Francona fields questions from callers
In hour-long interview, Sox skipper takes to Boston's airwaves
BOSTON -- Overlooking Fenway Park on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, Red Sox manager Terry Francona made himself uniquely accessible to the rabid fans that follow his team. Sitting in the radio broadcast booth in the press box level of the field, Francona spent an hour live on WEEI, the team's flagship radio station, fielding questions from callers and answering a plethora of text messages from the listening audience.
In this forum, an at-ease Francona discussed a wide range of issues surrounding the Red Sox on the mid-afternoon show hosted by Dale Arnold and Michael Holley.
Francona discussed everything from Jason Bay's uncertain future to Jason Varitek's new role as backup catcher to how long he might want to keep writing out lineup cards for the Red Sox.
For New England's sports addicts, who have spent most of the week dissecting Patriots coach Bill Belichick's highly controversial decision to go for it on fourth and 2 on Sunday night during a painstaking loss to the Indianapolis Colts, it was a welcomed change of pace.
Like Belichick, Francona has enjoyed a prolonged run of success with his current team. In Francona's six seasons at the helm, the Red Sox have twice won the World Series while notching 95-plus victories five times. That said, how long does Francona envision himself managing at Fenway?
"This is probably the best I've done after a year [physically]," Francona said. "Some of that is probably because we got done prematurely, which was bad. But I'm actually doing pretty well. As far as doing it, I don't know. It takes a lot out of me. I think it's not just managing. Managing here, although I love it and I'm kind of addicted to it, it's difficult. I can't see myself doing this for 30 years. Saying that, I haven't lost my excitement or wanting to do it. When there comes a day when I don't have that, regardless of what my contract says, I won't do it."
One text message -- WEEI received nearly 900 of them in the first half-hour -- asked Francona if he thought Bay would re-sign with the Red Sox. As of 12:01 a.m. ET on Friday, Bay will be eligible to sign with any team in the Majors.
|"I saw [Jason Varitek] the other day. He was about as fired up as I've seen him. I think he's in a good place. I think he's going to do a good job. He has that 'C' on his jersey for a reason. Victor is going to catch the majority of the games. How much, we don't know. I think 'Tek can be an unbelievable backup catcher. Because his body can't handle catching 140 games anymore, that doesn't mean, if you run him out there less than that, he can't [produce], especially from the right side. I think in this situation that we have hopefully upcoming, he can really excel at that."|
|-- Terry Francona|
"He has earned the right to be a free agent. This is his first time and he wants to see it through. You know we're going to be a major player -- we always are. Do I hope it gets done? Yeah. I bet you Jason Bay hopes it gets done, but he's going to have other options, too."
Speaking of other options, Varitek could have become a free agent last week if he had chosen to do so. Instead, he exercised his $3 million option to return to the club as Victor Martinez's backup. While Varitek has struggled mightily at the plate the past two years, Francona is enthused about what his captain can still offer in a reduced role.
"I saw him the other day. He was about as fired up as I've seen him," Francona said. "I think he's in a good place. I think he's going to do a good job. He has that 'C' on his jersey for a reason. Victor is going to catch the majority of the games. How much, we don't know. I think 'Tek can be an unbelievable backup catcher. Because his body can't handle catching 140 games anymore, that doesn't mean, if you run him out there less than that, he can't [produce], especially from the right side. I think in this situation that we have hopefully upcoming, he can really excel at that."
While Varitek is as entrenched as any member of the Red Sox, there will, as always, be new faces in 2010. Could free-agent right-hander John Lackey be one of them? Last week, Boston had discussions with Lackey's representative. Initially, Francona was uncomfortable talking about Lackey because he was unclear if the Angels' exclusivity rights with Lackey had ended. It was only after Holley accidentally misinformed Francona that the exclusivity period had ended that the manager spoke a little about the man who shut down the Red Sox in Game 1 of the 2009 Division Series.
"I'm taking your word for it, I shouldn't," Francona said to Holley. "John Lackey is one of the best. Every year, there are a couple of guys that seems like they can sway the fortunes of an organization. I think he's that type of pitcher. Now, to get that type of pitcher, you're going to have to make quite a commitment. That's something that makes our organization a little bit uneasy. It doesn't mean a guy can't come in and help you win, but if there's an injury along the way, that can set your organization back quite a bit. There's a lot to think about besides just the year 2010. But you're possibly talking about 2015. That's a lot of years."
Does Francona view Lackey as an ace-caliber pitcher?
"Yeah, I probably do," Francona said. "He's missed a little bit of time. But when he's out there, I think their team feels like they're going to win. He can match up against [Josh] Beckett, [Jon] Lester, he can go head to head with the better guys in the league and hold his own. So yeah, I would probably say so."
What about the Red Sox's revolving door at shortstop? The team recently declined Alex Gonzalez's option, but it could still bring him back as a free agent.
"You know what Gonzi did? At a time of year where we had a lot of moving parts at shortstop, he came in and was really a stabilizing force," Francona said. "When the ball was hit, you're out. Going forward, to have him back, from our front office's side, if they can get him at the right price, yeah, we would enjoy that. I think the thing to remember with Gonzi is what he did the last six weeks of the season was really helpful. [But] you look at that .310 on-base percentage, you know, for a full year, if that's what you're going to go with, you've got to recoup that somewhere else. It's something to think about."
|"To David [Ortiz's] credit, he's been in the ballpark every day since the season has been over and he looks terrific. He's going to have to -- he's got big shoes to carry. If he can't ... if you have a DH that's not whacking the ball all over the ballpark, it kind of puts you in a tough spot. But we're so used to David hitting those 40, 45, 50 home runs. We got used to that. If he's hitting 18, it makes us a different team."|
|-- Terry Francona|
"That's an interesting question. I just spoke to Jed yesterday," Francona said. "He's up in Canada. His girlfriend lives up there, so he's spending some time in Toronto. He's doing some therapy on that wrist. The wrist is troublesome. He already had a surgery. We love him as a player. We'd love to be able to plug him in at shortstop every day. He's a switch-hitter. He could probably hit a ton of doubles, an occasional home run. He's pretty reliable.
"The one thing that hasn't been reliable is his health. It puts us in a little bit of a tricky spot. Quite honestly, we don't know quite what to do. We can't put all the shortstop position in his hands, because we don't know if he's healthy enough to do it. But if he is healthy enough, he's good enough to do it, so we're in a little bit of a predicament."
With Epstein and his crew getting ready to buckle down for another Hot Stove season, Francona will have a keen interest on all the moving parts, be it in free agency or potential trades. If Francona had his druthers, one caller wondered, would he rather have an elite arm or a big bat?
"Every time Theo talks to me, I always say, 'Get a pitcher.' I know we need to score runs. When you don't pitch, you certainly make life a lot more difficult for the whole team," Francona said. "Even when you don't hit, you go in the seventh or eighth inning and have a chance. When you don't pitch, the game looks sloppy. A lot of balls in the gap. You have more cutoffs and relays. More errors. There's more plays to be made. When you have solid pitching -- and sometimes, it goes past solid into spectacular -- that's when your team really has a chance. Not only in the regular season, but it carries over into the postseason."
One thing that would take a bit of the burden of Boston's entire staff would be for David Ortiz to regain his consistency in 2010. The big slugger had a horrific first two months of 2009, but finished with 28 homers and 99 RBIs. Francona discussed the transition Ortiz -- who turned 34 on Tuesday -- is making at this stage of his career.
"David's going through what a lot of guys go through. He's getting older, he's a big guy and he's been injured," Francona said. "When that happens, your workload has to increase over the offseason or time starts catching up with you a little bit. That's the way it is. It's not fair. [Tim Wakefield] and I have this conversation every year since I've been there. If you want to keep playing or pitching, you've got to work harder, because you're getting older. Especially with big-bodied guys who have been injured. They've got to get after it.
"To David's credit, he's been in the ballpark every day since the season has been over and he looks terrific. He's going to have to -- he's got big shoes to carry. If he can't ... if you have a DH that's not whacking the ball all over the ballpark, it kind of puts you in a tough spot. But we're so used to David hitting those 40, 45, 50 home runs. We got used to that. If he's hitting 18, it makes us a different team."
While Ortiz and several of his teammates are already deep into their offseason workouts, one fan wanted to know how the manager of the Red Sox occupies his time during the winter months.
"That's actually kind of an interesting question," Francona said. "What I do when the season is over is I show up every morning and go to the pool. I get worn out. So I swim extensively. The biggest reason is so when I show up in Spring Training, I have a little bit of gas in the tank. By the time the season is over, I'm worn out.
"The other thing I do is take stock of not only myself, but the entire organization, the coaching staff, try to figure out where we need to make changes and look at Spring Training, the bunt drills we run, the first-and-third defenses we run. Try to get better every year. Some of that is according to our personnel. I sit around every day and mess around for a couple of hours on the computer. Look at bunt plays and just try to tweak things, see what we can do better."
Does Francona view himself as the players' manager that he's often been perceived as by the media?
"The only way I know how to answer that is what I want to do is care about the players more than they've ever been cared about and at the same time, ask more of them on the field than they've ever been asked," Francona said. "If that's a player's manager, that's what I am."
His hour-long session on the show ended in humorous fashion, as a Francona impersonator called in. "Terry from Boston," as he is referred to by the radio station, has been doing imitations of Francona -- thick Western Pennsylvania accent and all -- for the past several years.
"A couple of years ago, I don't know how long you've been doing this, but I had the radio on and I was in the car and I heard my voice, but I didn't like the answer," Francona told his imitator. "It took me a while. I'm driving down Boylston [Street] and I'm thinking, 'When did I say that? I would never say that.' It took me about a mile or two to realize [it was an impersonator]. You do a good job. I don't know if that's a compliment or not."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.