John Tomase

J.D. Martinez states without equivocation that Red Sox will be exonerated by MLB investigation

J.D. Martinez states without equivocation that Red Sox will be exonerated by MLB investigation

SPRINGFIELD -- For five hours on Saturday morning at Winter Weekend, Red Sox players and coaches delivered basically the same message in regards to the 2018 cheating scandal: We're not at liberty to say anything until the league finishes its investigation.

And then J.D. Martinez stepped in front of the cameras.

The slugging DH, who earlier this offseason chose to remain in Boston rather than exercise an opt-out in his contract, minced no words when asked if the Red Sox did anything wrong during their championship 2018 season.

"You know, it sucks, to be honest with you," he said of the investigation. "It does suck. But you know what? I know I'm excited for the investigation to be over with just so that they can see that there was nothing going on here."

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So he believes the team is innocent of the charges that it used the replay room to steal opposing signs in real time?

"I believe that, yes," Martinez said.

And what gives Martinez this confidence, despite a report to the contrary in The Athletic claiming that the Red Sox stole signs?

"Because I was in there," he said. "I saw what was. . . . Straight up, everyone seems to forget that in 2017 and '16 this team was a really good team. This team won 93 games those two years and then we just got better."

Martinez spoke without hesitation, and also saluted departed manager Alex Cora, while offering some insight into why Cora decided to leave the team.

"Kind of heartbroken about it," he said. "I talked to him before and I understood his side of it. He didn't want to be a distraction going into the season. I know it was wearing on him and his family, so I obviously feel for him and I wish him the best. But I know he played a big, big role for our team and he was one of my favorites, if not my favorite manager that I've had. It's going to be tough."

Ron Roenicke sounds clean, making him the safest choice to replace Alex Cora as Red Sox manager

Ron Roenicke sounds clean, making him the safest choice to replace Alex Cora as Red Sox manager

SPRINGFIELD -- The Red Sox are unlikely to name a manager in the next few days, preferring instead to take as disciplined an approach to this momentous decision as they can, given the time constraints.

They'd love to hire from within for the sake of continuity, but they face a dilemma: what if they tab a coach to replace Alex Cora, only to find him implicated when MLB completes its investigation into allegations of sign-stealing in 2018?

The coaches met the media on Saturday morning at Winter Weekend, and one of them sounded like the safest bet to emerge unscathed from whatever report MLB produces. And so, given the challenges that loom, with spring training only three weeks away, it's fair to say bench coach Ron Roenicke put his best foot forward as an honest and forthright potential face of whatever follows this scandal.

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"It's obviously a tough time," Roenicke said. "And I know things over the years, maybe some little things have happened before. But when something like this comes out, it obviously damages the game. I think you try to get past it. You try to do things the right way. I came from being with Mike Scioscia for a long time in Anaheim and it was something that was really important to Mike, how we went about things as a staff and what we did. 

"I took that same philosophy when I went to Milwaukee and managed. I always felt like yes, there's lots of things we could do on the field. When I was a third-base coach I could give pitches to the hitters since 2000 when I was in the big leagues and that's legal to do from the third-base box. But I didn't think it was right, so I didn't do it.

"I spent so many years playing this game and trying to do things the right way," Roenicke added. "It's hard. It hurts in all areas. You try to raise your kids to do things the right way, you try to live your life that way, you try to be that way in your career. So,  anytime you see that, it hurts. I also realize that we all screw up. I've screwed up. Everybody has. It just happens this is a huge deal, and it's sad to see that for the game."

It remains unclear if the Red Sox are focusing on an interim solution or someone who could fill the role longer term. They'll undoubtedly take a host of characteristics into consideration, not least of which is a facility with analytics, which Cora embraced. Roenicke, 63, might not be the most progressive choice in this regard, but outside of pitching coach Dave Bush, it's hard to single out a Red Sox coach who would be.

From a messaging standpoint, though, the Red Sox could do a lot worse than the avuncular former Brewers skipper, who led Milwaukee to 96 wins and an NLCS berth in 2011, finishing second in the Manager of the Year voting. He also spent eight years in the major leagues as a switch-hitting outfielder.

He certainly didn't sound like someone concerned about being caught up in the collateral damage of whatever the Red Sox may or may not have done in 2018.

"It would be concerning if something happened that I knew I was a part of, that I was brought into as part of that," he said. "I know what I do. I always try to do things the right way."

Roenicke checks some boxes. He'd be the most obvious interim candidate on the staff if the team wants to conduct a more traditional managerial search next fall. And he'd allow for the continued development of third base coach Carlos Febles, who's a potential future manager, or even former All-Star catcher Jason Varitek, a special assistant who, in a perfect world, would spend some time on a coaching staff before considering his next step.

Roenicke was asked if he still harbored hopes of managing last week, before we had any idea of the scandal that was about to unfold.

"I'm always content," he said. "Coaching is fun. It's a fun job. Managing is challenging. I enjoy it. I love the challenge of it. I wasn't really thinking about it too much, but my phone was lit up every day from my friends or whoever, saying this was a possibility."

At this point in the offseason, the Red Sox probably won't find a perfect solution. There are safe ones, though, and none feels safer than Roenicke.

Patriots provided one blueprint for handling Alex Cora, but Red Sox ignored it

Patriots provided one blueprint for handling Alex Cora, but Red Sox ignored it

Let us imagine, for a moment, a scenario.

It's 2007, and the Patriots have just been nailed for stealing opposing signals despite an explicit league directive banning the practice. With national reporters swarming Foxboro like the Zerg, owner Robert Kraft assesses the damage to his brand, the importance of integrity to his family, and makes a heart-rending decision -- he must fire Bill Belichick.

Who can blame him? Belichick broke the rules and brought shame to the organization. Not even a pile of Lombardi Trophies justifies the long-term damage to the team's reputation. And so with vampires at his gate demanding blood, Kraft gives it to them and sacrifices his Hall of Fame coach.

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We now know two things, of course. One is that Kraft did not fire Belichick. The other is that it was inarguably the right decision, one that continues to pay dividends more than a decade later. While there's not much the Patriots can do about taunts that they're cheaters, there's also little doubt that they're the NFL's greatest dynasty.

There's a reason Belichick guest-hosted the NFL Network's series on the league's top 100 players, and there's a reason why when all is said and done, the dominant impression of this 20-year run won't be Spygate or Deflategate, but the unprecedented, record-breaking partnership between Belichick and Tom Brady.

None of that happens if Kraft pulls the plug in 2007. But he stood his ground despite intense public pressure, and has since reaped the rewards.

This alternate history, this road not taken, feels relevant today, given a very different choice made by Red Sox ownership in response to a remarkably similar scandal.

On Tuesday, the club and manager Alex Cora "mutually agreed to part ways," which is corporate jargon for, "we have unilaterally decided to part ways." A bombshell MLB report had just fingered Cora as the mastermind of a sign-stealing scheme in Houston involving replay cameras, dugout monitors, and one resonant trash can.

The Red Sox digested this report for a day before announcing Cora's departure. They based their decision, according to ownership, solely on his actions in Houston and what was laid out in the report. It doubtlessly didn't help his cause that he's facing a lengthy suspension, probably at least a year, and maybe longer.

It's hard to criticize the Red Sox for acting decisively; Cora's actions embarrassed the organization. And far be it from me to suggest that anyone, in any sport, belongs in the same sentence as Belichick.

But I'm coming to believe the Red Sox should've stood by their man à la the Patriots, especially since the behavior they found so egregious occurred while he worked as a subordinate for another franchise.

Add their strangely smug confidence that the commissioner's investigation into their own championship season of 2018 will exonerate them (and therefore Cora, too, to a degree), and a case can be made that they fired him out of expediency at the expense of their long-term interests.

"They had no choice!" many have argued. And to that I say, why?

I don't buy for a second that Cora had lost his clubhouse. My guess is the players were well aware of his actions in Houston -- he didn't try to hide his admiration for co-conspirator Carlos Beltran and his ability to decipher signs by any means possible. Whatever Cora oversaw in Boston, it doesn't sound like there was much clubhouse dissent.

It's hard to overstate Cora's importance to the organization. He united disparate departments and communities like no one before him. He's the rare ex-player who embraces and understands new-school analytics. He's bilingual, which allows him to bridge gaps in a melting-pot clubhouse.

I've had half a dozen people at all levels of the organization tell me how much he'll be missed, all with a similar story -- he made everyone feel important, even the junior nobodies. He spent some of his last hours as a Red Sox employee consulting with player development about the farm system. He is personable, passionate, and driven, and he had a hand in everything.

Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts didn't waste words when asked what kind of manager the Red Sox should hire next.

"Someone like him," he said.

As scandalous and raw as this feels now, time has a way of smoothing edges and soothing nerves. A year from now, after a lengthy contrition tour, Cora might've been able to resume his duties. We'll never know if he could've survived the fallout, because the Red Sox never gave him the chance.

That's certainly their right, but imagine how different the Patriots would look today if they had reached the same conclusion more than a decade ago.