Red Sox

Cora plans to walk fine line between friendship and authority

Cora plans to walk fine line between friendship and authority

BOSTON -- Alex Cora’s tenure as Red Sox manager may boil down to how well he can combine authority and friendship, balance camaraderie with control.

The two dynamics sound incompatible: friendship suggests equal footing among parties, authority implies the opposite. But what would a manager want except to know his players, and know them exceedingly well? If you can’t get the pulse of your people, you can’t make the best choices for your team. Keeping your distance is little help.

A commanding and charismatic presence at his introductory press conference Monday, Cora has been brought back to Fenway Park to connect (and ideally, connect more than his predecessor, John Farrell).

THE RED SOX HIRE ALEX CORA

The days of the authoritarian manager died a long time ago. The disciplinarians — if they’re in fact a different breed — are gone too, or at least, greatly evolved.

But the final say can’t go by the wayside for a manager, and therein lies the balancing act for the 42-year-old Cora. He was a beloved teammate as a player. He was a bench coach for a World Series-winning team and managed Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. But he’s never run the whole show himself.

It doesn’t sound like Cora is going to build relationships any differently than he did in the past. There are two ways to look at such a choice. Changing one’s approach to fit a job may be a mistake, because you should be yourself. At the same time, different jobs require different approaches, at least in some moments.

“Too close to players, that doesn’t exist,” Cora said Monday. “Throughout the learning process of the Houston Astros . . . it was special for me [with] Carlos Beltran. I played with Carlos Beltran, against Carlos Beltran when we were 17 years old and we played against each other in winter ball. We played together with the Mets, and we became good friends. I have a great relationship with Carlos, off the field with his family, [his wife] Jessica -- amazing. 

“Throughout the season, although Carlos was huge for the Houston Astros as far as the performance, it wasn't what we wanted. I had to be honest with him, and we talked and we were still close. The whole thing about drawing the line, they understand that. But at the same time they're human beings, man, and you've got to talk to them, you've got to see how they feel. I'm going to encourage my coaching staff to get close to players. 

"[Astros third baseman] Alex Bregman for example. We're cool. He probably thinks I'm his older brother and I probably think the same way . . . I was able to push him because you have a good relationship and they understand that ‘Hey, he's not doing it just to get on me, he's doing it because he wants me to get better.’ And that's what happened over there and I’m going to bring it over here."

Cora had relationships with plenty of others in Houston as well. Bregman and Beltran were two standouts. But another tightrope act shows itself here. Varying degrees of friendship can lead to perceptions of favoritism. No manager can equally love all 25 players (or realistically, 40-plus throughout a season). But a manager must be very conscious of, literally and figuratively, playing favorites.

Cora reminded everyone Monday how close he and Dustin Pedroia and are. But Cora did so while drawing a line in the sand.

“First of all, I want to make this clear: the relationship with me and Dustin Pedroia is going to be forever,” Cora said. “That relationship is always going to be there. I love that kid, I love his family, they've been amazing for us, and that's not going to change. As a player, I think Pedie always looked up to me as a mentor, as a teacher. This is not going to change. He understands that back in the day when he was hitting .120 and everybody wanted me to play every day, and he was not the Laser Show, I was the one supporting him, me and Mike Lowell. We trusted him and we were helping him out. 

“Nothing's going to change -- this kid, well he's older now. He has a bad hairdo, we'll talk about him shaving his head, too. He's going to help us out. Talking to him, he's very excited. He understands that I’m the manager and he's a player. But I'm looking forward to managing him, with the attitude he brings, with the passion he brings to the game. He can help us. All he can do is help. We need him healthy, that's the most important thing, but when Dustin Pedroia is healthy he can help any baseball team.”

Asked about David Price, Cora said he called the lefty before the World Series began and that Price was awesome. Cora talked to a few others as well, but didn’t have much time to go in depth as he was preparing for the Fall Classic.

On the Price matter, Cora chose not to re-litigate the past.

“For me it's unfair to talk about what happened last year,” Cora said. “It's in the past. I'm here to move forward. I'm here to move forward. Looking forward to talk with him. He went to Vanderbilt and Joey [brother Joey Cora] did too, so we have a connection. He's a talented kid. He singled-handedly almost beat us in the playoffs, and the way he threw the ball with conviction, I'll take that. 

“The whole clubhouse thing, we'll be fine. I think you guys know me. You guys know how I dealt with Manny [Ramirez] with all the situations. We tried to bring this thing together. We're going to be fine. I look forward to meeting him, honestly.”

When Cora was able to connect with Ramirez in their time together with the Red Sox, they were both players. The unknown is whether Cora can do what he’s always done in a brand new role, where equal footing is gone and hierarchy can't be ignored.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

pat-neshek-mike-minor-112217.jpg

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

MORE RED SOX:

Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel. 

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

cincinnati-reds-joe-morgan-hall-of-fame.jpg

HOFer Joe Morgan's letter urges voters to keep steroid users out of Hall

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep “known steroid users” out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball’s steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall’s board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

Read the full text of Morgan's letter here. 

“Steroid users don’t belong here,” Morgan wrote. “What they did shouldn’t be accepted. Times shouldn’t change for the worse.”

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions.

About 430 ballots are being sent to voters, who must have been members of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years, and a player needs at least 75 percent for election. Ballots are due by Dec. 31 and results will be announced Jan. 24.

Writers who had not been covering the game for more than a decade were eliminated from the rolls in 2015, creating a younger electorate that has shown more willingness to vote for players tainted by accusations of steroid use. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens each received a majority of votes for the first time in 2017 in their fifth year on the ballot.

Morgan said he isn’t speaking for every Hall of Famer, but many of them feel the same way that he does.

“Players who failed drug tests, admitted using steroids, or were identified as users in Major League Baseball’s investigation into steroid abuse, known as the Mitchell Report, should not get in,” Morgan wrote. “Those are the three criteria that many of the players and I think are right.”

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. They were joined by former Commissioner Bud Selig and retired Kansas City and Atlanta executive John Schuerholz, who were voted in by a veterans committee.

Some baseball writers said the election of Selig, who presided over the steroids era, influenced their view of whether tainted stars should gain entry to the Hall.

Morgan praised BBWAA voters and acknowledged they are facing a “tricky issue,” but he also warned some Hall of Famers might not make the trip to Cooperstown if steroid users are elected.

“The cheating that tainted an era now risks tainting the Hall of Fame too,” he wrote. “The Hall of Fame means too much to us to ever see that happen. If steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.”

© 2017 by The Associated Press