Right now, as we speak, Mike Chernoff and Chris Antonetti are probably interviewing candidates for the Cleveland Guardians’ managerial role. While we’d all love to be a fly on the wall, the best we can do is use our imaginations. So, below, I’ve assembled some questions I’d like to ask candidates if I were in the interview room and some answers of the kind of things I’d like to hear a potential manager say.
Question 1: In our market and with our ownership’s financial limitations, we need to find advantages at the margins of the game. How will you help us find and maximize those advantages?
Answer: I appreciate your openness about the challenges of a smaller market. I know that Cleveland had an excellent year in game attendance so you obviously have a loyal, engaged fanbase which is crucial to navigating these challenges and keeping income steady.
One way I intend to be effective in this area is by maintaining a collaborative approach that I know was crucial to Terry Francona and remains a core value of this organization. The greater the number of diverse, forward-thinking individuals we can cultivate, the better the chances we will recognize potential areas of needed growth and improvement. I want to help this organization be at the forefront of searching for player, coaching, and analyst talent in every potential place it can be found. I want every employee to know that their ideas, concerns and skills have a place to be heard and understood here.
Another important way I want to lead is in emphasizing the dual importance of helping data inform our approach to winning baseball games and of recognizing the role that personalities and individual psyches play in achieving organizational goals. I view statistical analysis and player data as crucial information that we need to work to present in easily decipherable and implemented formats to put our players in the best position to succeed on the field. However, this data presentation should never conflict or replace our ability to foster the best mental, emotional and physical environment for each individual player to feel their best, to believe in their value to the organization and our loyalty to them as they pursue providing that value, and to have the confidence to continue constantly growing and improving as professional baseball players, co-workers, husbands, dads, and good citizens.
Question 2: What is your approach to in-game decision-making? Are you open to input from the President of Baseball Operations’ office mid-game? Do you find yourself leaning more on data or on personal experience when making decisions and leading an organization?
Answer: I recognize that this is a crucial question to ask in today’s game. As I hope you can tell in the conversation we just had, I am a firm believer in the importance of data.
As an example, I think we’ve all heard the criticism of John Schneider, manager of the Blue Jays, for removing Jose Berrios in game 2 of the Blue Jays-Twins series this past week. I think we can all recognize that Terry Francona would not be a manager removing his pitcher at that point in the game, given how Berrios looked on the mound. However, we also know that there are not always clear indications of when the second-time and third-time through the order penalties are going to come into play, so removing Berrios to get a left-handed pitcher in to face the Twins’ heavy-hitters from the left side makes perfect sense.
This is where I hope we can foster an environment where mutual input is encouraged and never seen as an unwelcome intrustion. If our analysts have information to show why a pitcher who is dealing is still not a good matchup for a given hitter, I need to know that information. If my pitching coaches and I have a sense of the quality of a given guy’s stuff and want to continue to allow him to show that quality and save some of our bullpen bullets, I would hope the analysts can give us the space to pursue maximizing that value. We’re not always going to get these decisions absolutely right, but I believe we will find additional value in players trusting us to not make decisions simply on data or simply on “gut,” but to use every possible resource to put them in the best positions to succeed.
I hope I can be seen as someone who can aspire to live into Tito’s role as a trusted administrator of in-game decisions, but always with the understanding that I want all the information and feedback I can get so that I can be armed to make the best possible moves I can.
Question 3: We value the members of our coaching staff we have under employment here. What would be your preferred approach to hiring your support staff and player coaches?
Answer: I have no interest in cleaning house, but I do have some folks who have impressed me with their knowledge the game of baseball whom I would like to be able to provide positions in the organization were I to take this position.
For example, I heard Steven Kwan talk about the three pillars of Guardians’ hitting: 1. contact, 2. quality of contact, and 3. pitch selection. I’d like to sit down with our hitting instructors and analysts here to discuss particularly how we are helping our hitters achieve their goals in quality of contact. Are there ways that some of the folks I have in my circle can better help us improve our hard-hit rates, barrel rates and launch angles? Is there information from my background and experience in organizations who have seen consistent success in this specific area that we can immediately implement here to help position a guy like Steven to increase the amount of quality content he provides?
Two other quick examples: I notice how Guardians’ relief pitchers better holding baserunners as an area where further investment could pay high dividends. I believe I have folks I know who would be interested in a position here who could help us improve in this area. In a connected area, it’s hard not be excited about the incredibly talented, young catcher the Cleveland organization has in Bo Naylor. I have some folks with ideas on how to best maximize his skills in controlling the run game, framing and game-calling, and I’d love to add some additional tools to his already overflowing tool-box while not taking anything away from the great development he’s been doing here.
In other words, I don’t want to lose any of the best coaching talent we have here, but I would like to add some new and useful voices and sources of knowledge among folks whom I’ve had the privilege of working with in the past to the mix if those opportunities are available.
Question 4: As you know, Terry Francona was a beloved figure throughout MLB and specifically among the Cleveland Guardians fanbase and among the people who work here. How would you approach the challenge of following him in the position of manager of the Cleveland Guardians?
Answer: I’m well-aware that no one can replace Tito. He’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer and an incredible person who is deservedly beloved among fans, players and coaches, alike.
I think tackling the challenge of following him begins by showing everyone here - employees, media and fans alike - that I understand how much they care about this city, this team and this goal of winning a World Series here. My three most important personal values are: competition, integrity and kindness. We are here to compete and win. We are going to have a fun time doing it and not going to let anything distract us from those goals. For integrity, we are going to prioritize playing the game the right way, treating other people the right way, and being fair and honest with each other. We’re not going to compromise on that, partially because I believe it is the best way to form and maintain a winning organization. Finally, I believe in being kind to each other. Baseball is the hardest game there is and there are such tremendous lows and highs. Our players and our employees have to know that we understand and empathize with the challenges they’re going to endure with us. They’re going to be held accountable for competing with integrity by someone who has their back and will take the public hit, every time, for the times we fail and direct the public praise back to them for all the times we succeed, especially when we achieve our biggest organizational goals.
I think if we can live into these values together, we will both honor Terry Francona and allow the legacy he leaves behind to help us reach even greater heights as the elite MLB organization Cleveland has been since Tito arrived here.
Question 5: What are you going to do to help us break our 75-year World Series title drought?
Answer: I’m going to work tirelessly to win the whole bleeping thing. I’m going to make sure that everyone here knows every day they are part of our organization that this is our only goal - to win it all. I’m going to be the biggest advocate of surrounding a franchise superstar who is going to make the Hall of Fame as a Cleveland Guardian in Jose Ramirez with all the support he needs to lead us to a championship. I’m going to make sure that they know that it will rely on each one of us giving our best every single day - from players, to coaches, to analysts, to scouts, to fan service folks, to the guys who get the field ready to play - to slay this dragon and get Cleveland fans that World Series title they so richly deserve.