The first time the Red Sox hired Alex Cora, it was because they believed he could get the most out of young players. One World Series title later, they were proven right.
The second time the Red Sox hired Alex Cora, it was because a number of those players could again use his guidance. The news that Cora would return to the Red Sox dugout after a one-year suspension was greeted with enthusiasm by fans, but the real excitement is reserved for the clubhouse, where Cora was extremely popular.
Which players will benefit most from his return? Here are three:
1. Rafael Devers
No player pined more openly for his former skipper than Devers, who blossomed into an offensive force under Cora's tutelage in 2019. Devers backslid a bit in 2020, especially defensively, but he remains an essential building block who will make his first All-Star team next season if he just plays to his potential.
Devers has referred to Cora as a father figure, and sometimes a father's job is to deliver tough love. Devers's conditioning isn't always top-notch, he suffered too many lapses in the field last season, and he can lose his approach at the plate by thinking he's Vladimir Guerrero, Sr. and hacking indiscriminately.
Cora should be able to help Devers navigate all three potential minefields. Given the slugger's importance to the roster, Cora could justify his return on Devers alone.
2. Xander Bogaerts
There's a theory floating around that the Red Sox rehired Cora in part because they believe it increases their chances to keep Bogaerts in a Red Sox uniform when his opt-out arrives after the 2022 season.
There's no question Bogaerts wanted Cora back. The two stayed in contact all season and like Devers, Bogaerts did not hide his wishes that Cora would reclaim his old job.
Bogaerts signed a team-friendly extension for six years and $120 million last April, and Cora's presence played a significant role in his comfort level with Boston. Bogaerts then delivered the kind of season you usually see out of someone who hasn't yet gotten paid, batting .309 with a career-high 33 homers and 117 RBIs, finishing fifth in the MVP voting, and earning a starting nod on the inaugural all-MLB team.
This is now Bogaerts' team, and if Cora's return makes him happy, that's a good place for the Red Sox to be.
3. Eduardo Rodriguez
E-Rod's case is slightly different, because he's currently recovering from heart-related complications following a bout with COVID. His primary concern at the moment is his long-term health.
That said, the Red Sox expect that he'll make a complete recovery, and if he does, no pitcher will benefit more from having Cora in his corner. Rodriguez's talent has never been a question, from winning 10 games at age 22 in 2015 to that 19-win breakout season in 2019.
Cora has never been afraid to ride Rodriguez, who benefits from a firm hand. Cora cured Rodriguez of his frustrating propensity to nibble, especially when ahead in the count, and he also did wonders for the left-hander's confidence.
His decision to stick with E-Rod with two outs and two on in the sixth inning of Game 4 of the 2018 World Series ended up backfiring when Yasiel Puig took him deep for a three-run homer, but the confidence Cora showed in his starter carried over to 2019.
Above all else, the Red Sox must be assured that Rodriguez is healthy. Once that happens, Cora is the right man to get the most out of him.