Red Sox

Why Red Sox should re-hire Alex Cora to be manager for 2021 season

Why Red Sox should re-hire Alex Cora to be manager for 2021 season

I knew it when I was 10 years old: I wanted to be a sportswriter.

I didn’t have the skills to play for a pro sports team nor the desire to be employed by one. Nope. I wanted to explore and interview and debate and write. In my entire career, it’s never crossed my mind to do work for a sports franchise.

Well, until now.

The only thing I’m wrestling with is whether I should bill the Red Sox for this.

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The Sox have such an easy opportunity for good PR that somebody has to say it: no matter what happens in 2020, Alex Cora should be their manager in 2021.

The 2017 decision to hire Cora, who had no managerial experience at the time, didn’t qualify as a no-brainer. But bringing him back next year does.

Why? Because Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball quietly opened a door for that possibility two weeks ago.

Don’t be too hard on yourself for missing all the details of it. Commissioner Manfred and MLB slid away from your DMs on April 22nd.  They sandwiched their breaking news between a Rob Gronkowski trade and the first day of what turned out to be a record-setting TV audience for the NFL Draft. In the publicity matchup of NFL vs. Anything, Anything usually loses.

So let’s do a speed review of baseball’s investigative findings of the Sox and their 2018 sign-stealing: Cora, his staff, and most of his players had no idea that there was, as Jimy Williams used to say, a problem in Boston. According to MLB, the major issue was in the video replay room with an operator named J.T. Watkins — but only in the regular season.

Investigators reported that Watkins used illegal video feeds to pick up signs and then relayed that information to players. There was no evidence of ownership awareness or the utilization of the feed during the run to the World Series.

Manfred took a second-round draft pick from the Sox, banished Watkins from the replay room, and emphasized that Cora’s 2020 suspension is for his actions with the ’17 Houston Astros, not the ’18 Sox. 

That was it.

There were no multimillion-dollar fines. No scorching words for ownership. No special note from the commissioner about baseball operations being a “very problematic’’ department, possessing an “insular culture” and having a “staff of individuals who often lacked direction’’ (all quotes from Manfred’s Astros report). No anger from the L.A. Dodgers about having their rings stolen by cheaters. No righteous rage from the baseball media.

Roger Goodell, conducting the virtual draft from his basement, probably heard about the punishment and its muted reaction and wondered, “Haven’t I taught Manfred anything about how to really make a New England team suffer? I should introduce him to Ted Wells…”

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But seriously. If an actual Sox employee had told John Henry in January that the team’s penalties would play out so lightly, the owner might have considered it wishful thinking. At the very least, he would have paused before firing the manager.

Now that all the damage has been assessed and we all have distance — from the scandal, the sport, and each other — the Sox’ statement on Cora sounds overly dramatic. At the time, the Sox said that they couldn’t move forward with Cora given the commissioner’s Astros findings. That all sounded fine in the moment. Then speculation was crushed by a pandemic and facts.

Baseball was expected to start in March and it didn’t. The Red Sox, according to the baseball insiders, were going to get Manfred’s hammer, just like the Astros did; they didn’t. And Cora was supposedly facing the biggest penalty of all, for his cheating involvement in two cities. That didn’t happen, either.

What did happen is a season-long punishment for Cora, based on his actions three years ago in Houston.

To be fair, urgency was required when the Sox made their decision to move on from the manager. If this were a normal season, Manfred’s April 22nd announcement would have happened before a Sox-Blue Jays game at Fenway, the 26th game of the season. Can you imagine the circus of all that, and spring training, with Cora still sitting in the dugout?

Now that there’s actually time to think, the Sox should look inward and answer a few questions.

Do they believe that Cora is permanently toxic due to his dirty work with the Astros? Or is it less personal than that and they don’t want to be associated with anyone who oversaw, created, concealed or performed the elaborate stealing scheme? If the latter is true, that not only would eliminate Cora from returning, but it would mean the Sox wouldn’t be interested in upcoming free agents like George Springer and Carlos Correa.

It obviously shouldn’t come to that. Cora was a great manager here. His passion, knowledge and likability energized the entire organization. He struck the perfect tone in trivial situations, like the time he admitted that a game sped up on him and he screwed it up. He was also eloquent when things got serious, like when he described why it was important for him to bring smiles and resources to Puerto Rico following its devastation from Hurricane Maria.

Manfred said Cora cheated in Houston and didn’t do it in Boston. After Cora emerges from his exile, which version of him do you think we’ll see, the one from Houston or Boston? He has to know that even the appearance of getting too close to the line will keep him out of baseball forever.

The biggest question for the Sox, though, is one they struggled with in January. At their “Cora Dismissal” press conference, they were asked if Cora deserves to manage again. They went corporate limp in a hurry, staring, hemming, and word circling into a non-answer.

What they could have said then is that we all have to deal with the consequences of our mistakes, but that we are also redeemable. They could have said that Cora guided an old franchise to new heights, and that his ability to thrive in Boston is an indication that he can handle any market in the majors. They could have said, and should say this:

Yes, Alex Cora deserves to manage again. He’d be a great fit with the Red Sox.

Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

When it comes to Red Sox prospects, there's a new No. 1 in town, and considering how he was acquired, that's probably a good thing.

Middle infielder Jeter Downs is now Boston's No. 1 prospect, according to rankings released by MLB.com on Tuesday. He displaces former No. 1 pick Triston Casas, a power-hitting first baseman who dropped to second.

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Downs and Casas are the only two Red Sox prospects who cracked MLB Pipeline's overall top 100, checking in at 48th and 83rd, respectively.

Downs wasn't even a member of the organization until February, when he arrived from the Dodgers in the reworked Mookie Betts trade. While outfielder Alex Verdugo was considered the centerpiece of that deal from a big league readiness perspective, Downs is exactly the kind of player the Red Sox hope to stock their farm system with in the coming years.

He broke out during his age-20 season in 2019, smashing 24 homers, stealing 24 bases, and ending the year in Double A. He just turned 22 and is considered a future big league second baseman, though he has played nearly 200 games in the minors at short.

Casas, meanwhile, possesses impressive power of his own, with 20 homers in the minors as a teenager. Still only 20, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder may not even be done growing, which makes him a potential power-hitting behemoth.

The rest of the top 10 shows a farm system in transition, and one that MLB ranked 26th in baseball. First baseman Bobby Dalbec is the No. 3 prospect, followed by right-hander Bryan Mata, outfielder Gilberto Jimenez, right-hander and Navy airman Noah Song, returning left-hander Jay Groome, outfielder Jarren Duran, and righthanders Thad Ward and Tanner Houck.

Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

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Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

Here at NBC Sports Boston, we like to run a segment on "Early Edition" and "Boston Sports Tonight" called "Buy or Sell," and from Chaim Bloom's perspective, the answer seems obvious — sell anything that isn't nailed down.

Except it's not that simple. Bloom's last-place Red Sox happen to reside in a flawed American League. If the season ended today, the Baltimore Orioles would claim the eighth and final playoff spot. The Orioles, in case you've forgotten, are terrible.

That's the sign of a garbage playoff system, but this is a garbage season. And before the Red Sox start filling any dumpsters, perhaps they should explore one.

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Huh? Hear me out.

The obvious course of action would be to strip the roster, and by the Aug. 31 deadline, that may be the only path available. But even after Monday night's 8-7 loss to the Rays, the 6-10 Red Sox are belatedly showing signs of life, and here's what I'd like to see before depressing the plunger: just one more stinking starter.

Maybe it's a prospect like Bryan Mata, even though the Red Sox have shown no inclination to promote one of their unproven minor leaguers. Maybe it's fireballing left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, who's being stretched out to open as he returns from a bout with COVID-19. Maybe it's another organization's castoff, though the Red Sox recently passed on former Braves All-Star Mike Foltynewicz.

With three weeks until the Aug. 31 trade deadline, the Red Sox trail the second-place Rays by 2.5 games. They're not going to pass anybody in the standings if they keep trotting out two openers every five days, three if you count right-hander Ryan Weber. Their bullpen simply can't handle it. They've used at least five pitchers 10 times in 16 games, and they've burned through 24 arms in their last four games alone.

That's how someone like Jeffrey Springs ends up pitching an inning that matters despite an ERA north of 13.00, as was the case on Monday, when he allowed the go-ahead runs in the seventh inning of a game he had no business being near, except manager Ron Roenicke couldn't risk running Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes into the ground.

If Bloom could find just one arm, we'd have a couple of weeks to see if the Red Sox can escape the basement. Thanks to an expanded playoff field, the top two teams in each division will advance, and when you're chasing the Orioles, let's just say you should like your chances.

As it is, it's not like a fire sale would net much in return. While the market for prospective free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. or struggling outfielder Andrew Benintendi is negligible, the Red Sox should be able at least to drum up interest in DH J.D. Martinez and closer Brandon Workman.

Martinez is a legitimate opt-out candidate this fall, provided he builds on Monday's three-hit performance, which included his first home run of 2020. Workman is a pending free agent, and a rebuilding club like the Red Sox has more pressing needs than a 32-year-old closer.

The problem is reading the market. While this season will technically end with someone hoisting a trophy, teams may not be willing to part with pieces of their future when contenders like the Cardinals have only played five games in three weeks because of outbreaks. There also may be hesitation to take on future salary when the economic landscape of 2021 remains so uncertain.

And so if you're Bloom and the return is going to be depressed, why not give this team a chance? Maybe Martinez finds his swing. Maybe Rafael Devers overcomes a foot injury and does the same. Maybe another pitcher eliminates an opener from the weekly probables.

There's value in fighting to make the playoffs, and as long as it doesn't harm the future, why not try?