Big league managers are wired to do one job: win today. The good ones can keep an eye on tomorrow by not overworking their relievers, making sure regulars get an occasional break, and maybe sneaking that tired starter an extra day of rest. They might juggle illness, day game after night, too much time on turf, and whatever else crops up over the course of 162.
Beyond that, unless they're explicitly signing up for a rebuild, they can't care much about next year, let alone three years from now. They're not blessed with that kind of job security. Today's great work developing young talent can be tomorrow's place in the unemployment line, with somebody else reaping the benefits of your labor. Buck Showalter learned this lesson by prepping the championship Yankees of the '90s just in time to hand them to Joe Torre for all the glory -- not to mention a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Tomase: Red Sox in dreaded no-man's land after uninspiring deadline
When it comes to great managers today, Alex Cora belongs near the top of the list. As a bench coach, he helped the Astros win a World Series (albeit while pushing boundaries and ultimately paying a steep price). As a rookie manager with the Red Sox, he won 108 games and a World Series. He returned from exile last year to pilot a flawed roster to Game 6 of the American League Championship Series by getting creative with his bullpen. No manager bats 1.000, but the Red Sox can be confident they're usually going to win the battle of the brains in the dugout.
If managers must win now as a general rule, Cora cranks that attitude to 11. He may have gained humility after his year-long suspension for masterminding Houston's plot to steal signs, but he didn't lose an ounce of competitiveness. He consciously portrays an even keel after wins and losses, but the former simply get him to tomorrow, while the latter eat him up. If you're hiring someone to run a team, you wouldn't want it any other way.
The Red Sox have reached the proverbial crossroads under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, however, and it's unclear how Cora fits moving forward. On Monday, Bloom jolted the clubhouse by trading starting catcher Christian Vazquez to the rival Astros during a series in Houston. He later acquired outfielder Tommy Pham and first baseman Eric Hosmer, moves that probably make the Red Sox slightly better on paper by upgrading some of baseball's worst production at first base and in right field.
But trading Vazquez had already set a tone that management didn't believe in this year's club. The players made their disappointment public, with Xander Bogaerts unable to outright dismiss the idea of "waving the white flag" and third baseman Rafael Devers saying, "I'm not that happy that Vazquez left the team."
In the middle of all this sits Cora, and it's fair to wonder what the future holds. It's entirely possible that by the start of next season, he'll be writing lineup cards without Bogaerts, Devers, or J.D. Martinez in the middle of them. His rotation probably won't feature All-Star right-hander Nathan Eovaldi. He has no idea who'll be catching, and his guess is as good as ours on supporting players like Kiké Hernández, Rich Hill, and Matt Strahm. That can't be appealing.
It's a lot of talent to replace in one offseason, especially with the American League East now so deep that even the long-suffering Orioles are making a playoff push. Complicating any path back to immediate contention is that Bloom thus far has proven hesitant to trade prospects or spend aggressively in free agency.
That's not what Cora signed up for his first time around, when Dave Dombrowski hired him to push the club's young players over the top, resulting in an MVP for Mookie Betts and a championship. It's not what he expected when he returned last year to a core that included Devers, Bogaerts, Martinez, Chris Sale, and Eovaldi, among others.
Cora is signed through 2024, and already there's a fear those years could be lean while the Red Sox wait for prospects like shortstop Marcelo Mayer and second baseman Nick Yorke to mature, and even then, there's no guarantee they'll be stars.
Ownership and management seem content to take the long view, with Bloom focusing on the farm and patching roster deficiencies on the margins in a bid to remain competitive, even though there's only so far value signings can take you without the underlying stars to power the ship.
If I'm Alex Cora, with young twins at home and a stated desire not to manage into old age, do I really want to oversee a nebulous rebuild that's more concerned with 2025 than 2023? Until there's clarity on the team's approach to the future, it's fair to wonder just how long the manager will be a part of it.