With the Red Sox managerial search in its late stages, the simplest way to distill it is to present a simple either/or: Will they rehire Alex Cora or not?
While that isn’t an unreasonable prism through which to view the process, it does a disservice to what those familiar with the search (inside and outside the organization) characterize as a tremendously impressive candidate pool.
In addition to Cora, there are four other candidates who had at least a second interview: Marlins bench coach James Rowson, Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza, Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, and Phillies integrative baseball performance director Sam Fuld. Here’s a brief look at each:
Marlins bench coach/offensive coordinator
Rowson, 44, has spent 19 years coaching in the minors and majors for the Angels, Yankees, Cubs, Twins, and Marlins following a three-year minor league playing career in the 1990s. Despite considerable strengths as a coach and leader, he rarely received mention as a manager, likely a reflection of how rarely a hitting coach finds his way onto another coaching/managerial track, as well as Rowson’s lack of self-promotion.
“I’ve known James for a long time — from lunches, BS-ing, getting together in the offseason," said Yankees vice president Damon Oppenheimer. "I never even had any clue that he wanted to manage.
“I think he’s definitely capable of [managing]. He has leadership skills. He had a real good feel for how to talk to players, talk to other members of a staff, and just be professional. I didn’t see it coming, but I can see him having the strength and being able to do it.”
That notion has gained credence in recent years. As the Twins hitting coach from 2017-19, Rowson drew raves for his ability to take modern swing concepts and individualize them to the strengths of hitters, helping the team set a major league record for homers in 2019.
Yet beyond his intelligence, communication skills, and knowledge of the swing and hitting, Rowson also helped Minnesota build an identity through its “Bomba Squad.”
“That felt like something that would happen under James Rowson," said a major league source. "He cares about culture. He cares about identity.
"He’s just this dynamic person. Calling him a hitting coach feels so limiting.”
The Marlins, who have several executives with a long history with Rowson from his Yankee days, felt he was ready for an expanded profile, tapping him as a bench coach and their offensive coordinator in 2020.
In that role, Rowson was praised for his ability to take player-development concepts from his minor league background and apply them in the big leagues. For instance, he used individualized workouts and instruction for players during summer training rather than a more traditional approach where they perform the same drills in groups.
Even as a hitting coach, Rowson built relationships with pitchers and other staff members. In 2020, his first as a bench coach, he was part of the running dialogue about game management.
“Obviously the results [in Miami] were good,” said Oppenheimer, “and he had something to do with that.”
Yankees bench coach
Mendoza, 40, played in the minors for 13 years before spending the last 12 seasons as a coach and manager in the Yankees organization, first in the minors (2009-17) and more recently on the big league staff (2018-20).
He has been part of the Yankees as they transformed into an organization that heavily employs analytics, getting credit for making that process comfortable for players.
“The thing I’ve noticed with Carlos that’s really special, he gets the respect of the player," said Oppenheimer. "He gets the respect of the clubhouse. He gets the respect of people in the organization — scouts and other coaches.
"He was always able to connect with the analytical side and use that to help the player perform at the best level he could while understanding that the player is actually a human being and things affect him.
"The player is not just a chess piece that you give a number to and he makes this move every time no matter what the pressure is. The player has a heartbeat. That’s one of the big things that Carlos, to me, seemed to understand. He got both of these things.”
Mendoza is credited with playing a role in the development of Gleyber Torres into a two-time All-Star, a sign of his ability to aid player development at the big league level.
In his work as both a quality-control and infield coach in 2018-19 and bench coach in 2020, Mendoza spent plenty of time working with front-office analysts and staff members and dealing with in-game decisions in real time.
Pirates bench coach
In 2016, Kelly’s 16-year playing career — which included parts of nine seasons in the majors — wound down as he shuttled between Triple A and the Marlins. The Triple A setup in New Orleans wasn’t glamorous.
“It’s 1,000 degrees, humid, even when you get there out of spring training," said former Red Sox coach Arnie Beyeler, the manager in New Orleans that year. "We’ve got 100 people in the stands every night. Tough place to play. Trying to keep that come-to-the-ballpark culture there was a challenge for everybody.”
But Beyeler had an ally in Kelly, who regularly checked in to see if there were messages he could help deliver to the players, and who likewise was able to relay player grievances to the manager.
“He was always a guy, you talk about those leaders, someone I could go to and say, ‘Hey Donny, can you talk to this guy? Can you clean this up and get guys out here?’ ” recalled Beyeler, now a minor league manager in the Tigers system. “He would handle it.”
Kelly spent time talking to Beyeler about game situations, just as he had at the start of his career when playing for Jim Leyland. But while Kelly has always had a great feel for players and the view of the game from the dugout, he also recognized before he started his coaching career that he wanted to develop his relationships with other parts of organizations.
Thus, after his playing career, he spent two years with the Tigers as a scout before joining the Astros in 2019 as a first-base coach. Last winter, at Leyland’s recommendation, he was hired as the Pirates bench coach under first-year manager Derek Shelton.
In those stops, Kelly, 40, got high marks for his intelligence, curiosity, and ability to relate to everyone.
“He reminds me a lot of [Diamondbacks manager and former Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo]," said Beyeler. "He’s everybody’s buddy. He’s kind of like the mayor.
"He’s a good learner, smart guy, he was everybody’s favorite teammate everywhere he was at as a player.
"He’s going to be successful. He’s a good listener. He’s learned from a ton of people, bounced all over the place. He’s got a ton of experience.”
Phillies integrative performance director
Fuld, 38, spent parts of eight seasons in the big leagues as a valued role player, including three with Tampa Bay, where he played under then-Rays executive and current Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.
“He and Chaim were pretty tight,” said a major league source. “Who knows what that means, though?”
Since he retired, the Durham, N.H., native, who attended Exeter and then Stanford before pursuing his pro baseball career, has been viewed as a top managerial prospect —though he likewise has been regarded as a potential standout as a front-office member should he prefer that route.
Initially, he chose to straddle the line, beginning his post-playing career as the Phillies integrative performance director, a role in which he could help translate data-driven concepts in a way that players would welcome.
While the position didn’t give Fuld dugout experience, it did allow him to see the game from the perspective of players, the coaching staff, and the front office. His ability to navigate relationships with all of those groups — and to bridge both traditional and analytical views of the game — is a considerable asset.
One former teammate described Fuld as a “smart, personable, deep thinker who also possesses a ton of feel and ability to connect with human beings. He’s a huge candidate to be a … very good manager.”
That said, dugout experience — and a lack of familiarity with the accountability and potential blowback faced by managers over their decisions — represents an obvious gap on Fuld’s résumé, much as it did on Cora’s before he became a bench coach with Houston in 2017. One major league source wondered whether Fuld would find it “jarring” to be thrown into the Boston managerial crucible without an intermediate step.
Nonetheless, those who know Fuld believe he’d learn and adapt through early growing pains.