The Terry Francona Era is ending in Cleveland, with the club’s long-time manager — 11 years is forever in today’s baseball climate — planning to retire at the end of the season.
Francona’s been openly and honestly talking about the end of his time in the Guardians’ dugout for weeks and even months. He’s 64 years old and has had his share of health issues over the years. As he said on an MLB Network Radio show in September, “It’s time.”
So who replaces him? Obviously, the Guardians have had a lot of success under the Francona way, with nine first- or second-place finishes in the AL Central in his 11 seasons. They won the AL pennant in 2016 and came oh-so-close to winning the World Series. They won 102 games in 2017 and had five other seasons of 90-plus wins. In fact, this 2023 season will be the first in that stretch where the club finishes more than two games under .500.
And the Francona way — get the absolute most out of what you’ve got — is important, because there’s no reason to think Cleveland will suddenly pull a San Diego and become a team that spends freely to attract elite talent. The new manager needs to understand.
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So it makes sense that the front office will look at internal candidates, right?
And the Guardians have plenty of those, if the goal is smooth transition. We’ll start there.
Sandy Alomar Jr., Guardians first-base coach
Why he’s here: Alomar, who played in the bigs from 1988 to 2007, has been on the Cleveland staff since the start of the 2010 season, and he’s actually had two separate stints as the club’s manager. He was the interim choice after Manny Acta was fired late in the 2012 season, and was kept on staff after the team hired Francona. And in 2020, he managed the team for most of the shortened season while Francona was away for health reasons. Alomar, 57 years old, has been through the managerial interview circuit for a long time now, and was reportedly on the finalist list for several different positions. He would seem to be the most seamless transition candidate.
DeMarlo Hale, Guardians bench coach
Why he’s here: Hale is as experienced as any coach in the sport, having managed in the minors for years and spent time on big-league staffs — the Rangers, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays and Braves before coming to Cleveland in 2020 — in just about every role. Hale, 62, has done the managerial interview circuit, too. Like Alomar, he has experience managing Cleveland while Francona was sidelined; he spent the last two months of 2021 as the acting manager.
Other internal candidates: Mike Sarbaugh has been with the Cleveland organization basically since 1990, as a player, then coach and manager in the minors, and he’s been on Francona’s staff since 2013. Former Indians third baseman Travis Fryman is a roving hitting instructor with the organization. And, hey, lots of pitching coaches become managers so maybe Carl Willis, who has been in that role for Cleveland since 2017 (and was previously from 2003-09), is the right choice.
Will Venable, Rangers associate manager
Why he’s here: Looking outside the organization, Venable, just 40 years old with a Princeton education, is a name to watch for this or any other openings that might pop up in the next few weeks. He was reportedly in the mix for the Royals’ job last offseason, and he’s interviewed for several other positions. He’s spent this season in Texas, working as Bruce Bochy’s right-hand person, and Bochy is a pretty good manager to learn from. Venable spent eight of his nine MLB seasons playing for the Padres, joining the 20/20 club in 2013 (22 homers, 22 stolen bases).
Joe Espada, Astros bench coach
Why he’s here: Espada has done the managerial interview circuit the past several seasons (noticing the trend?). In his role as Dusty Baker’s bench coach, it makes sense that he might be a logical person to replace Baker when the legendary manager retires. But that’s not set, so he almost certainly will be in the mix for this and any other spots. At 48, he’s younger than most potential candidates.