Red Sox

There's only one way Astros sign-stealing story blows back on Red Sox, and we're not there yet

There's only one way Astros sign-stealing story blows back on Red Sox, and we're not there yet

Let's say for the sake of argument that Alex Cora played the role of lead drummer when the 2017 Astros were stealing signs like a merry band of trash-can pounding subway buskers.

So what?

That's an institutional crime and Houston should pay the price, not a former bench coach. Think of it like Deflategate. The Patriots deserved their punishment, but taking Tom Brady within a whisker of the Supreme Court was overkill.

Here's where things get dicey. What if Cora imported some of Houston's less savory tactics to Boston, a team that has already been censured by MLB — under former manager John Farrell, to be fair — for using Apple watches to help steal signs in 2017?

Because Cora and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson were both members of that compromised Astros staff, and because the arms race to gain even a tiny edge can very easily blur the line between gamesmanship and fraud, the only way this story truly becomes relevant to the Red Sox is if an MLB investigation reveals that Boston has enacted some of Houston's worst practices over the last two seasons.

There's no evidence that the Red Sox have deployed technology with similar nefariousness, and the numbers under Cora don't reveal any wild home-road splits. Since 2013, for instance, the Red Sox have outperformed their road OPS at Fenway Park by anywhere from 3.34 percent (2014) to 17.65 percent (2015). Cora's two Red Sox clubs fall in the middle of that range — 9.66 percent in 2018 and 7.33 percent last year.

In conversations with multiple executives at this week's GM meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., one theme emerged consistently — the Astros don't consider their actions cheating, because they believe they live in a world where Everybody is Doing It, and if they happen to be better at finding those edges at the margins, that's not their problem. Don't hate 'em 'cuz you ain't 'em, so to speak.

This issue has burst into the public eye because The Athletic has broken a series of stories about the Astros stealing signs. Former Astros reporter Evan Drellich and national writer Ken Rosenthal first reported that the Astros stole signs in 2017 by positioning a center field camera on the opposing catcher, connecting it to a monitor outside the dugout, and banging on a trash can in real time to warn the hitter when a breaking ball was coming.

The Athletic followed up on Wednesday night with a report that Cora and Mets manager Carlos Beltran — Houston's DH in 2017 — will also be summoned as part of MLB's investigation. ESPN added that the league has already spoken to Bjornson, who served as Houston's bullpen coach in 2017.

While the involvement of Cora and Bjornson makes this tangentially a Red Sox story, for the time being it's just an Astros story. That will change if MLB determines the ex-Astros didn't want to fall behind their former team in the information race after they arrived in Boston, but so far there's no indication that they're under suspicion.

Making all of this murkier is Cora's well-earned reputation for sign stealing and pitch tipping. He was considered one of the best in the game at these very particular skills as a player, and he hasn't lost his touch as a manager. Of course, there's a big difference between noting glove placement on a fastball and cracking opposing signals on a high def monitor over the toilet next to the dugout.

So let the Astros take the heat on this one, at least for now. If something changes, we can reconvene.

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In appreciation of Brock Holt, whose job with Red Sox might be gone, but whose legacy is secure

In appreciation of Brock Holt, whose job with Red Sox might be gone, but whose legacy is secure

The transactions came in quick succession as the winter meetings wrapped on Thursday in San Diego. First, the Red Sox selected infielder Jonathan Arauz from the Astros in the Rule 5 draft. A couple of hours later, they inked infielder Jose Peraza to a one-year, $3 million deal.

Both are utility infielders, and their arrivals increase the likelihood that we'll be saying goodbye to Brock Holt this winter. 

From a bottom-line perspective, it's hard to argue. Holt turns 32 in June, has battled injuries the past four years and should make more than $3 million annually on a multi-year deal. The Red Sox need to get younger and cheaper, and that includes the bench.

If this is it, though, Holt deserves more of a sendoff than a line in the transaction wire, because his impact on the field, in the clubhouse, and especially in the community far outstripped his modest 5-foot-10 frame.

From high school (where he barely broke 100 pounds as a freshman) to junior college to Rice University to the major leagues, Holt beat long odds each step of the way. That a throw-in acquired with Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan before the 2013 season could earn Rookie of the Year votes and then make an All-Star team defied reason. That the same player would hit for the cycle not once, but twice -- including in the postseason -- while winning two World Series and becoming a gritty heart-and-soul fan favorite, let's just say guys hit that lottery maybe once in a generation.

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"I know and I've kind of gotten a taste of it coming here that certain players just really seem to bond with the fan base," said new baseball boss Chaim Bloom. "He's certainly been one of those. That's not something that's lost on any of us."

Holt brought a fun-loving energy to a clubhouse that needed it in good times and bad. Boston can be a meat grinder even when things are going well, and supporting players who take the edge off are essential. Kevin Millar mastered that role in 2004, while Jonny Gomes followed suit in 2013. That was Holt's job, too, whether he was serving as Andrew Benintendi's All-Star publicist, re-christening the 10th month on the calendar as Brocktober, or wearing a Cobra Kai-inspired headband around the locker room that others soon copied.

Holt had a knack for cracking up his teammates. After Mitch Moreland's three-run homer delivered the team its first win of 2019 in Seattle, Holt sauntered past Moreland in the clubhouse with an ice cream cone, gave it a lick, and said, "Hey Mitch, my mom says, 'Way to go,'" and then just walked out. (His mom later confirmed this account on Twitter).

He famously asked a shorts-wearing Bill Belichick if he was, "going to put some pants on," before facing the Packers on a cold October night in 2018 when the Red Sox were honored by the Patriots as World Series champions.

The night he completed the first cycle in postseason history with a ninth-inning home run to complete a rout of the Yankees, the megawatt smile on Holt's face as he rounded third and returned to the dugout could've powered the sun.

Holt's joyful persona extended to his toddler son, Griff, a glasses-clad Instagram star who developed a cult following for giggling while raiding a box of Life Cereal in the pantry, or pointing at a billboard of David Ortiz and exclaiming, "Big Papi!" or hitting what he called, "Big bomb!" with an oversized whiffle ball bat.

Holt's many viral moments with his son became all the more poignant when viewed through the lens of his tireless devotion to children's causes. He's a four-time Roberto Clemente Award nominee for community service, and he routinely leads the Red Sox in charitable appearances. He served as Jimmy Fund captain for the past five years, and his Brock Stars ticket program brought a Jimmy Fund patient to every Tuesday home game for batting practice. Director of community relations Sarah Narracci has long referred to Holt as her "go-to guy" who never says no.

"He has a great heart," manager Alex Cora said when Holt was nominated for this year's Clemente award, and if this is indeed the end of Holt's Red Sox career, he'll leave an outsized legacy that "5-10, 180" doesn't begin to capture.

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MLB Rumors: These six teams pursued Martin Perez before Red Sox landed him

MLB Rumors: These six teams pursued Martin Perez before Red Sox landed him

Martin Perez is no Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. But the veteran left-hander reportedly drew a good amount of interest in free agency before the Boston Red Sox scooped him up.

A "handful" of MLB teams, including the American League East foe Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays, pursued Perez before the Red Sox agreed to terms with him Thursday night, MassLive's Chris Cotillo reported.

Perez's surface-level stats aren't very inspiring: The 28-year-old posted a 5.12 ERA with the Minnesota Twins last season after the worst campaign of his career with the Texas Rangers in 2018 (6.22 ERA, 1.78 WHIP).

But what Perez does provide is durability: He's appeared in at least 32 games in three of the last four seasons, topping 165 innings in each of those campaigns.

Durable left-handers aren't a dime a dozen in MLB, which explains why Perez drew interest from several clubs looking to fill out their rotations entering 2020.

The Venezuela native should be a rotation-filler in Boston, projecting as Boston's fifth starter behind Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi with Rick Porcello leaving to join the New York Mets in free agency.

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