Cleveland Indians: Understanding Terry Francona’s First Four Years

Feb 17, 2017; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona speaks with members of the media after a workout at the Goodyear Ballpark practice fields. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 17, 2017; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona speaks with members of the media after a workout at the Goodyear Ballpark practice fields. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /
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Why exactly is Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona‘s tenure even more impressive than we may initially think?

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona is easily the best coach in Cleveland right now. All due respect to Cavaliers’ Ty Lue and his NBA title, Francona’s leadership is the most directly responsible for his team’s success. How does he compare with the best four year stretch from the glory days of the 1990’s Indians, helmed by The Human Rain Delay Mike Hargrove?

Hargrove got off to a rough start in Cleveland, winning no more than 76 games from 1991-1994. 1995, though, was the most exciting season in Indians history before 2016.

100 wins and an A.L. pennant in 1995 was followed by 99 wins in 1996, 86 and a single error away from a World Series title in 1997, and 89 wins in 1998. It’s also worth pointing out that the Indians won 97 games in 1999, but we are only looking at a four year stretch at the moment.

In that time, Hargrove won two A.L. titles and fielded some of the best lineups in all of baseball. When fans look back at their memories of those years, it was due to the likes of Jim Thome and Albert Belle hitting home runs and of high scoring offenses.

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There was Manny Ramirez becoming Manny in those years and Sandy Alomar Jr. being one of the best all around catchers in the A.L. For the most part, Hargrove was the beneficiary of John Hart spending Dick Jacobs’ money.

That brings us to Francona, who inherited a team that ran through Eric Wedge and Manny Acta prior to coming on board. Acta guided the Indians to four straight seasons under .500 and three seasons of 69 or fewer wins.

Francona has not had a losing season in Cleveland and has seasons of 85, 92, and 94 wins. You may also remember a very exciting Game 7 of the World Series as well.

What sets Francona apart has been the way his teams have been built. While Hart had no limits on the money he could spend for players, Francona’s GM’s like Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti have had the more budget conscious Dolan family in charge.

Aside from signing Edwin Encarnacion, free agents have come from “bargain” types such as Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis, or from shrewd trades. Those trades brought over players like Carlos Santana, Brandon Guyer, Yan Gomes, Abraham Almonte, and previous players like Mike Aviles.

That said, players like Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall were all drafted by the club. Meanwhile, Jose Ramirez and Roberto Perez were international signees.

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It has only been recently that the front office was given the resources to really make moves. In most other cases, Clint Frazier would never have been traded for Andrew Miller and $20 million a year would not have been approved for Encarnacion.

There has arguably been more money spent on Progressive Field than there has been on players. After all, the payroll has typically settled in the middle to bottom third of the league most seasons.

It’s because of Francona that all of those shrewd trades and dedication to player development has paid off. Hargrove could not have mixed and matched lineups the way Franonca does. In addition, Hargrove couldn’t have handled a pair of catchers that collectively hit under .200 because of how great they make the pitching staff look.

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