The Alex Cora watch is officially underway.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers winning Game 6 over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday to take the World Series, Cora’s yearlong suspension for his participation in a sign-stealing scheme by the 2017 Astros has concluded. The former Red Sox manager, who’d been on MLB’s restricted list, is now able to interview with teams for the 2021 season and beyond.
The conclusion of Cora’s suspension comes at a time when the Red Sox are looking to fill the very managerial role he vacated nine months ago. Curiosity is running high in the industry — including in many corners of the Red Sox organization — about whether Cora and the Red Sox will pursue a reunion.
The Red Sox have already interviewed at least seven managerial candidates — none with major league managing experience. While many see Cora as a presumptive favorite to be rehired based on the strong relationships he has with many members of his former team, the Red Sox front office was meticulously noncommittal as to whether they will consider him as a candidate for his former position.
“I don’t want to get into the business of saying a lot of things about him that I haven’t had a chance to say to him,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said at the end of September. “So I don’t want to get into any more detail than that.”
Cora left the Red Sox organization Jan. 14 after MLB released its findings from an investigation into the illegal sign-stealing practices of the 2017 Astros. The report concluded that Cora, then Houston’s bench coach, played a central role in devising a plan to use a closed-circuit camera to steal signs and then bang a trash can from the clubhouse to convey pitch types to hitters.
While Cora wasn’t initially punished at the conclusion of that investigation — MLB was withholding his penalty until the completion of a separate investigation into sign-sequence stealing by the 2018 Red Sox — the Red Sox and Cora agreed to part ways amidst the exploding controversy.
“We all agreed that it was wrong and that we had a responsibility as stewards . . . to have a standard here where that sort of behavior is not acceptable,” Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said in January.
“I don’t know if you would call it a logical conclusion,” Red Sox principal owner (and Globe owner) John Henry said in the same news conference, “but . . . this was the right decision.”
In April, MLB concluded that the Red Sox had illegally used their video room to steal sign sequences in 2018 — a less elaborate scheme than the one used in Houston — but that Cora had been unaware of the behavior. With that conclusion, the league suspended Cora for the duration of the 2020 season — a judgment rendered solely for his role in the Astros' transgressions.
Even so, the Red Sox suggested both at the time of the news conference and subsequently in 2020 that Cora’s role in the rules violations by the Astros had been sufficient to produce the conclusion that he should leave the Red Sox rather than ride out the storm.
“At the time that we parted ways with Alex we were clear that that was a result of his role and what happened with the Astros and everything the investigation over there revealed. It had nothing to do with what may or may not have occurred in Boston,” Bloom said in April. “That’s still the case. All the reasons we parted ways then are still the case.”
Bloom and others in the organization repeated that line of thinking multiple times in 2020.
But the organization also repeatedly expressed its affinity for Cora and its view that he is an exceptional manager.
“We all have such respect for Alex,” Werner said in January. “He admitted that what he did was wrong, but that doesn’t mitigate in our opinion the extraordinary talent that he has. We continue to be very fond of Alex.”
Despite that fondness, questions loom. To what degree should Cora’s transgressions with the Astros affect his candidacy with the Red Sox? Does Bloom — who joined the Red Sox last October, and has never worked with Cora on a day-to-day basis during a season — see the former manager as the right fit? Would he rather the Red Sox move forward with a new hire? And does Cora want to return to the Red Sox, at a time when there are also managerial vacancies with the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers?
The questions have lingered for months. Now, with the World Series concluded and Cora’s suspension completed, it’s possible to start formulating answers.