UPDATE (Jan. 14, 7:26 p.m.) — The Red Sox and Alex Cora have "mutually agreed to part ways."
Here's a phrase we couldn't have imagined applying to Alex Cora even two days ago: lifetime ban.
On the list of punishments potentially facing the Red Sox manager, the most draconian suddenly feels very much in play.
With the rubble still smoldering in Houston after the cheating fiasco that cost Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch their jobs — but absolved owner Jim Crane, because apparently organizational oversight stops just shy of his gilded door — it is clear that MLB considers Cora the central figure in not one but two scandals.
Read the nine-page report MLB released on Monday, and not only is Cora's name all over it — he's mentioned 11 times — but his transgressions dwarf those of Hinch, who nonetheless earned a one-year suspension that quickly morphed into a firing.
While Hinch (somewhat fancifully, if you ask me) claims that he expressed his displeasure with Houston's chicanery by smashing a TV just outside the dugout a couple of times but never actually told anyone to stop, the report describes Cora's actions unambiguously.
Cora "called the replay room" to obtain signs. Cora "arranged for the video" monitor to be installed outside the Houston dugout. Cora was "involved in" the trash can banging scheme.
In a report that has led to unprecedented punishments, embarrassed the sport, and forever tainted Houston's 2017 World Series title, no one person is described as playing a more central role in the various schemes than Cora.
On the Houston half of this equation alone, Cora was probably looking at a two-year suspension. The fact that MLB is conducting a concurrent investigation into Boston's actions during the 2018 championship season, when the Red Sox are accused of a similar scheme to steal signs via the replay room (minus the trash can), and it's reasonable to infer the league is about squash Cora like a bug.
If Cora had some organizational cover in 2017 as bench coach — he reported to direct superiors, both of whom are unemployed as of Monday — no such firewall exists for his role in 2018's alleged sign stealing.
As manager, he can't claim ignorance of the actions of underlings, especially if the Boston scheme ends up being exactly the same as the one perpetrated by the Astros, as has been reported by The Athletic; it shouldn't be hard for MLB to make the case that Cora simply imported his own dirty tactics from Houston.
Combine that with Boston's perch as a potential repeat offender following the 2017 Apple Watch fiasco, and that's how a lifetime ban ends up on the table.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has clearly designed his punishments for maximum deterrence. If he believes Cora's crimes merit more than two years, he may as well go all the way and slap "lifetime" on his ban, perhaps allowing him the chance to appeal in 2022, which would effectively sideline Cora for two years, but rhetorically leave no doubt that Manfred is the law.
And so here we are, contemplating the unthinkable. The Red Sox hired Cora two years ago to connect with young players, incorporate analytics into the team's day-to-day decision-making, and maybe steal a little bit of that cutting-edge Houston mojo.
They stole it all right, and what they got instead leaves them teetering on the edge of disgrace, with their manager poised to take the biggest fall of all.