Posted March 27, 2013 on AP on Fox
Terry Francona helped exorcise the Bambino's curse, bringing the Red Sox a World Series title for the first time in 86 years. His new challenge is ending a 64-year championship drought. And this time, it's personal. Refreshed from a year away from the game's ruthless grind following a messy exit in Boston, Francona has come ''home'' to try to take the Cleveland Indians to the top. Chosen as the club's manager in October, Francona has invigorated a franchise he has known since childhood, when his father, Tito, played for the Indians. ''This where I wanted to be,'' Francona said. ''This was the only job I wanted.'' Loving every minute so far, he even agreed to dress up as a baby for his players this spring. The Indians, who collapsed last season under Manny Acta, have been overhauled for Francona. Cleveland owner Paul Dolan, criticized for penny-pinching in the past, spent $117 million on free agents this winter, a striking, big-ticket spending spree that brought All-Star center fielder Michael Bourn, first baseman Nick Swisher, pitcher Brett Myers and slugger Mark Reynolds to Cleveland. The club also traded for outfielder Drew Stubbs and infielder Mike Aviles and signed Jason Giambi, Ryan Raburn and Scott Kazmir. Cleveland got real serious. ''You don't bring over a guy like Terry Francona if you don't expect to win, and win soon,'' said Swisher, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract - the largest for a free agent in Indians history - after playing the past four years with the Yankees. ''Not only bring over Terry, but you bring in all these other high-profile guys and all of a sudden this young core of guys you have here are like, `All right, here we go, this is what we needed.''' The Indians needed an infusion of something, anything, following their disappointing 2012 season, when they were in contention for four months before going 18-45 after July 27 and finishing fourth in the AL Central. Francona's arrival has changed everything. The Indians sold out their home opener in 6 minutes and predictably pessimistic Cleveland fans, who have seen many promising and pennant-winning seasons end short of a first World Series championship since the last one in 1948, are beginning to believe this could be a magical year. The outlook is bright, but there's also reason for caution. With the speedy Bourn in the leadoff spot, Cleveland's lineup should score. The Indians were second from the bottom among AL teams in runs last season, but in Swisher, Reynolds and the 42-year-old Giambi, who will serve as a part-time designated hitter and clubhouse leader, Francona believes his club has some proven middle-of-the-order run producers who will not only rack up RBIs but take pressure off Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana. Bourn was the cherry on top of general manager Chris Antonetti's scrumptious offseason overhaul. In addition to giving the Indians a needed base-stealing threat, the 30-year-old changes the dynamic of Cleveland's outfield with his Gold Glove. Bourn takes over in center field with Michael Brantley moving to left and Stubbs playing right, giving the Indians perhaps baseball's fastest outfield. ''I just hope we don't run into each other,'' Brantley joked. But the trio should be able to run some potential doubles into outs and save runs for Cleveland's staff, which will hold the key to the Indians' chances of closing the gap on defending division champ Detroit. Pitching, or more precisely, the lack of it, is a major concern. The Indians' rotation is a little rough around the edges. Justin Masterson, who will start on opening day and is considered the ace, won all of 11 games in 2012 with a 4.93 ERA. Ubaldo Jimenez led the AL with 17 losses and has been a major disappointment since coming over from Colorado in 2011. Myers pitched in relief last season and was battered around in spring training. Zach McAllister won six games as a rookie last season and Scott Kazmir pitched for the Sugar Land Skeeters, an independent team. ''Over the course of a long year, if you don't pitch, you get exposed,'' Francona said more than once this spring. The Indians, though, do have a solid bullpen anchored by charismatic closer Chris Perez, who has promised Francona he will be better behaved following a tumultuous 2012 during which he criticized Cleveland's fans and Dolan, exchanged profanities with a fan and taunted opponents. Perez is one of the many Indians players who said Francona didn't have to earn their respect. It arrived before he did. ''He's has instant credibility,'' said Perez, a two-time All-Star who had 39 saves last year. ''He's going to tell you something, and it's, `OK, how high do you want me to jump, sir.' With what he's done, somebody like that could be a complete jerk and say `I want to do it this way, I've done it this way.' But he's working with guys he's asking, `Hey, how have you done it in the past?' He's still learning and for a guy who has won two World Series already sometimes you don't see that. It's really great.'' When the Indians filmed their version of the ''Harlem Shake'' during camp in Arizona, Francona not only agreed to participate but became the video's star, shimmying across the clubhouse and dancing in a baby's bonnet. His willingness to be open yet firm has already won over his players. ''His boundaries are perfect,'' Giambi said. ''Look what he did in Boston. To win two World Series there and the guys loved him. He's fired up to be here, and it rubs off downhill.''
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES

Nick Swisher - Ready to rock Cleveland

Nick Swisher is ready to rock Cleveland. After four quietly terrific seasons in New York, Swisher is now taking his laughter and baseball delight to a dugout where he will be teamed up with old Yankee nemesis, Terry Francona. Swisher reminds me of cats--you either love him or hate him. The word, "douche" seems to come up a lot on Twitter from baseball fans and writers...

2013 Key Players: Carlos Santana

The fourth installment of my 2013 Cleveland Indians Key Player series will focus on Carlos Santana. After previously covering Justin Masterson, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Jason Kipnis, we’ll be discussing the Indians’ catcher and his importance to the upcoming season. In the midst of a breakout minor league campaign, the Indians acquired Carlos Santana in the 2008 Casey Blake...

Indians release Kelly, four others from minor league camp

The Indians today announced that have released five players from their minor league contracts: shortstop Jairo Kelly, outfielder Chia-Ching Lin, outfielder Andrew Campbell, catcher Dwight Childs, and infielder Davis Stoneburner. The first notebale release this spring is that of Jairo Kelly, a player that was signed in July of 2009 and came in as a high profile international signing...

Cleveland Indians make parody of Apple Siri (VIDEO)

YouTube The Cleveland Indians are funny guys.  They’re a team chock full of personalities.  It starts with manager Terry Francona and continues with newly-signed outfielder Nick Swisher, second baseman Jason Kipnis, catcher Carlos Santana.  They have a good time. Recently, they filmed a little commercial touting “TERRi” (after Francona) parodying the iPhone’s Siri.  Like...

Spring Training Game #32: A's 7, Indians 6

The Indians made a couple more moves prior to Tuesday’s game, more or less finishing off some unfinished business over the weekend. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Matt Capps were both re-signed after being released in recent days. The Indians did this to avoid paying the two a $100,000 retention bonus. Obviously, the players  wouldn’t have  signed the deal if there wasn’t a mutual...

2013 Spring Training Game #34: Indians 4, Padres 6

Some Tribe fans may have had flashbacks to opening day 2012 watching Thursday’s bout between the Indians and Padres in Peoria, Arizona. Justin Masterson shined in five innings of work leaving with a 3-2 lead. In the seventh, closer Chris Perez came in and not only blew the lead, but gave up four runs on five hits including a pair of 2-run bombs. Thankfully, it was just a spring...

Indians rumors: Cleveland shopping David Huff

The Cleveland Indians have told David Huff that he will not make the team and will thus become a trade candidate this spring, according to Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer. #Indians have told Ezequiel Carrera and David Huff, both out of options, that they won't make the club and they will try to trade them. — paul hoynes (@hoynsie) March 25, 2013 The Indians...

Francona changing the way Tribe plays baseball

Terry Francona has often described his managerial by saying he wants to put players in the best position possible to succeed. Which sounds pretty esoteric. It wouldnt seem smart to put guys in spots to fail (though it does happen). But spend a few days with Francona in Goodyear and instances arise that demonstrate what the Indians new manager means. The examples relate to individuals...

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Matt Capps stay with Indians

GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) -- Daisuke Matsuzaka and Matt Capps are staying with the Cleveland Indians. The pair agreed to minor league contracts on Tuesday after being released from their previous deals with Cleveland. The Indians used the moves to get around the provision in baseball's labor contract that requires a 100,000 retention bonus if a player is not released by Tuesday or...

2013 Minor League Spring Game Recap: March 28th

Only two days remain before another minor league spring training breaks on Saturday afternoon. Juan Diaz, Anthony Gallas, Carlos Moncrief, Leo Castillo and several others had good days at the plate for the Indians' affiliates, and Fernando Nieve, Danny Salazar, Jake Sisco and others impressed on the mound. The full stats from all four minor league games on Thursday are included....

MLB News: Indians re-sign Matsuzaka, Capps to minor league deals

The Cleveland Indians have formally agreed to terms with starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and relief pitcher Matt Capps. The terms of the deal were unannounced, but both deals were of the minor league variety and both players will report to Triple-A Columbus after the close of big league camp. Per Paul Hoynes of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, it appears that — despite the luxury...

2013 Minor League Spring Game Recap: March 25th

The Cleveland Indians' farm teams took on the affiliates of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday in the eighth of 11 scheduled inter-organization preseason exhibition games. Trevor Bauer started for Columbus, T.J. House for Akron, Jacob Lee for Carolina and Luis DeJesus for Lake County, and Arthur has the details on how all of them did as well as several standout performances in the lineup.

Dice-K has good outing in Indians' loss to ChiSox

Daisuke Matsuzaka made his final Cactus League start of the spring, working 5 1/3 strong innings in the Indians' 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. Matsuzaka, who allowed two runs on five hits, will report to Triple-A Columbus when the Indians break camp. The Japanese right-hander is working his way back to the majors after undergoing Tommy John surgery last June...

The Nostalgia League: April results

Batter of the Month 1995 left fielder Albert Belle spent the month of April pummeling opposing pitchers hitting to the tune of .371.  His 11 home runs and outstanding 31 RBI were worthy of the Player of the Month Award. In 1995 Belle led the Indians to the playoffs for the first time in 41 years and the Indians won the AL pennant before losing in six games to the Atlanta Braves...

White Sox 5, Indians 4

Daisuke Matsuzaka made his final Cactus League start of the spring, working 5 1/3 strong innings in the Indians' 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. Matsuzaka, who allowed two runs on five hits, will report to Triple-A Columbus when the Indians break camp. The Japanese right-hander is working his way back to the majors after undergoing Tommy John surgery last June...
MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.