Red Sox

Ex-Astros GM Jeff Luhnow places blame on Alex Cora in sign-stealing scandal

Ex-Astros GM Jeff Luhnow places blame on Alex Cora in sign-stealing scandal

On Monday, MLB released its report detailing the investigation into the Houston Astros' 2017 sign-stealing scandal, and Alex Cora was a central figure.

Cora, the Astros' bench coach that season, had a major role in developing the system used to illegally steal signs and relay those signs to the batter.

The fallout from the scandal keeps growing, as Cora lost his job as Sox manager Tuesday evening, one day after MLB handed down one-year suspensions for Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, both of whom since have been relieved of their respective duties by the organization.

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Shortly after his dismissal, Luhnow released a statement denying his involvement and placed blame on Cora 

"I'm not a cheater," Luhnow wrote. "Anybody who has worked closely with me during my 32-year career inside and outside baseball can attest to my integrity. I did not know rules were being broken.

"As the commissioner set out in his statement, I did not personally direct, oversee or engage in any misconduct: The sign-stealing initiative was not planned or directed by baseball management; the trash-can banging was driven and executed by players, and the video decoding of signs originated and was executed by lower-level employees working with the bench coach. I am deeply upset that I wasn't informed of any misconduct because I would have stopped it."

The league has yet to discipline Cora as it continues to investigate a separate sign-stealing operation involving the 2018 Red Sox. Once that investigation is complete, it's likely Cora's penalty will be as harsh -- if not harsher -- than Hinch and Luhnow's year-long bans.

Five things it would've been nice to hear Red Sox ownership say about Mookie Betts trade

Five things it would've been nice to hear Red Sox ownership say about Mookie Betts trade

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After listening to Red Sox ownership wax sentimental about Stan Musial, long for just one more peek at Mookie Betts' dreamy smile, and remind fans that $99 tier five family packs are available right now, so get 'em before they're gone, I found myself wishing they could've demonstrated a little more humility and candor on Monday morning.

In truth, they had little chance of satisfactorily defending a move most fans consider indefensible. But had we the opportunity to shoot up owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and CEO Sam Kennedy with a little sodium pentothal, here are five things I wish they had said.

1. "This was about the CBT."

If there's a truly head-scratching aspect of the Betts trade, it's ownership's insistence that the media has someone misconstrued the organization's intentions. Even Henry's meandering opening statement, which he billed as "addressing Red Sox fans directly," suggested that reporters have somehow failed the fanbase by noting the obvious truth that the Red Sox wanted to drop the payroll below $208 million to reset their luxury tax penalties this season.

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There are a host of reasons to do so. It protects the team's spot in the draft, it reduces the amount it must pay for exceeding various thresholds, and it positions the club to spend again, a la the Yankees and Dodgers this winter.

But nope. They're still clinging to this defiant notion that the trade was about talent and not clearing the books. OK.

2. "This was a salary dump."

I'm not sure why "salary dump" is such a dirty phrase. In moving half of David Price's remaining $96 million off the books, the Red Sox not only ditched a player who's unlikely to justify his paycheck, but they created the opportunity to replace him with someone younger, and youth is the most valuable currency in today's game.

The Yankees and Dodgers are the two highest-profile examples of big-market teams who slashed payroll in order to build around youth, and it has worked out smashingly for each. The Yankees created the flexibility to sign Gerrit Cole to the largest contract ever given a pitcher, while the Dodgers had room to absorb both Betts and Price. Each team is also coming off 100-win seasons.

Werner was asked why financial flexibility couldn't be a justifiable end in and of itself.

"It can be," he said. "But if we had simply wanted to have a salary dump, there would've been other ways to do that. It wasn't a salary dump. It was to give us flexibility. We could've moved in different directions. We could be sitting here saying Mookie is a member of our team this year. We made a strategic decision for what was in the best interests of the team this year and going forward, that this was a wise trade. We followed Chaim (Bloom's) recommendation, but there would've been other ways to have a salary dump than the path we went forward with."

Werner added it was "hypothetically" true the team could've traded Price alone, but I'm skeptical another club would've eaten half of his remaining money without Betts being attached.

3. "We've mismanaged our payroll."

When the club explained why it fired former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in September, Henry noted that he knew shortly after the World Series parade that the two men did not share the same vision moving forward. Dombrowski wanted to spend, Henry wanted to cut.

So it's fair to ask why Henry allowed Dombrowski to sign pitchers Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi to contracts totaling more than $200 million last offseason, a question that ownership batted away.

"These decisions, there are a lot of hypotheticals here," Werner said. "We are pleased with the value we got back from the Dodgers. We might not be having this discussion, we might have preceded under different scenarios, but we are where we are based on the proposal that we agreed to."

Based on his injury-riddled 2019, Sale would not have cashed in for $145 million this winter. Based on his injury history, Eovaldi shouldn't have been signed to a $68 million contract based on two strong weeks in the playoffs.

But they were and here we are. The bloated Red Sox payroll cost them Betts as much as anything else.

4. "We've mismanaged our roster."

Band-Aids are how you end up becoming the New York Knicks. At some point, a team must be willing to take a step back, make some hard decisions, and set a course for the future. Throwing money after a top-heavy roster with zero depth might keep the Red Sox in marginally better playoff contention, but it won't address the hard truth that, with or without Betts, they're not a realistic World Series contender.

The once-strong farm system has been pillaged, the back of the roster is a mess, and there's little in the pipeline that suggests hope. The Red Sox need a reset while there's still time to build around the Xander Bogaerts-Rafael Devers-Andrew Benintendi core, but the sooner they start that process, the better.

5. "We're going to spend again."

This is a factual statement that is on the team's side, and yet no one thinks to just come out and say it. Criticize Henry and Co. all you want, but they're not shy about spending. The money they save this year will go right back into the roster, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if they boast the game's highest payroll within a year or two.

So say it! "We're only two years removed from spending more on players than any team in baseball," Henry could've said, "and I want the fans to hear this directly from me: we will spend that much again."

Instead, unfortunately, we got a bunch of sentimentality about Stan the Man, a misleading comparison to Nomar Garciaparra, and an embarrassing plea to buy student tickets for nine bucks. When it comes to getting out of their own way, Red Sox ownership always seems to end up in a heap.

Why 2019 Nationals shouldn't be used to justify Red Sox' Mookie Betts trade

Why 2019 Nationals shouldn't be used to justify Red Sox' Mookie Betts trade

The Washington Nationals won the World Series in 2019 despite losing their best position player, star outfielder Bryce Harper, in free agency the previous offseason.

Could a similar situation unfold in Boston this season after the Red Sox traded their best player and former American League MVP winner Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers last week? Red Sox chairman Tom Werner quickly brought up the Nationals after being asked Monday if he thought his team could have competed for a title in 2020 with Betts on the roster.

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"Yes, but I also believe this team can compete for a championship with the pieces that we have," Werner told reporters at spring training. "You're all smart, so you also know the Washington Nationals won a championship without Bryce Harper. I understand what (Red Sox chief baseball officer) Chaim (Bloom) said -- that he feels in some ways we're not as strong without Mookie and of course that makes sense. But we haven't seen how this season plays out yet. I'm optimistic that we'll be very competitive."

There are a few key differences between the Nationals and the situation the Red Sox currently find themselves in.

First of all, Betts is a far better player than Harper. Since 2016, Harper has zero seasons with a WAR (wins above replacement) above five. Betts has an average WAR of 8.4 over the same span. Betts is an elite offensive player and one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. He's a rare five-tool player. The Nationals had a young star in Juan Soto ready to replace Harper's production at the plate. The Red Sox don't have that kind of player to fill in for Betts this year.

The Nationals also had a top player in the final year of his contract last season in Anthony Rendon, but they kept him through the trade deadline. Rendon ultimately left to sign with the Los Angeles Angels, but not before he played a pivotal role in Washington winning the World Series. The Red Sox, conversely, gave up on Betts before seeing how well the team would perform in his walk year.

However, the main difference between the 2019 Nationals and 2020 Red Sox is pitching.

Washington used the money that would've gone to Harper to sign Patrick Corbin, who was arguably the top starting pitcher on the free agent market after the 2018 campaign. Corbin teamed with two of the best starters in baseball, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, to form a strong 1-2-3 in the Nationals' rotation. The Red Sox rotation is far worse. Chris Sale hasn't been able to consistently stay healthy since the team acquired him in 2016. Rick Porcello is wildly inconsistent from year to year, and Eduardo Rodriguez has not proven he can perform at a high level in consecutive seasons. And we cannot forget that David Price was shipped off to Los Angeles as part of the Betts trade with the Dodgers.

Boston's offense should still be one of the AL's best in 2020, even without Betts. There's plenty of talent in the Red Sox lineup, as J.D. Martinez pointed out Monday. The problem for the Red Sox in 2020 will be pitching, and it's why the chances of seeing a 2019 Nationals-like miracle in Boston this season are slim.

Tomase: What Sox ownership should've said about Betts trade