Terry Francona received a much-deserved fond farewell in Cleveland at the end of the 2023 MLB season, as his rumored retirement morphed into a clear reality.
Francona's Cleveland sendoff stands in stark contrast to his Boston farewell, where the press teamed up to turn their 2004 curse-breaking manager into some sort of pill-addicted malcontent, while fans, blinded by his 2011 collapse, were somehow happy to kick their hero through the door. But, after all, that makes sense. Cleveland fans are good people.
Now, the Guardians must search for a capable hand to continue Francona's annual tradition of contention. The team could turn to an as-yet-undiscovered young guru, which seems to be the way most managerial searches go these days. Who could Cleveland's Skip Schumacher be? Jamey Carroll? Let's go with Jamey Carroll.
Or maybe Sandy Alomar Jr., beloved Cleveland catcher and Francona's long-time coach/occasional acting manager, will get an official chance to take the reigns.
According to MLB insider and Boston embed Peter Gammons, though, Francona's preferred option would throw a major wrench in the AL East: Rays manager (and former Francona Sox catcher) Kevin Cash. Would Cash really be available after the Rays' latest postseason flameout? It's certainly a fun thread to follow.
Yankees might have new enemy managing in Tampa if Kevin Cash leaves Rays
Look, nobody churns through replacement names like the Rays, who remake their rotation, bullpen and lineup on the fly every single offseason, saving as much as $8 in the process. Often, they have to replace their entire pitching staff again midseason after their burn-and-churn methodology results in an overload of catastrophic elbow injuries. If any team is equipped to move on from a standout manager and immediately elevate another star in his place, it's the Rays.
But man, it would feel nice to exile Cash from this rivalry and get him to a city that could really use a title.
Before leaving for Cleveland, Cash would probably have to sit down with Francona and let Tito talk him through a diagram of Progressive Field. "See all those mysterious, pulsating dots of energy?" Francona will say. "Those are called 'fans.' And, believe it or not, they actually show up, win or lose, in cities that truly care about baseball. I know, this must be crazy for you. Go get some water, I'll be here."
Cleveland and the Rays linked up this past summer for a Kyle Manzardo/Aaron Civale trade, in large part because the Guardians continue to produce starting pitchers with Rays-like efficiency, even after the departure of Matt Blake. Both franchises share the DNA of great developmental systems, and Emmanuel Clase leads a pretty exceptional "stable of guys who throw 98 (or harder)" in The Land.
The fit makes sense, especially if it fulfills Francona's wishes. We'll just have to wait and see if the Rays bite back after these rumored overtures.