Strip away everything else — public perception, internal politics, the inevitable moral preening to come — and the only question the Red Sox had to answer was who best fits their team as manager moving forward.
That was Alex Cora.
The Sox are a rebuilding team with a core group of talented players, some intriguing prospects on the horizon, and money to spend in free agency.
They’ll need creative solutions for their pitching issues and a way to reignite Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez after poor seasons while working in more of the young players over time.
The challenge will be to focus on what they can accomplish with who they have, not what they have lost with the departure of Mookie Betts. There are fans to win back and minds to change about what direction the organization is headed.
The Sox need energy and leadership in the dugout and those are the primary qualities Cora brings to the job.
Via a press release, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said he went through a rigorous process to arrive at this decision and that Cora convinced him of his worthiness.
But once MLB absolved Cora of any wrongdoing with the Red Sox in 2018, it seemed inevitable.
That the news dropped Friday morning just as Joe Biden took a lead in Georgia and Pennsylvania in the presidential election showed the Sox are still treading lightly with how this will be perceived.
But they should stand up and own it. Boston is a difficult market to find a good fit as manager and it would have been foolish to let Cora land with another team for the sake of propriety.
His sins in Houston were forgivable, especially when taken in context of how morally bankrupt that organization was before he got there and after he left.
The focus now for the Red Sox should be on baseball and how best to build a competitive team as quickly as possible.
It starts from within. Cora was instrumental in helping turn Devers into a player who received MVP votes in 2019 after he led the majors with 359 total bases.
Devers also made strides defensively to a point where he was at least average at third base. There was across-the-board regression last season that has to be addressed.
A 24-year-old power hitter has far more value at third base than he does at first. The sooner Cora can address this the better.
Benintendi also needs work after what has been a two-season slide and a loss of confidence. He was one of the best players on the championship team of 2018 and has hit .255 with a .751 OPS since.
Martinez seemed disinterested last season, or at best out of sorts in the pandemic environment. He’s 33 and has two years and $38.7 million remaining on his contract. It’s imperative to get him back in a flow so that money isn’t wasted.
Eduardo Rodriguez, who flourished under Cora, missed last season recovering from COVID-19. He has resumed a throwing program but it’s unsure how many innings he’ll be able to throw in 2021.
The same is true for Chris Sale as he comes off Tommy John surgery and Darwinzon Hernandez as he returns from a virus-shortened season.
The Sox will have to be nimble in how they control their innings and manage their returns. That will require trust in the manager, something already established with Cora.
Alex Verdugo’s talent and gusto could make him a star. But how he handles the expectations, especially once fans are allowed back into Fenway Park, is something Cora can help guide.
In Bobby Dalbec, Tanner Houck, and Yairo Munoz, the Sox have young players who contributed last season and should have significant roles.
The Sox, finally, have a group of legitimate prospects who are closer to the majors than rookie ball. Cora’s ability to connect with young players should serve the Sox well as those players emerge.
Cora can have an impact on free agency, too. Whatever misgivings some fans may have about his return, players want a manager who will communicate his expectations and help create a good atmosphere.
In what will be a difficult market for free agents, Cora will be an effective recruiter.
Back in January, when the Sox took questions about why Cora had to go, I asked if they believed he’d manage again.
There was a five-second pause before team president Sam Kennedy responded with words that now help explain why Cora is back.
“I think Alex is an incredibly talented manager and accomplished great things with us,” he said. "He’s expressed remorse, apologized to us for the embarrassment that this caused.
“I think he’ll go through a process of rehabilitation and we’ll see what happens. It would be hard to speculate, but he is an extreme talent.”
Extreme talent is not something you let get away.