Francona helps turn around culture in Cleveland
CLEVELAND -- In two seasons, Terry Francona helped turn the Cleveland Indians back into contenders.
He'll get more time to make them champions.
Francona and the Indians agreed Tuesday to a two-year contract extension, a deal which carries through the 2018 season and includes team options for 2019 and 2020.
Financial terms of the extension were not immediately known.
Francona has been worth every penny since the Indians hired him following a disastrous, 94-loss season in 2012. He's helped reshape the team's culture, infused enthusiasm into the organization and made Cleveland a more attractive destination for free agents. Players want to play for Francona.
"As excited as we were on the day we hired him, we're even more excited today, having the benefit of working alongside him for the last two years," said general manager Chris Antonetti, who believes Francona can help sell the Indians to free agents. "If you survey the player community, Tito is as well regarded as any manager for the environment he creates in the clubhouse and how much players enjoy and respect playing for him."
The Indians approached Francona about the extension late last season, and it didn't take the sides long to reach an agreement.
"I always wanted to be part of the solution," Francona said. "I just didn't want to come for a few years and move on. That was never my goal. I wanted to come and stay."
The Indians have gone 177-147 under Francona, who won two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox. The Indians went 92-70 in Francona's first season, winning a wild-card spot and making the postseason for the first time since 2007. He was named AL manager of the year.
Francona may have actually done a better job in 2014.
Despite injuries, trades, a leaky defense and sub-par seasons from several key players, Francona kept the Indians in the wild-card race. He was forced at times to play several rookies, but Francona was able to mix and match lineups and he got the most out of his bullpen.
The Indians finished 85-77 and dropped to third in the AL Central. However, Francona had the Indians close until the final weekend and the club finished with consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2000-01.
"I think the job he did this past season was equally as good, if not better than the job he did in 2013," Antonetti said. "I think that consistency in the way he approaches each day allows him to be able to maintain that success year after year."
Since 2004, Francona's teams have posted 10 consecutive winning seasons. Francona has endeared himself to his players with his openness and honesty, and the man known as "Tito" has become popular with Cleveland fans.
Francona's extension coincides with the Indians locking up several young players to long-term deals. Over the past year, the club has signed All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley, second baseman Jason Kipnis and catcher Yan Gomes to multi-year contracts, giving Francona a strong nucleus of players to build around.
"We're not the finished product and we know it," Francona said. "We're not sitting here patting ourselves on the back. But from where we were when I first came on board to where we are now, we're getting better. We still want to get a lot better, but we're going in the right direction and we have some players -- a core group of guys who are not only good players but exceptional people and that bodes well for us."
Francona said the negotiation with Antonetti was pretty simple, once they got past an early hurdle.
"Chris asked me to send him a contract proposal," Francona said. "I thought about it for a couple days and I emailed him and I said, `Chris, before I can send you a proposal, you need to write me and tell me what I'm making now because I didn't know.' On one hand, that's not terribly intelligent on my part. On the other hand, I think it shows that once I sign a contract I'm comfortable, I don't look back.
"And that's where I wanted to be with this one, too. I told him, `Chris this is sort of a funny way of saying, once I sign it, I don't really care anymore. I want to do baseball."
Francona has won at least 90 games seven times and managed in the playoff six times.
Francona has a career record of 1,206-1,062. He's fourth among active managers in career wins behind San Francisco's Bruce Bochy (1,618), the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Scioscia (1,331) and Baltimore's Buck Showalter (1,259).
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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