After missing majority of the 2020 season, the Cleveland Indians expect Terry Francona to return in 2021, but the upcoming season should be his last.
The 2020 season was a rough one for Terry Francona. Regarded as one of the best managers in baseball over the last two decades, Francona has been the driving force in the recent success of the Cleveland Indians, but the window could be shut soon.
Chris Antonetti, the Indians’ President, said in an interview that the team is expecting Francona to be ready for the 2021 season. This is the hope of the organization, and should be of the fans as well, but there’s also reason to believe that this should be Francona’s last.
A great manager like Francona should be able to go out on his own terms. It doesn’t happen often, but in the case of Francona it makes sense. His health is becoming an increasing concern, but his career also shouldn’t end with a season like 2020 when he could barely be around the team.
While Francona should return to the dugout and clubhouse in 2021, he should do it with the mindset that it will be his last season and then retire, no matter what happens during the season. This allows him one last run while also keeping his health at the utmost regard.
In his career, Francona currently has 1,702 wins as a manager in the major leagues. One thing that could keep him around past the 2021 season would be reaching 2,000 career wins. Only 11 managers have reached the milestone in baseball history and being the 12th could be an incredible achievement.
The catch, though, for Francona is that this would still take almost 300 more wins. Eliminating the 2020 season since it was an outlier with 60 games, Francona has averaged 87 wins a season over the other 19 years of his career. While in Cleveland that number has been a bit higher at 91 wins a season. At that rate, Francona would have to manage for another three years and then some, so really figure four more seasons, meaning his last would be 2024 at the earliest.
This is possible, but when considering all the factors, Francona will have to weigh this as much as anything else. While this milestone would be amazing, his legacy is already well solidified without it.
If Francona can’t hit 2,000 career wins there is another milestone that is well within reach during the 2021 season. As it currently stands, Terry Francona is third on the Cleveland Indians’ all-time wins list for managers with 673, trailing just Lou Boudreau and Mike Hargrove.
Hargrove is second on the list with 721 wins while Boudreau tops it with 728. That leaves just 56 wins before Francona becomes the winningest manager in the team’s history. Barring a total collapse or another shortened season, this will surely happen next year.
It of course would mean more to reach 2,000 wins, but being the Tribe’s winningest manager in club history would be an impressive feat as well. Despite winning 744 games with the Red Sox, Francona is still second there due to Joe Cronin‘s 1,071 wins, which seems like an unbreakable record in today’s game.
The other side of Francona’s decision will be the success of the team. While he has done his job of resurrecting the team, the club will be at a crossroads next year as they will have to make decisions this offseason on players like Francisco Lindor in arbitration and Carlos Santana, Brad Hand and others in free agency.
All of the changes that could occur could spell out two things for both Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians. One, the 2021 season might be the last strong chance to make a run for it all. Two, the 2022 roster could look much different.
This would provide the perfect transition for Francona to hand over the reigns to the next manager, presumably his protégé in Sandy Alomar Jr. who has been on staff since before Francona’s arrival, is a fan favorite from the teams on the 1990s and held down the fort in Francona’s absence. In a way, Alomar is to Francona the way Josh McDaniels is to Bill Belichick in New England.
If you polled fans of the Cleveland Indians, majority, if not all, would say they want Terry Francona to be part of the organization. What he has done for the Tribe has been needed for a long time by making them competitive each year. The reality, though, is that Francona is now one of the oldest managers in the game and just went through a season that was full of health concerns.
Given his legacy and what he has done for the team, he deserves one last ride to try and bring a title to Cleveland. He can go into the season knowing it will be his last and give it everything he has, but all while knowing he will retire at the end of the season. The club will be entering a transitional period, making all the pieces fit for the grand exit into the sunset that his career deserves.