The Red Sox sprinted to the moral high ground on Wednesday, saying they moved on from manager Alex Cora in January based on his actions with the Houston Astros in 2017 and that nothing had changed.
“All the reasons that we parted ways with him there are still the case,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said when asked if Cora could return to the organization.
Team president Sam Kennedy stuck to the same script.
“It was a mutual parting of the ways … we all have great admiration and respect for Alex. But he had come to the conclusion, as did we, that we needed to part ways given the conduct in Houston and nothing’s changed on that front,” he said.
Let’s see what they say six months from now.
Major League Baseball’s investigation into the 2018 Sox fully exonerated Cora, detailing that he had no role in what was apparently occasional use of live video to steal signs during the regular season.
The league used circumstantial evidence to pin it on J.T. Watkins, a low-level coaching staff assistant who denied the charges. But MLB needed somebody’s head on a plate to justify an investigation that stretched over three months and settled on Watkins.
For his actions when he was bench coach of the Astros, Cora was suspended through the end of this season, a punishment that will be served whether any games are played or not. Come the end of the World Series, he’ll be a free agent.
Cora deserved the suspension. The Astros cheated their way to a championship in ’17, Cora and Carlos Beltran engineering a sign-stealing scheme that included Cora asking a team staffer to connect an outfield camera feed to a monitor behind the home dugout to make the process more efficient.
Had Cora done something similar with the Red Sox, he could have been looking at two years if not more.
But he didn’t. Commissioner Rob Manfred made it clear that Cora was not involved. The report actually credits him for informing the coaching staff about the rules as they pertained to the use of video.
Outside of Watkins, the Red Sox came away clean. Not one player is mentioned in the report and the only punishment given the team was the loss of a second-round draft pick.
That’s significant, especially with the draft possibly limited to five round this season. But it’s a speeding ticket compared with how the Astros were thrown in jail by the commissioner.
Cora could return to ESPN, which traditionally has provided a safe haven for prominent managers after they have been fired. Another option would be joining an organization in a front office capacity. That would keep him off the field and out of the spotlight until something else comes along.
“He does need to go through a rehabilitation process. What he did was wrong,” Kennedy said. “He’s acknowledged that to us and apologized to us for that. But I’m a big believer in second chances. We all wish him well.”
With the investigation complete, the Sox removed the “interim” from manager Ron Roenicke’s title. But Bloom confirmed that Roenicke is on a one-year contract.
Roenicke was a wise choice to replace Cora given the need for stability at the time. But he turns 64 in August and Bloom is sure to want a younger, more analytically inclined manager to guide his team over the long term.
Instead of somebody like Cora, why not hire Cora? Don’t forget, when he was let go in January, Sox ownership went on at length about how much they hated to do it.
“We have enormous respect for Alex. He’s a good friend,” chairman Tom Werner reiterated on Wednesday. “I’m glad his tenure with the Red Sox was not colored by the report.”
Cora was unquestionably among those responsible for what happened in Houston. But he was a first-year bench coach. Manager A.J. Hinch let it slide and soulless general manager Jeff Luhnow built an organization where ethics were optional. They were both suspended and subsequently fired
Kennedy spoke of rehabilitation. But it’s more of a restoration that’s in order and that can be accomplished quickly if done right.
It started Wednesday night when Cora issued a statement accepting responsibility for his actions and thanking the Red Sox for their support. That there was no apology was a misstep, one he should correct.
Comeback stories are possible for almost anybody. Alex Rodriguez was universally loathed by the end of the 2014 season and was a television darling by ’16.
Cora managed what was arguably the best team in Red Sox history in 2018. He and Bloom would be a formidable duo for years to come.
The Red Sox should ignore any concern about bad optics and hire somebody they know can succeed in Boston. In a post-pandemic world, any hot-take artist carrying on about stealing signs in 2017 will look foolish.
Then there’s this: A right fielder named Mookie Betts will be a free agent after this season regardless of how many games are played. Who better to recruit him back to Fenway Park?