Alex Cora back as manager of the Red Sox? Without ever missing a regular-season game?
It’s far-fetched, but it could happen.
If there’s no major league baseball season in 2020, Cora could wind up being manager of the Red Sox with zero interruption. Fired in January, Cora has yet to be suspended by Major League Baseball. His punishment for involvement with the Astros and Red Sox cheating investigations will be announced when MLB issues its findings of the Sox’ 2018 allegations. We learned this week that A. J. Hinch’s one-year ban will be served in 2020 even if there is no season. If it turns out that Cora is suspended for only one season — and a canceled 2020 season counts as time served — the Sox could reinstate Cora for 2021 as if nothing ever happened. This might not play well with Chaim Bloom, but Red Sox players, fans, and owner John Henry love Cora, and given how our world has changed in the last month, it’s hard to imagine much push-back if the Sox reinstated the wildly-popular Cora after a canceled season.
It’s only the beginning of Sox’ benefits if there is no baseball this year. The Globe’s Pete Abraham last week correctly noted, "as eager as we all are to see baseball, playing an abbreviated season could be an advantage to the Red Sox.’’ Shorter seasons generally produce random outcomes and that would certainly seem to help a Red Sox team bound for mediocrity at best.
It’s a given that nothing good comes with this global pandemic. The pain and suffering is inestimable. Here in the sports department, we know our place and are ever mindful of the triviality of the games and teams. We all want sports to resume as soon as possible and a shortened baseball season is better than no baseball. But given the uncertainty of a resumption timeline, I am making the case that competitively speaking — complete cancellation of their 2020 season would help the Red Sox more than most big league teams. Maybe more than any team.
Saying welcome back to Cora without interruption is only the beginning of ways in which no season would help the Sox.
▪ If there is no season the Red Sox will have acquired three players from the Dodgers — Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong — for a player who was never going to play another day for the Red Sox — Mookie Betts. The owners-players agreement struck after the pandemic shut down major league baseball stipulates that players will accrue service time this year, even if there’s no baseball. This means the Sox would have wasted a great asset if they hadn’t traded Betts when they did. No season in 2020 means Boston’s much-maligned salary dump deal would suddenly be brilliant and prescient.
▪ If there’s no season, the Sox will only wind up losing the services of Chris Sale for half of one season, instead of a season and a half. Sale had Tommy John surgery last week and is on the mend. The fewer games played while Sale is on the shelf, the better it is for the Red Sox.
▪ If there’s no season the Sox presumably will have a healthy Verdugo for 2021. The 23-year-old outfielder has been on the shelf for eight months with a stress fracture in his back and was unable to play in any spring games in 2020. He was set to start the season on the injured list. Verdugo projects to be Boston’s starting right fielder in 2021.
▪ If there’s no season, there will be no Bridge Year and the Sox will have time to assemble a real pitching staff and compete in 2021. If the 2020 season is canceled, the Sox would still have to remain under the luxury tax threshold to avoid penalties for 2021, but at least they would have time to build a team that can compete. Instead of the team we are looking at now.
Inadvertently, Boston’s buffoonery could become brilliance.
We want baseball. We miss baseball. But from a competitive standpoint, the unintended consequences of no baseball in 2020 seem to be most helpful to the Boston Red Sox.
Imagine Opening Day at Fenway a year from now. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss: Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.