It’s not inconceivable that Terry Francona and Brad Mills, manager and bench coach for years in Boston, reunite somewhere in 2013.
Francona’s options appear to be growing with word that both Angels manager Mike Scioscia and Tigers manager Jim Leyland could be in danger of being dismissed this offseason. Scioscia is a long shot to lose his job, since he is signed up through 2018 at big money, but Angels owner Arte Moreno certainly has deep enough pockets to eat the contract if he really feels Scioscia is the problem.
“It would be shocking for me,” said an Angels executive. “I know there have been some issues, but Mike is one of the best, and that’s widely recognized. Guys like Sosh don’t come along very often, which is why he has the long-term contract that he does.
“But I suppose crazier things have happened.”
Leyland told the Tigers he didn’t want to discuss contract until after the season. The Tigers may not make the playoffs. If they don’t, Leyland could have the decision made for him. It’s no secret that owner Mike Ilitch wants to win and has one of the biggest payrolls in baseball to prove it.
Either team would be ideal for Francona, who enjoys his analyst job at ESPN but whose heart is into finding the right situation to return to the dugout. Both teams have the resources to improve, and Francona would be inheriting the same kind of talent-laden team he did in Boston after the 2003 season.
That’s the type of situation he would leave ESPN for.
Francona has been reluctant to speak about his future, not wanting to be a distraction until there are actual openings that he could interview for. After being let go by the Red Sox, he interviewed with the Cardinals, a job he coveted, but that went to the inexperienced Mike Matheny, who has done a good job in his first year replacing Tony La Russa.
“I have a two-year contract with ESPN and I’ve loved it here,” Francona said. “They have been so good to me. I feel relaxed. They’ve made the transition for me to the booth so much fun.
“It’s a great job, so if I’m going to get back on the field, it really has to be the right situation, a place where I would feel comfortable.
“There are a lot of factors that go into it and I’ve made that clear and they understand that here. I don’t want to say too much more about it out of respect for the people I work with and for.”
Francona already has a link to the Tigers organization; he was Buddy Bell’s third base coach in Detroit in 1996.
Francona also would have a shot in Cleveland, where Manny Acta appears to be on the hot seat after the Indians self-destructed.
There is talk in Miami of Ozzie Guillen being one and done (Mike Lowell’s name has been mentioned as a possible replacement) after a tough first season that included his offending the Cuban-American community with supportive words for Fidel Castro. Whether Francona would fit there or whether he would even consider Miami remains to be seen.
Cincinnati, where Dusty Baker has no contract for next season, and Philadelphia, where Francona once managed and where Charlie Manuel’s future is often discussed, could also be possibilities. Toronto could have an opening if John Farrell goes to Boston.
Mills, meanwhile, has his own managerial aspirations after being let go by the Astros before his third year at the helm was up. He enjoyed the opportunity to start his managing career in Houston, but he knew early on that the Astros were selling off, and the process was accelerated when former Cardinals assistant general manager Jeff Luhnow took over the GM post.
“I thought I gave it everything I had,” Mills said. “They wanted to go in a different direction and that’s their right. But I would love to get back into it. Sitting at home after 33 years in baseball hasn’t been fun.”
Mills has had conversations with two teams, whose identity he would not reveal.
“It was mostly a feeling-out process in both cases,” Mills said. “No offers were extended, but we talked about scenarios if they should come about and what my feeling would be. I answered questions and hope to hear back in both cases.”
Mills has kept in touch with his buddy Francona, and they have discussed reuniting.
“I’ve shared some things with him and he’s shared some things with me,” said Mills. “We’re going to keep those conversations private, but being with Tito for so long, if the opportunity arose to work together again, of course we would.
“But Tito knows I’d like to manage. That’s my preference.”
Though Farrell appears to be Boston’s first choice to replace Bobby Valentine — if management goes that route — Mills could be considered if the Sox and Blue Jays can’t agree on what would be significant compensation. Last winter, the Blue Jays asked for Clay Buchholz to free Farrell from the last two years of his contract.
Mills has certainly kept his eye on Boston.
“Of course,” he said. “You win a championship and you had good times in a place, you always keep your eye on it. I enjoyed my time there.”
Mills was Francona’s enforcer or “bad cop.” He often was the conduit between the players and Francona, delivering the manager’s message.
Apropos of nothing
1. Hard-pressed to find a better defensive catcher than Kansas City’s Salvy Perez. His arm, his mechanics . . . second to none, according to catching experts like Buck Martinez. Perez has picked off seven runners, a Royals record. He reminds many of a young Pudge Rodriguez with his athleticism. A nice comparison.
2. Will the Rays ever come up with a catcher? For an organization with a great pitching staff, you’d think it would be important. The last one they developed was Toby Hall. Jose Molina has been horrible defensively and offensively.
3. It can’t be, can it? Will the Pirates finish below .500 again?
4. If I’m the Red Sox, I’m thinking Kansas City. I’m thinking Alex Gordon and/or Eric Hosmer. I’m thinking about sending a pitcher over there.
5. So Pedro Ciriaco couldn’t pick up the ball at Tropicana Field in the outfield. But I’d make him an outfielder. Go to winter ball and play. His athleticism needs to be a part of the Red Sox offense next season, and he also would have the best outfield arm.
6. Along those lines, I’d stick a first baseman’s mitt on Daniel Nava’s hand.
7. Scouts are intrigued by Mauro Gomez.
8. OK, Tom Caron, I’ve learned my lesson. No more saying in the preseason that the Blue Jays have turned the corner and predicting that they will be contenders.
9. Was very impressed with Mike Aviles’s professionalism and overall play.
10. It looks as if some Red Sox limited partners are strongly in Bobby Valentine’s corner. Now we need to see what the majority owners think. And if there is disagreement . . . that’s very interesting, isn’t it?
11. I don’t think the Red Sox will go after Josh Hamilton, but if they do little this offseason, I keep that possibility in the back of my mind.
12. I’d watch for more tweaking of the Red Sox training staff in the offseason.
Apropos of something
Yes, the advanced modern stats favor Angels center fielder Mike Trout as American League MVP. I don’t care. Miguel Cabrera is the AL MVP.
Trout’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) number was 9.2 before Friday’s game, which blew away Cabrera’s 6.8.
(WAR is used to show how many more wins a player gives a team as opposed to a “replacement level” or minor league/bench player at that position. The player is evaluated using statistics for fielding and hitting.)
On the traditional side, Trout, who will likely win Rookie of the Year unanimously, was hitting .307 with 15 homers, 37 RBIs, and 20 steals in the second half of the year to Cabrera’s .348, 23 homers, 59 RBIs, and 1.126 OPS.
Since Aug. 1, Trout was hitting .280 with 9 homers, 22 RBIs, and was 15 of 16 in steals. Cabrera was hitting .360 with 16 homers and 45 RBIs.
There were a lot better defensive third basemen in the league, but Cabrera didn’t kill the Tigers there, and he didn’t wear down as some thought he would.
“In my opinion, he’s the MVP,” said David Ortiz. “He’s the best player in baseball. He does it year in and year out. He puts up big numbers, plays the game hard. He’s a good third baseman. That guy can do anything. It would be crazy if he didn’t win it.”
As of Friday, Cabrera was leading the league in batting and RBIs and trailed Josh Hamilton by one run in the home run race. Hamilton would love to see Cabrera get the Triple Crown.
“He is a good dude and he’s played consistently well for a long time,” said Hamilton. “It would be cool if there was another winner. There’s nobody I’d rather see win it than him.”
The last Triple Crown winner was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and he tied Harmon Killebrew with 44 homers. According to fangraphs.com, Yaz’s WAR that year was 12.1.
In the National League, there’s another interesting MVP race among Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, and Andrew McCutchen. Posey appears to be the favorite because in addition to his excellent offensive season, as a catcher, he has helped the Giants pitching staff. Posey’s WAR number is 7.2, trailing Braun and McCutchen, who were both at 7.5 Friday.
Posey had 23 homers and 95 RBIs to go along with a .335 average. Braun, however, has numbers off the charts. He led the NL in homers (40) and RBIs (105), with a .311 average and 1.114 OPS.
Braun’s candidacy may be hurt by his positive test for PEDs last year. He basically got off on a technicality, but obviously he has been tested this year and has been clean.
Updates on 9
1. Cody Ross, OF, Red Sox — He has three major-market teams — the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox — very interested in him. Ross has made it clear he’d negotiate with the Red Sox right now and would stay in Boston if he had his druthers. The Sox are starting preliminary talks, but if something isn’t worked out before free agency begins, the Yankees and Phillies — at least — will be eager to talk to him. Ross played for Yankees manager Joe Girardi in Florida.
2. James Loney, 1B, Red Sox — While the Red Sox are considering re-signing Loney and he is receptive to coming back, he may draw attention elsewhere in a sparse first base market. One team likely to kick the tires is Tampa Bay, which will likely not re-sign Carlos Pena, who has hit under .200 most of the season.
3. Ed Wade, special consultant to the GM, Phillies — With the Red Sox looking for experienced front office help, Wade could be someone they consider. There has been talk that the Sox would consider Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava, but that would require LaCava being offered a bigger title. LaCava turned down an opportunity to interview for the Orioles GM job last winter — a job that eventually went to Dan Duquette, who has turned his first year into a Cinderella story.
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Dodgers — A veteran baseball executive said, “The Dodgers are trying to make Gonzalez their new Fernando Valenzuela, and he’s not that. Gonzalez isn’t the type of player who wants or is comfortable with that kind of attention. He wants to be left alone and just play, hit, and however the team does is not a huge priority for him. I think having that pressure on him isn’t going to agree with him. And so far he’s struggled with that. You can just see it.” Entering Saturday, Gonzalez had not hit a home run since his first at-bat with the Dodgers.
5. Michael Bourn, CF, Braves — Scott Boras has informed us that Bourn isn’t necessarily a goner in Atlanta when he becomes a free agent this offseason. But he will have at least a couple of interesting suitors. The Yankees would love that kind of leadoff hitter. The Nationals have been seeking a leadoff man/center fielder for some time. Bourn makes sense for the Nats, who have the money and a strong working relationship with Boras. Signing Bourn would preclude Washington from giving up something significant for a Jacoby Ellsbury or Denard Span.
6. B.J. Upton, CF, Rays — “The biggest Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde player in baseball,” said a baseball executive. “You can watch him over a three- or four-day period and he’ll be the best player in baseball. And then you watch him another week and there’s nobody home in there. Somebody is going to give him some money. Maybe a change of scenery will be good for him.” The Rays don’t appear to have the resources to re-sign him.
7. Arnie Beyeler, manager, Pawtucket — He put himself on the map with a nice run as International League champion and runner-up in the Triple A championship game vs. Reno. Beyeler is an excellent baseball man and won the title under tough circumstances, i.e. a revolving door of players. He may get a shot at being a big league coach and perhaps a manager at some point.
8. Dave Martinez, bench coach, Rays — He may now be the front-runner for the Astros job because they are using the Rays as their model moving forward. Martinez has the Rays pedigree, is bilingual, and relates well to younger players. He also has been exposed to Joe Maddon, considered one of the most progressive managers in the game. But don’t rule out Red Sox bench coach Tim Bogar. He also has the Rays background and is very close friends with former Astros second baseman Craig Biggio, who is on the panel that will pick the next manager.
9. Mike Carp, 1B/OF, Mariners — The Mariners are likely committed to Justin Smoak at first base, despite his sub.-200 average most of the season, so Carp is expendable. He has proven to be an average outfielder, and clearly the big lefthanded hitter’s position is first base. He’s starting to appear on a few teams’ wish lists. “He’s an interesting name,” said an NL scout. “He’s been buried on that roster in a big ballpark, and if you take him out of there, he may break out. He’s someone you’d take a chance on.”
From the Bill Chuck files: “The only two active players with at least 350 homers, 250 steals, and 1,000 RBIs are Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano, and they each have the same 30 triples.” Also, “Daisuke Matsuzaka has allowed at least five runs in a game 28 times in his career, in just 116 games. That is fourth among Red Sox pitchers since 2007, trailing Tim Wakefield (45 in 147 games), Josh Beckett (39 in 161 games), and Jon Lester (33 in 170 games).” . . . Happy birthday, Dennis Lamp (60) and tomorrow Kevin Millar (41) and Bernard Gilkey (46).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.