Michael Chavis

Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox players react to Alex Cora's sudden departure

Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox players react to Alex Cora's sudden departure

The Boston Red Sox' front office didn't offer many straightforward answers about their decision to part ways with Alex Cora.

But how do their players feel about losing their manager after just two seasons?

While most have been quiet since the Red Sox split with Cora on Tuesday, pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez and catcher Christian Vazquez used Instagram to share their thoughts.

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Here's Rodriguez, who referred to Cora as a "brother" and a "friend" in an Instagram post Wednesday:

And here's Vazquez, who thanked Cora for aiding relief efforts in their native Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria:

Infielder Michael Chavis also became the first Red Sox player to address Cora's dismissal on the record at a Portland Sea Dogs event Wednesday night.

"I had a small time with Alex, but in that small period that we had together, I can't say enough about his character," Chavis said. "He's a very good dude. He did a lot to help me as a player, especially at second base.

"He was a phenomenal second baseman and shortstop, so he somewhat took me under his wing and went out of his way to make sure I was comfortable, so I'm very thankful for that."

There's an obvious theme here: Cora was very well-liked by his players. Cheating scandals aside -- MLB is still investigating Cora's role in Boston's 2018 sign-stealing operation -- the 44-year-old galvanized Boston's clubhouse after John Farrell's departure to help the team win a record 108 games in 2018.

Cora also put the Red Sox in a very difficult spot by leaving them without a manager less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. But you likely won't hear players say any negative words about their former manager.

New defensive stat could be a boost for Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers

New defensive stat could be a boost for Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers

The Red Sox have identified infield defense as a potential area of improvement in 2020, and the next-generation stats tend to agree.

What's surprising is the snapshot provided by the NEXT-next-generation stats, which were unveiled on Wednesday and actually paint a less dire picture, albeit still not exactly an inspiring one.

There's gonna be some math ahead, so bear with me.

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Publicly available defensive metrics remain well behind their offensive counterparts when it comes to reliability. Stats such as ultimate zone rating (UZR) and defensive runs saved (DRS) aren't as laser-precise as the Statcast tracking data used to determine, for instance, launch angle and exit velocity.

That's changing, however. For the past two seasons, Statcast has been able to track the routes outfielders take to fly balls, yielding a wealth of information, from jump to sprint speed to chase angles to distance covered.

The result is outs above average, which is exactly what it sounds like. Last year's leaders included Nationals centerfielder Victor Robles (plus-23), three-time Gold Glover Kevin Kiermaier (plus-17) of the Rays, and Brewers fence-scaler Lorenzo Cain (plus-14), but not, surprisingly, Gold Glover Mookie Betts (plus-7).

On Wednesday, Statcast unveiled infield outs above average, and the 2019 numbers challenge some assumptions we may hold about the Red Sox. (For a primer on the whole system, by the way, MLB.com has you covered.)

While the numbers don't portray Boston's infield defense as elite, they don't suggest it's terrible, either. The Red Sox ranked 16th in outs above average at plus-3. That pales in comparison to the league-leading Cardinals (plus-42) and Rockies (plus-33), but it's not nearly as bad as Boston's minus-43 defensive runs saved, which trailed only the Mariners in all of baseball.

The differences are particularly stark on the left side of the infield, where shortstop Xander Bogaerts ranked dead last in DRS (minus-21) and Rafael Devers found himself in the bottom 10 at minus-6.

By OAA, however, Bogaerts cost the team just three outs, while Devers actually checked in at plus-7, which better conveys how much he improved after an error-prone April. That put Bogaerts at 23rd out of 35 qualifying shortstops and it actually ranked Devers fourth among third basemen.

So why the difference, and which numbers should we believe? The Statcast leaderboards include more data, factoring in everything from defensive positioning at the point of impact, to the speed and angle of the ball off the bat, to the distance covered by the fielder, to the speed of the runner at the plate. They combine to produce an out probability. Convert a play that's only an out 10 percent of the time, and you'll gain .90 outs to your total. Screw up an in-between grounder deep in the hole, and you might lose half a point.

The numbers suggest that Bogaerts remains a step slow laterally (minus-2 outs to both his left and right), but that he makes the plays he gets to, as evidenced by an 87 percent success rate. Devers, meanwhile, recorded nine extra outs on balls to his left, which trailed only the Gold Glove-winning Nolan Arenado (plus-12) and tracks with the eye test — he's especially effective cutting across the diamond.

The numbers on second baseman Michael Chavis (plus-4) were actually encouraging, and the Red Sox should improve at that spot merely by not entrusting too many innings to Marco Hernandez (minus-2) or any at all to the departed Eduardo Nunez (minus-2).

It's important to note that teams have developed proprietary methods to interpret Statcast defensive data and they don't share their conclusions publicly. That said, the introduction of infield OAA to the mainstream should help refine the way we evaluate infield defense, and we'll see where the Red Sox fall in 2020.
 

MLB rumors: Winter meetings preview - Five Red Sox moves to watch as offseason begins in earnest

MLB rumors: Winter meetings preview - Five Red Sox moves to watch as offseason begins in earnest

The start of baseball's offseason has included some thank-the-lord movement, with a second-tier starter (Zack Wheeler) landing a $118 million deal from the Phillies and the hyperactive Rays dealing away a stalwart outfielder (Tommy Pham), much to the chagrin of ace Blake Snell.

With baseball's annual winter meetings beginning on Sunday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, all eyes will be on Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox, who have yet to make a major move, but will soon be on the clock.

So, what can we expect? Here are five areas of focus.

1. IS THERE A MOOKIE BETTS TRADE?

The Red Sox would be crazy not to consider deals for Betts if they believe he intends on reaching free agency, which he has made clear both publicly and privately over the last two years. They'd be crazier to give him away for nothing, however, and thus begins the dance of the offseason. The question they must answer is, "How much is too little?" and then draw a line in the warning-track sand. Potential trade partners like the White Sox and Braves have already spent aggressively, which means a Betts deal likely needs to happen sooner than later, since whomever acquires him must fit $28 million into their 2019 payroll and pretty soon that money will start disappearing. One team to watch: the Dodgers, who have money to spend, prospects to trade, and a World Series hill to climb after three straight near-misses.

2. DEALING DAVID PRICE

Chris Sale just started throwing, per WEEI.com, and his five-year, $145 million extension kicks in on Opening Day. Selling low on the potentially dominant left-hander is a recipe for regret, especially since his contract could end up being pretty reasonable if he returns to health. The better trade candidate is Price, who turns 35 in August and has three years and $96 million remaining on a contract that's more likely to provide diminishing returns, but paradoxically includes fewer short-term questions. We laid out the case for Price being an actual trade asset on Thursday; as free agent pitchers leave the market, someone will be left short, and maybe Price becomes a target.

3. FINDING A STARTER (OR TWO)

Trading Price may ease the financial crunch on a team hoping to drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold, but it will blow another hole in a rotation that's already down one starter with the presumed departure of free agent Rick Porcello. The Red Sox obviously won't be in on Astros ace Gerrit Cole or Nationals World Series hero Stephen Strasburg. They also can't afford Madison Bumgarner or maybe even old friend Wade Miley. Will they go the opener route? Take a flier on a reclamation project like Felix Hernandez or Michael Wacha? Try to turn center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. into a starter? Here's where Bloom's creativity will be put to the test.

4. SURPRISE US

Until he starts dealing, Bloom remains an enigma. He's beholden to no one on the roster, a position which allowed predecessor Dave Dombrowski to cut ties with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez while they were still owed money. Could Bloom decide a roster overhaul is in order and use a supposed foundational piece like All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts or outfielder Andrew Benintendi to swing a larger deal? We may start to get some clarity on his thoughts next week.

5. RIGHT SIDE OF THE INFIELD

At this time last year, the Red Sox were foolishly counting on 125 games out of second baseman Dustin Pedroia (he played six) and 162 out of a first base platoon of Mitch Moreland (91) and Steve Pearce (29). While some portion of either job could go to second-year slugger Michael Chavis, the Red Sox will be in the market for help at first and second, and this is a spot where Bloom helped unearth some legit finds in Tampa, from Carlos Pena to Logan Morrison to Ji-Man Choi. There should be no shortage of affordable options at first, in particular, from Justin Smoak to Travis Shaw to C.J. Cron.

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