Terry Francona’s resume is outstanding to say the least. He has won two World Series titles as a manager with the Boston Red Sox, and heck, he was at the helm when the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino”.
He’s won 1322 games in the major leagues, and has produced an above .500 record for 11 consecutive seasons.
He is also the most successful manager of the Cleveland Indians since the Tribe’s halcyon days from 1994-2001.
There is one thing he isn’t, however. He’s not infallible.
Look, we like Tito. He does a tremendous job doing the most difficult thing a big league manager has to do, handling a bunch of successful athletes’ personalities, and making sure the ballclub plays hard everyday.
However, the thing that endears the players to Francona may also be his biggest weakness as a manager: Loyalty.
If you have performed well at the big league level at one time, and better yet, if you done a good job for Francona at one time, you are like a made man.
You have earned Tito’s trust, and he will defend you to the hilt.
Bryan Shaw is the latest case study of Francona’s support system.
Shaw has been a very good set up man for the Indians since arriving in 2013, the same year Tito was hired as manager. He appeared in over 70 games in each of those seasons, including a league leading 80 appearances in 2014.
Unfortunately, last August, all those games pitched started to take it’s toll on the right-hander. During the last two months of the ’15 season, Shaw gave up a run for every two innings he threw, and started giving up homers, four in that time span.
That was the same number he allowed the rest of the season.
This year, Shaw’s ERA is north of 5.00 and he’s allowed seven homers to this point in the season. That’s one shy of his career high, set last year.
It’s time to find someone else to pitch the eighth inning.
Now, privately, Francona may have told Shaw the same thing, and Tito will never speak to the media about something like this, nor should he.
However, the next time the Indians play a close game and it gets to the 8th inning, who will Francona turn to? If he goes to Shaw, his loyalty is getting in the way of winning ball games.
The same is true at third base, although this might be an organizational decision.
Juan Uribe is 37-years-old and his OPS is 575. He simply isn’t producing at the plate, and his WAR is the lowest on the team among position players.
To be fair, some of this may not be Uribe’s fault. He should be a part-time player and he is being forced to play regularly. But Francona keeps writing his name in the lineup.
Some of that may be Tito’s obsession with having eight relief pitchers, which limits the number of position players he has on the roster. The Tribe usually carries just three extra players on their bench.
The problem is the skipper only uses certain pitchers when he has a lead, and for most of the year those guys have been Zack McAllister, Shaw, and closer Cody Allen.
So, some of those guys in the bullpen can go several days without being used. Allen pitched the eighth yesterday because he hasn’t pitched in awhile.
Since the Tribe starters have been pretty good about giving the team some length, do the Indians really need eight relievers at the expense of an extra position player?
Again, Francona is a very successful major league manager without a doubt, and no one here is advocating for a change.
However, he’s not perfect. There is a thin line between patience and stubbornness. Terry Francona skirts that line a lot.