Guardians manager Terry Francona returning to team in 2023

CLEVELAND (AP) — There were no formal contract negotiations between Terry Francona and the Guardians, just a five-minute conversation among friends.

He told them he wants to keep managing. They gladly accepted.

Francona’s unique partnership in Cleveland will carry into 2023 as the 63-year-old has agreed to return with the club after leading the majors’ youngest team to a division title and the AL Division Series this season.

While Francona hasn’t formally signed a deal, he said Friday that he intends to be back for an 11th season. His health has improved dramatically after major scares, plus Francona wants to see what’s next for the Guardians.

“I love the fact that we have something that could be pretty special here moving forward,” he said. “I enjoyed the heck out of our players this year. I want to see that group grow and I’d like to be a part of that.”

The Guardians wouldn’t want it any other way.

President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti reiterated that there are no parameters on Francona when it comes to his tenure. Essentially, he can manage for as long as he’d like.

“There was never a question in our minds of Tito returning,” Antonetti said. “It was more just on what made sense for him. We’ve made it really clear: We want Tito to continue to manage as long as he wants to manage and it makes sense for him health-wise.”

Francona resisted putting a timeline on his agreement.

“We’re just going to kind of go year-to-year,” he said. “It’s just the way it should be with my health. The organization’s been too good to me.”

Francona was forced to step aside the past two seasons due to health complications ranging from gastrointestinal issues to a staph infection that led to a lengthy hospitalization and several surgeries.

Although, he’ll undergo another operation next week, Francona is much healthier than he’s been in a while. True to form, he poked fun at his situation when asked what doctors told him after a recent physical.

“If I’m breathing, then I’m good,” he said. “I passed if I‘m breathing.”

Francona acknowledged there was a stretch this season when the two-time World Series winner with Boston wondered if he had reached the end.

“I probably gave thought to how long I wanted to do this more than maybe I had in the past,” he said. “I don’t know that meant necessarily this year, but sometimes it can be tough and I put a lot on the coaches.”

Along with better health, a team that wouldn’t quit kept him going.

The Guardians, who had 17 players make their big league debuts, hustled their way to the top of the AL Central with a scrappy style.

“I would also be lying if I said this group of players didn’t energize me,” said Francona, who has led Cleveland to four division titles, six postseasons and one World Series since 2013. “You don’t have a heartbeat if you show up and watch these guys play and not enjoy the way they play.”

Francona said he, Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff talked about his plans in September when the team was in Kansas City.

And while they joked about it being a “knockdown, drag-out” session, the reality is that it was a chance to reaffirm their strong partnership.

Antonetti knows there will be a day when Francona moves on. It’s not here yet.

“The most important thing to Mike and I and to (owner) Paul Dolan is that Tito has the life that he wants to have as a manager, but then more importantly as a grandfather and as a father after he’s done managing,” Antonetti said. “And to the extent those thing can occur at the same time and he’s able to do both the way he wants to do them, we would love for that to continue to happen.

“But if there comes a point in time where that doesn’t make sense, we’ll re-visit it then.”

NOTES: All-Star 3B José Ramírez, who played several months with a torn thumb ligament, could have had the procedure in June. At one point, Francona thought the operation had been scheduled when Ramírez told him otherwise. “He said not only am I not having surgery, but I’m playing tomorrow,” Francona said. “I know people watch him and admire the way he plays. I don’t know if people realize quite just how tough a kid he is. … Antonetti said All-Star 2B Andrés Giménez played most of the final two months with a non-displaced fracture in his left thumb. Giménez struggled in the postseason, batting .179 with no extra-base hits.

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