Red Sox

Red Sox want it both ways on Cora dismissal, and other thoughts from a surreal day at Fenway

Red Sox want it both ways on Cora dismissal, and other thoughts from a surreal day at Fenway

For more than an hour on Wednesday afternoon, the Red Sox asked us to embrace two essentially incompatible ideas.

On the one hand, they repeatedly requested that we withhold judgment over any cheating they may have committed in 2018 until Major League Baseball completes its investigation. On the other hand, we were only sitting there because they had already rendered a seemingly ironclad verdict on the matter by dismissing manager Alex Cora.

Ownership claims that Cora had to go solely because of his actions in Houston, which were detailed in a bombshell nine-page report on Monday that left little doubt about his central role in the scheme to steal signs.

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Still, considering that he is being accused of conducting the exact same behavior in Boston, minus the trash can, it's hard to see how the team can play the innocent-until-proven-guilty card when it is suddenly conducting a managerial search less than a month before the start of spring training.

"We have not rendered judgment on 2018," said team president Sam Kennedy. "We've rendered judgment with respect to 2017."

That sounds like having it both ways, to me, but in any event, here are my other takeaways from one of the stranger days I've seen at Fenway Park in the past 25 years.

* MLB has boxed itself in on this issue. What started as an attempt to lay down the law in order to deter future sign-stealing is in danger of starting a chain-reaction conflagration that torches multiple franchises.

The Red Sox and Astros are in the market for new managers. As I type, the Mets are wavering over the future of the newly hired Carlos Beltran. The last thing commissioner Rob Manfred wants is eight more press conferences like Wednesday's, with teams detailing why they fired their decision-maker(s) under the cloud of scandal.

The idea is to make an example of the Red Sox and Astros so no one ever crosses this line again. But if more media-driven revelations keep appearing, Manfred and Co. will have no choice but to act, except this time they'll be rendering judgments in the middle of the season, when a forced managerial change could be particularly destructive to a contending team.

Baseball's attempts to clean up this mess could create an even bigger problem.

* So where do the Red Sox go from there? The front office's search will naturally start internally, since the shortest path to continuity is hiring from within. The problem is, the team really can't name a successor from Cora's staff until the league produces its report on 2018, and that could be two months from now. 

The nightmare scenario would be receiving assurances from a current coach that his hands were clean, elevating him to manager, and then seeing his name all over a damning report. The Red Sox can't take that chance, unless they want to conduct another managerial search after Opening Day.

If they want to start with an experienced, unemployed manager, they've twice interviewed former Tigers and Angels skipper Brad Ausmus, who has reached the playoffs once in five seasons. Just-retired Giants manager Bruce Bochy would be another possibility, except he reiterated in a recent interview that he plans on taking 2020 off before considering a return to the dugout.

One man who deserves a look from someone, somewhere, is 70-year-old Dusty Baker, who has won at least 90 games in five of his past six seasons helming the Nationals and Reds.

* What impact might this have on the rest of the offseason? The Red Sox have been surprisingly quiet despite assumptions that they'd have dumped payroll by now. They could take the Cora news in two directions, either viewing it as an opportunity to just blow everything up and start over, or as a mandate (there's that word again!) to build the best possible team in 2020 to avoid further alienating the fan base.

Considering their obsession with PR, it's hard to imagine they choose option A at this point, but it's too late for them to make any big moves that significantly improve the roster, which means their most likely course of action is to hope that everyone who underperformed last year (i.e., everyone in the rotation not named Eduardo Rodriguez) finds a return to form.

Good luck with that.

* One final tidbit: Kennedy would not reveal, as part of the "mutual decision" to part, whether the team will pay Cora either his salary or a settlement. It wouldn't be a shock if the Red Sox take care of Cora in some way, since ownership clearly remains fond of him, and he's probably going to be out of a job for the next two years. A settlement would also help ensure that he goes quietly without fighting his dismissal.

 

Without Mitch Moreland, Red Sox season might already be in toliet

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Without Mitch Moreland, Red Sox season might already be in toliet

Mitch Moreland is a survivor.

He joined the Red Sox in 2017 after seven years in Texas to help fill the void left by the retirement of David Ortiz. The following winter, when baseball players muttered about collusion and talents like J.D. Martinez remained unsigned into spring training, Moreland read the market perfectly by signing a two-year $13 million extension to guarantee he wouldn't be left in the cold.

He made his first All-Star team in 2018 and blasted the pivotal homer of the postseason, a pinch-hit three-run blast that led the Red Sox to a Game 3 victory over the Dodgers. He returned last year for what looked like his Red Sox swan song, bursting out of the gate before injuries limited him to 91 games.

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It turns out he wasn't going anywhere. He inked a one-year, $3 million deal in January with a club option for 2021, and all he has done since is keep the Red Sox afloat in the wide-open American League.

On Sunday that meant homering once in the second to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead over the Blue Jays, and again in the ninth to give them a 5-3 walkoff victory.

At 6-9, the Red Sox only trail the White Sox by two games for the eighth and final AL wild card spot. With the pitching inconsistent until this weekend and the offense in hibernation since the opener, the Red Sox have Moreland to thank for not being buried already.

"I mean, we've got a lot of great players here," Moreland said. "All of them at some point or the other have stepped up and done their part to carry the team. It hasn't just been one guy or the next. We've got a lot of great players.

"If you're seeing the ball well, obviously that's going to help the team. Everybody's going to do that, even at some point this year. Guys are going to get on a roll. I'm happy I'm able to kind of step up and help tonight, but I don't approach it that way and I don't think they do either. Once they get in that groove, we'll be fine."

How essential has Moreland been? He's hitting .323 with a team-leading six homers and 12 RBIs. Only three players have hit more homers this year -- New York's Aaron Judge (8), burgeoning San Diego superstar Fernando Tatis (8), and Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos (7).

Meanwhile, the rest of the Red Sox offense is stuck in first gear, if it can even turn over the engine at all. Andrew Benintendi is hitting .056. Rafael Devers is at .175 and J.D. Martinez .196. After a hot start, Jackie Bradley Jr. has fallen to .238.

The Red Sox need the Morelands of the world to deliver until the mainstays find their form. It's a role he has filled before -- he slammed eight homers last April when the Red Sox were otherwise scuffling -- but his production is usually curtailed by injuries.

Manager Ron Roenicke acknowledged recently that Moreland's legs had been bothering him, which partially explains why he has only started eight of the team's 15 games. The Red Sox have used him in a platoon, mostly with the right-handed Michael Chavis, to ease the wear and tear.

"Obviously I've always had to fight some nagging stuff here and there," he said. "Would I like it differently? Yes, I would love to feel great every day. At times, the legs are a little heavy and I have to grind it out. (Roenicke's) done a great job communicating with me and we're a good team.

"We're solid all the way through, so different guys can get in there and pick up the team, too, and we have to realize that it's going to take everybody to get us to where we need to be."

If the Red Sox hope to reach the playoffs, then the big guns need to start doing their part. In the meantime, Moreland will help keep their head above water.

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Highlights: Sox win 5-3 on Mitch Moreland's walk-off

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays Highlights: Sox win 5-3 on Mitch Moreland's walk-off

FINAL SCORE: Boston Red Sox 5, Toronto Blue Jays 3

IN BRIEF: Mitch Moreland stayed red-hot on Sunday, starting the Red Sox off with a solo home run then walking it off with a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth. Rafael Devers also notched a homer, and Nathan Eovaldi limited the Blue Jays to three runs in six innings while striking out 10.

BOX SCORE

RED SOX RECORD: 6-9

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HIGHLIGHTS

Moreland gets the party started

Biggio responds with solo shot

Vlad. Jr. drives one in

Bichette puts Jays ahead

Devers with the bat...

...and then with the bare hand

Mitchy walk-offs!

UP NEXT
vs. Rays, Monday, 7:30 p.m., NESN
vs. Rays, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., NESN
vs. Rays, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., NESN