Retaining Francona Was the Right Move for the Guardians
The Guardians had the youngest team in Major League Baseball in 2022. They entered the season with fairly modest expectations, and exceeded even the wildest predictions from the most optimistic Cleveland fans. They won 92 games on their way to winning the AL Central Division easily, pulling away from any potential competition with a scorching hot stretch run in which they relied heavily on rookies.
Francona’s messaging to his coaches, staff and players throughout the entire season was impeccable. He relied heavily on the leadership of the team’s two biggest stars – José Ramírez and Shane Bieber – to set a tone of professionalism and playing hard for 27 outs (or more when needed). This led to the growth of Cleveland’s rookies, many of whom mentioned looking up to these leaders as they navigated a long season and exciting postseason run.
Beyond that, Francona’s management of players showed that he still runs the clubhouse. Two examples stick out. The first is Myles Straw, a heralded center fielder who unexpectedly struggled offensively throughout the season. Despite the offensive struggles, Francona continued starting Straw, knowing that his defense still created a net plus, and he could afford to let Straw work through his slump. The patience and encouragement paid off, as Straw’s bat finally started to come around late in the season. The dividends of Francona’s management of this situation will continue to pay off in future years.
The second situation that showed his relationship with his players was that of reliever Bryan Shaw. Shaw did not make the Guardians’ postseason roster, as Cleveland’s young bullpen was full of live arms who had grown into a dominant force throughout the season. However, even after being designated for assignment on October 1, Shaw stayed with the Guardians, agreeing to an outright assignment to the minor leagues. He stayed with the Guardians, reportedly playing cards in the locker room with Francona, and giving interviews along with the team. He knew that his expertise and experience could be a benefit, and Francona navigated a very awkward situation in releasing a well-known and liked veteran late in the season while keeping the benefit of his leadership. This type of people management is invaluable throughout long seasons.