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Cubs GM Theo Epstein, Indians’ Terry Francona still quite a pair

BostRed Sox general manager Theo Epsteleft manager Terry Franconwatch team practice Fenway Park BostThursday Oct. 11 2007 preparatifor Friday's Game

Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, left, and manager Terry Francona watch team practice at Fenway Park in Boston Thursday, Oct. 11, 2007, in preparation for Friday's Game 1 of the American League Championship Series baseball game against the Cleveland Indians. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

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Updated: March 10, 2013 8:15PM

MESA, Ariz. — For the first time since he took control of the Cubs, president Theo Epstein will get some face time Monday with what might have been for this field staff — and, in some ways, what might yet be.

‘‘We talked right before we got down here and said sometime in March we’ll grab a beer,’’ Epstein said of old friend Terry Francona, the first manager he hired.

Francona, who’s about to start his first season as manager of the Cleveland Indians, will make his HoHoKam Stadium debut as a skipper when the Indians visit the Cubs on Monday.

The beer probably will have to wait until near the end of camp for Epstein and Francona, the Red Sox management team that broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 and backed it up with a second World Series title three years later.

But the memories and the visions for what comes next for each are sure to be part of the catching up.

Second-guessing and revisiting the conversations they had 17 months ago when Epstein was hired as Cubs president? Probably not so much.

‘‘In eight years in Boston, we always had each other’s back,’’ Francona said. ‘‘It doesn’t mean you don’t have disagreements. You always do. But we always had each other’s back. When times were rough, I knew where to go. And he knew that.’’

That’s a big reason why Epstein and Francona talked in the fall of 2011 about going from Boston to Chicago as a package deal after their abrupt departures from Boston following the infamous collapse of the Red Sox that September.

‘‘He and I talked about it,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘He didn’t have to interview. I know everything he brings to the table as a manager. We had open discussions about whether it was the right time and the right fit.”

In the end, setting up a Fenway Park West at Wrigley Field made little sense to either man, especially under the circumstances left behind in Boston and the task at hand in Chicago.

‘‘I don’t think the timing was right. I thought we needed to take a step back,’’ Francona said. ‘‘I think they were in a different place. But we talked about it, and it was a comfortable conversation.’’

Ultimately, the way that conversation ended led Epstein toward the manager he seems confident can be the next version of Francona in Chicago.

‘‘I think it ended up working out great with Dale [Sveum]. He was perfect for what we need,’’ Epstein said of the manager he knew only as a tough-minded and tireless coach for those ’04 champion Red Sox.

A season after hiring Sveum, Epstein lauds the way the first-year manager maintained the focus and work ethic of a 101-loss team in ugly transition. He says he sees him as the right guy to lead the team into contention over the next few years.

Even Francona, who spent last season as an ESPN analyst, said, ‘‘I thought they got the right guy. . . . He was such a popular coach with the players. They loved him. He was the third-base coach and handled the defense, and he dove into that and just took it to another level.’’

As for Francona, Epstein has one eye on the Indians these days — and a cold one on tap for old times.

‘‘Tito got the benefit of a year, seeing the game from the broadcast booth, and got a year to recharge his batteries,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘And he’s in an awesome situation now. I’m really happy for him.’’

Said Francona, whose new job marks a return to a place where he once played and later worked in the front office: ‘‘I’m thrilled with where I ended up.’’



THE EDWIN SHOW: Right-hander Edwin Jackson, the Cubs’ $52 million free agent who will open the season as the No. 2 starter, struggled with his command against the Brewers in his second spring start. He lasted only two innings before using up his pitch count. After retiring the first batter he faced, he gave up a single, a walk, a hit batsman and a walk to force in a run, then surrendered a run-scoring single before settling down. He walked another batter in the second, then air-mailed a throw into center field on a potential double-play comebacker before getting a double play out of the next batter.

EYE ON THE FUTURE: With the Cubs’ major-league starting-pitching depth spent with a month to go in spring training because of injuries to Matt Garza and Scott Baker, guys such as Class AAA starter Alberto Cabrera — who will start Monday against the Indians — figure to get closer looks, both as starting depth and as potential additions to a more fluid bullpen. ‘‘All those things come into play now,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘Obviously, there’s more openings in the bullpen than there would have been without the injuries.’’

BOGEY MAN: Keep an eye on former Astro Brian Bogusevic, who is flying under the radar as a non-roster invitee. When he homered and doubled against the Angels, it made him 7-for-12 this spring.

ON DECK: vs. Indians, 2:05 p.m. (, HoHoKam Stadium. Cabrera vs. Zach McAllister.

Gordon Wittenmyer

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