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The Sportsman of the Day
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By Bob Frantz
Terry Francona is a rock star. Well, as close to a rock star as a Major League Baseball manager can be in today's world.
After all, when there are superstar players earning hundreds of millions of dollars in their contracts, and mediocre players cashing in at the old superstar levels, managers will always be underlings to the stars on his roster.
But we already knew that.
Still, the Indians' new skipper, with two world championships on his sparkling resume, and the respect and loyalty of his players and opponents alike, is just about as good as it gets in MLB.
When GM Chris Antonetti and club President Mark Shapiro were able to lure the former Red Sox manager to Cleveland, most fans were cautiously optimistic that his league-wide appeal might be enough to influence a high value free agent or two to join him in what is known throughout baseball as a place where championship dreams go to die.
The thinking was that players who ordinarily wouldn't even glance in Cleveland's direction might take a second look and say, "If it's good enough for Tito, then maybe I ought to at least check it out."
Well, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers and Michael Bourn later, it looks like that thinking was prophetic. The signing of Francona may prove to be the single most important acquisition and investment Larry and Paul Dolan have made in more than a decade.
But I doubt it.
As comforting as it would be to say that the likable Francona has been responsible for a small-to-mid market team turning into a major player on the free agent stage by the virtue of his past success and charming personality, it's probably not true.
The reality is that the bottom line, when it comes to recruiting free agents, is the bottom dollar.
In other words, the 117 million free-agent dollars the club has spent on Reynolds, Myers, Swisher and Bourn would just as likely have landed the same players if Sandy Alomar — or Manny Acta — were the manager instead of the high-profile Francona.
Money talks, and it usually dictates where free agents walk.
That's not to diminish the role Francona will be playing in what Cleveland hopes will be the clubs resurrection in 2013, because the winning aura that he brings with him will be extraordinarily significant for this club. He knows how to win, he has won, and everything he says and does suggests he has every intention of winning again.
That's huge. And it makes Cleveland more of a desirable place for free agents and/or veterans who may be ticketed for Northeast Ohio in trade deals, including the likes of Drew Stubbs and Trevor Bauer.
At the end of the day, however, it always comes back to the dollars, and Antonetti finally got the green light from Indians' ownership to spend them. A lot of them.
Sadly, the massive contracts given this offseason to Swisher, who will be the Indians' everyday first baseman, and Bourn, who will start in center, far exceed their actual value, and may in time actually hurt the club's chance to compete toward the end of their deals. But that's how the game is played today. To improve a team's lineup or starting rotation in this age, a GM must be prepared to drastically overpay average to above-average talent.
Swisher, for example was a major part of the Yankees' lineup for the last several years, but he was never the centerpiece of it. His job will be far more difficult as the cleanup hitter in Cleveland, and even with decent production from the Ohio native, the Tribe will be hard-pressed to get equal value for their contract commitment.
The two-time All-Star Bourn is a terrific defensive player who is electric on the base paths, but $12 million per year for a career .270s hitter with very little power is just this side of insane.
And yet the Indians were right to give it to him.
For the first time in years, the Dolans have handed the checkbook to the GM and told him to do what he needed to do. They appear to be pouring the profits from the sale of SportsTime Ohio to Fox Sports Ohio right into the on-field product, and the fans have taken notice.
Season ticket sales for the Tribe are up 50 percent over last year at the same date, with sales on Tuesday alone equaling numbers typically earned in an entire offseason month.
It's the marriage that the club and its fans have been waiting for, with fans buying tickets to support an owner that is spending, and an owner willing to spend when he knows ticket revenue is coming in.
In other words, the complete opposite of the chicken-and-egg argument held in sports columns and on talk radio for the last six years.
Regardless of how the upcoming season ends in the standings, congratulations are in order for the Dolans, as well as Antonetti and Shapiro, for giving fans what they've been demanding, knowing that with high risk comes the potential for very high rewards.
Bob Frantz hosts "The Bob Frantz Show" on WTAM-AM 1100 from 7 p.m. to midnight weeknights, and following Cavaliers, Indians and Browns games.