn from him. I think there's a lot of good things that are going to bring out a lot of positives.
MLB.com: It looks like Kevin Youkilis is finally going to get some at-bats. I know you've enjoyed watching him in limited time the last couple of years. How much do you look forward to seeing what he does with this opportunity?
Francona: A lot. He deserves it. We're going to split it up with him and J.T. Snow, and some of it depends on how they're swinging the bat, that's the way the game is. That's the way it's supposed to be. But he's going to definitely play a lot and I think he deserves it and I think he'll be able to handle it. I think on our side of it, having J.T. come in and kind of help him out a little bit is good too. We have a guy who is a Gold Glove caliber defender. I think it just bodes well for us. I think they complement each other very well.
MLB.com: You kind of have three guys for two spots with J.T., Youk and Mike Lowell. Do you look at that as a situation where you can get everyone enough playing time, and at the same time, keep everybody fresh?
Francona: Yeah, I think so. But I look at Lowell and think, Lowell is our third baseman and he's going to play over there. If he needs a rest, we can do something different. Everyone is talking about Lowell and he had a down year. If he just has an average year, he's going to drive in 85 or 90 runs. That's going to help us a lot. That's a lot of RBIs.
MLB.com: This is your first offseason being a Bostonian. You've put down roots here, living here year-round. What has that been like?
Francona: You know what, I've found out that people honk quick. If you don't get off that red light, they're on you. But I thought [living in Boston] was necessary for a couple of reasons. One was to do my job correctly and two is to kind of keep my family where I can kiss my kids good night and not go back and forth from Philadelphia. I just think when you become the manager of a team, it shouldn't be a part-time job and I think being here, I don't know if it's helped, but I've been in the ballpark a lot. I just think that being around here, I think it's part of my responsibility.
MLB.com: Talking about Papelbon, after what he did last year, late year especially, is it hard for you not to put too many expectations on him?
Francona: No, we do have expectations. This kid is going to be a good pitcher. I think he already proved that. I think he can handle any responsibility we give him. And some of that responsibility may be determined by how many pitchers we have and how many starters we have. We may ask him to do a couple of different things but I know that whatever we ask him to do, he's going to be a big help to our ballclub because he's good.
MLB.com: You had knee replacement surgery a couple of months ago. How important was that for you to do, just for your physical well being on a daily basis?
Francona: This was a big deal. Having this knee replaced was not as easy as I thought it was going to be. It's been a lot of hard work and I'm not out of the woods yet. They say at about the three month mark, that's where you start being glad you got it done. I'm right at the two month mark now. So I still have some work ahead of me. I just didn't like being on my feet. It was hard, going up steps, I was miserable. I'm really hopeful that I can get down to Spring Training and the warm weather and I'll start to see some dividends.
MLB.com: Was it a gradual thing, where one day you just got to the point where you said, 'I need to do this'?
Francona: What happened was, when I got them scoped three years ago, they were starting to get pretty bad. But then I got those staph infections and then I couldn't rehab because I had gotten so sick. That just kind of put me over the edge. When you think about it, I had the surgery three years ago because I was struggling and then it got 10 times worse. I lost all the range of motion. I had them scraped out because of the infection. My right leg was so arthritic to begin with that it just put me over the edge.
MLB.com: Is this the time of year where you really start to get antsy to get back down there and get to camp and crank it up again?
Francona: Yeah, this is it. It's everybody, it's not just me. You get around the new year and man, it's just like clockwork, you want to get down there and start working. You work on speeches and you work on lineups and you work on Spring Training days. It's so exciting. It's not just me. Anyone who cares about baseball feels the same way.