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Terry Francona on D&H: ‘Real confident’ despite Martinez’ departure

11.23.10 at 12:22 pm ET

Red Sox manager Terry Francona joined the Dale & Holley Show on Tuesday to discuss the state of the Red Sox. His visit coincided with the breaking news of catcher Victor Martinez departure for the Tigers on a four-year, $50 million deal.

“My phone started ringing about 20 minutes ago. I was like, ‘€˜Maybe we need to reschedule,’€™” Francona joked.

Francona praised Martinez as a player and person, and noted his appreciation for the switch-hitter’s efforts with the Red Sox. He did take some solace that Martinez is leaving the Sox for the AL Central, rather than an American League East rival.

“He’€™s going to take that to a new team. Fortunately, it looks like it’€™s not in our division. These things happen. When guys get to free agency, there’€™s a lot of decisions to make. One is by the player, one is by the organization and one is by other teams,” said Francona. “Sometimes it works out where a guy doesn’€™t come back. That doesn’€™t mean we’€™re not going to be any good. I feel real confident. The winter has to play itself out. It’€™s just beginning. It will be really interesting.”

Francona said that he talked to Sox GM Theo Epstein as recently as Monday night about Martinez’ contract status. The manager had no qualms with the organization’s decision.

“We’€™re pretty much on the same page on a lot of things. Being the manager is a little bit different, making the lineup out, is a little bit different than having to be the care-taker for the organization and looking at it four years down the road. I try not to lose sight of that,” said Francona. “Wanting to have Victor in the lineup next April is a no-brainer. When you have to make a decision and you’€™re talking $40, $45, $50 million, four years down the road, that’€™s not quite as easy. I respect that.

“If we went down to Fort Myers and we didn’t have a catcher, I’d be anxious,” said Francona. “I’ve been here long enough to know that this is the way it goes. When you’re the Red Sox and you have a high payroll and veteran players, you’re going to have free agents. That’s just the way it is. Theo and his guys have to walk the fine line of protecting — we talk about loyalty, and we certainly believe in that — but not going too far and have guys maybe in the last couple years of their contracts not doing what you want. It just seems like in this day and age, teams don’t mind paying money as much as they want to limit the years sometimes. … I understand it’s Nov. 22 and Victor is going somewhere else. Saying that, I have a feeling that be Feb. 15, we’ll have a team set in place.”

Francona spoke highly of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, though while he said that the Sox believe he can develop into an everyday catcher, he also cautioned that it might not be ideal to confer that responsibility on the 25-year-old out of the gate.

“We kind of love what this kid can turn out to be, but we have an obligation to help him get there. By heaping the everyday duty on him right now, that may not be the right thing to do. Maybe we need to help this kid. We don’€™t know. Those are decisions we need to make,” said Francona. “I think Theo said the other day, and I really believe it, at some point, you have to assume some risk somewhere. And I think we’€™re all comfortable that if this is one of the risks we assume, we like this kid. Every time you looked up last year when he caught, our starting pitcher was pitching in the seventh inning.

“He’€™s a really interesting kid,” added Francona. “He’€™s been through a lot. He’€™s been injured. He’€™s had some trouble with his throwing. Saying that, he’€™s been the Rangers’€™ opening day catcher the last two years. That’€™s how much they thought of him. Switch-hitter with power. We view him potentially as someone who can really fit the bill as maybe even an everyday catcher for us. Now, saying that, I don’t know if you want to just — because of everything he’s been through — hand everything to him April 1 and say, ‘Go get ’em.’ Sometimes you’re helping to set someone up to fail. We don’t want that to happen. We want to help this kid progress because we really like him. We want to help him get there.”

To listen to the interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page. More highlights of the interview are below:

With Martinez leaving, does that create more urgency to re-sign Jason Varitek?

That’s an obvious one. Tek’s, for the last seven, eight years, that’s what we’ve been saying about Tek also [that like Martinez, he is essential]. But he’s a free agent. He has the right to do what he wants to. It’s not just all one-sided. It’s not all what the team wants and what the player wants. … You’ve got to go through the process.

I don’t think people realize how much of a captain he was [in 2010]. He was open. He was honest. When he was hurt, he and [Dustin] Pedroia did things that I would have never even imagined. … They demanded that we compete everyday. They didn’t take a day off. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves. I remember seeing them pull a chair out to [batting practice] and give encouragement.

On the idea that the team will address lineup holes:

There will be. It never fails. Theo and those guys will find a way to put a team together that we feel good about. For all the hoopla last year about not enough offense, everyone had a field day with that. We go to spring training and a lot of things went wrong. We won 89 games; 89 games wasn’€™t good enough, but I think you understand my point. We’€™re not going to go away. Our guys in baseball ops will figure out a way to put a team out on that field that, when we get down to Fort Myers, we’€™ll feel good about.

On a potential trade for Justin Upton that would involve the likes of Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Jacoby Ellsbury and Anthony Rizzo:

That’€™s a lot of good players. I know that Justin Upton is 23 years old — I’ve got to be careful commenting on players on other teams. We value our young players a lot. I think you can see why. Even in a big market, I think there’€™s a misconception in a big market that you don’€™t want to rely on your young guys coming up through the organization. The Jed Lowries of the world and the [Dustin] Pedroias and the [Kevin] Youkilises, you know what they can do. There’€™s a trust factor when they get to the big leagues. They actually help us win a lot. I don’€™t think anybody is dying to back up the truck and give up a lot of our best prospects.

Would you guys be better served picking up a Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth as opposed to sticking with Mike Cameron?

I don’t know if Cam is at the end of his career. He had a really tough year. He’s an older guy and had a lot of health issues that he tried to play through, which we appreciate. … You’re not going to know exactly what you have until you see him. There’s some age and there’s some wear and tear there that we’re all aware of. If Theo is able to go and sign one of those premier guys, then maybe that changes that a little bit.

In general, what are your impressions of Crawford?

I think he’s a game changer. He’s that guy that can change a game defensively, offensively. When he gets on base, he gives you a headache. He has a little bit of that Johnny Damon in him where, he’s swinging and I’m not sure he knows where the ball is going, but he fouls off six or seven and then he’ll rifle one into right field or bounce one and beat it out. He has a way of changing the game. It frustrates the heck out of you. Sometimes you can do everything right, and if he gets on base you can’t throw him out.

Is it odd to you that the Rays didn’t use him as a leadoff guy?

They may feel like if they hit him second or third, maybe they can get him his 100 runs scored and get a little more production out of the 15, 18 home runs he hits.

On managing David Ortiz during his early-season struggles:

That’s two years in a row now that have kind of started out that way. I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t tough. That first month was awful. What made it hard for me wasn’t just the fact that David was struggling, but the fact that we had Mike Lowell on the bench. If David’s just struggling, OK, you can send him out there. But when you have a guy like Lowell sitting there, I felt at some point, we got a little bit into the season, I wasn’t doing the team justice by letting David go up there and struggle. David didn’t like it. I don’t blame him. I didn’t expect him to like it. What I told him was, ‘Look, quite honestly, if you don’t want to get pinch-hit for, swing the bat better.’ And he did. And once he started swinging the bat better, I assured him that I would not pinch-hit for him, because I didn’t want him looking over his shoulder. That didn’t help him.

On how the team is approaching Kevin Youkilis‘ position this offseason:

He’s preparing to play third, knowing that he probably needs to do that. And then if we sign a third baseman, he can go to first. It’s a little bit of an easier transition. … That gives Theo a lot of wiggle room, because he knows Youk can do both.

On Josh Beckett:

He’ll go home and work hard and come back with a vengeance. … He’s human. It’s our responsibility and his to get him back to the point where he is that big-time pitcher. We need it.

On John Lackey:

Because he signed that contract, he was going to have to really pitch great or he was going to catch the wrath of Boston. I think that just comes with the territory. Guys who were with him in the clubhouse everyday loved him. I loved him. I heard people sometimes make some comments, the media, that he was making excuses. I didn’t see that. I saw a stand-up guy. I think next year what you’re going to see is that his numbers are going to be a little bit lower across the board and that will lead to more wins. … The price of pitching is really expensive. He’s going to give you 200 innings. He’s going to be professional. And if he pitches like he can, he’s going to be a big winner — maybe not 20-25 games, but really good.

How can Daisuke Matsuzaka be more consistent?

He loses his arm slot sometimes with all the gyrations in his delivery. Sometimes it’s hard for him to be consistent. It’s been a long process. I think we’ve made a lot of headway and have a long way to go.

On Tim Wakefield’s return and role:

He’s got one more year on his contract so I assume he’s coming back. One of the things we probably have to do with Wake is getting him to understand his role. He was not pleased last year with what his role was, and I think he made that very plan. The better we communicate, and the earlier we communicate, I think that can only help. There’s a spot for Wake. It might not be as a guy who pitches every five days, but it may be as a guy who starts eight, 10, 12 games, really bails you out and helps you in the bullpen. Depending on what happens with health, maybe he ends up throwing more games. But I think he ended up throwing 140 innings, which is actually a pretty good amount of innings. There’s a spot for Wake. The idea is to try to come to an agreement where everybody can live with it and be happy.

On expectations for Jacoby Ellsbury:

I think that Jacoby will play hopefully about 152 games, and I would think the majority will be in center field. Last year, when we signed [Mike Cameron], the idea was to put Cam in center, which I still think was the right thing, let Jacoby play left, and when Cam was out put Jacoby in center. But Jacoby got hurt so quick into the season. We didn’t handle the communication real well. … I thought Jacoby kind of caught the brunt of that, and it was kind of a lost year. I think coming back, I think Jacoby is going to be great. Any young kid who misses a whole year, I think you’re a little bit kidding yourself if you don’t think there’s going to be some hiccups along the way. Anytime young guys get 600 at-bats, they get better. … He missed out on a lot of at-bats and a lot of experience. But when he gets back in there and gets comfortable, he’s a 60 or 70 SB guy who can hit .300. He’s pretty important to us.

There has been suggestion that he was upset about the move to left field.

I think he was disappointed. I think he was more concerned that maybe he let us down, or about what he did to have us move him. When we explained it to him, that we had an obligation to put the best team out on the field that we can, I don’t think there was a problem. If somebody told me the same thing … I would probably want to know why and probably be a little bit disappointed, too. I don’t think that means he didn’t want to play or that there was a distrust of the organization or anything like that.

I think Jacoby desperately wants to be our leadoff hitter, and when he is our leadoff hitter we’re a better team. When he was hitting well enough a couple years ago where we could hit him first, it changed our game. … When he’s going good and hitting leadoff, that’s our best lineup.

Are you concerned that signing Carl Crawford might make you too left-handed among your outfielders? Can you have too many left-handed hitters in your lineup?

If they can’t hit left-handers. We had problems with that sometimes last year. When we faced a good lefty, if they had their way with J.D. [Drew] and David [Ortiz], more often than not we had a tough time. It’s not so much being left-handed than handling left-handers. Carl Crawford doesn’t hit worse against lefties than he does against righties. With his style of hitting, his splits are going to be real close to the same. It doesn’t matter. But if you have lefties that can’t hit lefties, then it makes it tough.

What is your take on reports that the Sox are open to dealing Marco Scutaro?

I don’t think that means anything. There are some teams that need shortstops. I particularly am really happy with Marco being here. It’s hard to answer those types of questions because I know it didn’t come from Theo.

On the need to overhaul the bullpen:

We all admit we struggled in the bullpen last year. A lot of guys we relied on in the past had a tough time. [Hideki] Okajima went from a guy in an All-Star game to a guy with an ERA hovering around 6 for a while. Manny Delcarmen looked at times like he would be coming into his own and then he would take a step backwards. Ramon [Ramirez], we ended up trading him to San Francisco because we just didn’€™t feel like we wanted to pitch him in the eighth inning. He wanted more responsibility, and we feel like he didn’t throw enough strikes. Some things went wrong last year. Thank goodness Daniel Bard threw like he did. Felix Doubront coming got us excited, but we had to shut him down the last month of the season.

We need to get a couple arms out there. That’s for sure. You can’€™t just rely on Bard, [Jonathan] Papelbon. You’ve got to have the bullpen where, on days when you’re down a run or two, you can keep it there and wait for someone to hit a home run and sneak yourself a win.

Could Jed Lowrie play third everyday for the Red Sox?

Yes. Certainly could. It’€™s not that Jed can’€™t play everyday. It’€™s where can we be a better team. If Theo is able to sign a guy, say bring back Beltre, and we can move Jed around, that’s terrific. If he goes a different route and he signs an outfielder, Jed could certainly play third base. His numbers last year, and I know they’re part-time, they were tremendous. That doesn’€™t mean you would do that everyday. The one thing that he hasn’€™t done yet is play every day. He’s either gotten hurt or gotten sick. But there’s no denying this kid can play.

Read More: carl crawford, David Ortiz, Detroit Tigers, Jacoby Ellsbury
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