Playing nine innings while assuming the Red Sox will win more than 24 games next year …
1. The Red Sox' decision to rehire Alex Cora as manager 10 months after parting ways because of his role in the 2017 Astros' sign-stealing scheme (and minor infractions in Boston) was not a complete no-brainer because of the baggage he carries from that scandal. There is a significant segment of fans who will always imagine a scarlet C — “cheater” — on his jersey, and he’s going to have to wear that for the rest of his career.
But if you can get past that — he paid his penance and I’m willing to trust that he learned his lesson — then there is no other way to see this as anything but a great move for the Red Sox, and did they ever need one. The franchise has hired so many nincompoop managers through the years that the opportunity to rehire an accomplished, modern leader who can relate to all sorts of different people and has already thrived in the Boston fishbowl is a baseball blessing that doesn’t come around often. He’s the second-best Red Sox manager of my lifetime, after Terry Francona, and there should be no second thoughts on giving Cora a second chance.
2. There will be much conjecture in the days ahead regarding whether chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom really preferred Cora to Sam Fuld, an extremely bright baseball mind whom he knows well from their time in Tampa. I suspect that in a vacuum, with none of the complicating factors surrounding this hire, Fuld would have been his choice. But I believe Bloom also recognized and valued those factors in Cora’s favor, which include the respect he has in the clubhouse from the Red Sox' most important players, his institutional knowledge of the organization compared to Fuld’s learning curve, and the generally positive buzz that comes from rehiring him.
3. That said, I do believe Bloom’s bosses drove this rehiring, and perhaps even had it in mind when they parted ways in January. While I think bringing back Cora was the right thing to do, I’m always wary when the Red Sox make a decision that is at least in part based on the desire to generate some good will after they’ve screwed up something. The ultimate example of this was signing Carl Crawford in December 2010 to a $142 million contract — despite his redundancy with Jacoby Ellsbury — because they thought it might help NESN ratings.
4. I imagine Cora, a legitimate baseball nut even by manager standards, paid close attention to the Red Sox during his year in purgatory. That is good, because if he didn’t keep up, he’d be in for a heck of surprise at what he’s coming back to, particularly considering the sorry state of the starting rotation and the bizarre lost seasons for the likes of Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez. It’s pretty close to unfathomable that the Red Sox, winners of 24 games last season, won the World Series just barely over 24 months ago.
5. Hiring back Cora is worth it alone just for the presumed effect it will have on Rafael Devers. The kid third baseman had a monster season under Cora in 2019 (.311/.361/.555, 32 homers, 115 RBIs) but was too often out of sorts in 2020, especially in the field, where he made 14 errors in 57 games at third base. Devers acknowledged missing Cora last season, and his return should help Devers return to the trajectory that suggested he could be one of baseball’s best hitters for years to come.
6. I’m surprised how much criticism of Bloom still shows up on my social media feeds and e-mail inbox. The Red Sox' decision to trade Mookie Betts is unforgivable, but that was not Bloom’s call, and it at least looks like he got a decent return, with Alex Verdugo trending toward fan favorite status. The deal that sent Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to the Phillies for Connor Seabold and Nick Pivetta looks like a heist. He got legitimate prospects back in deals for Kevin Pillar and Mitch Moreland. In a lost year, a lot of Bloom’s small maneuvers worked well.
7. The notion that Bloom wants the Red Sox to be the second coming of the Rays just isn’t accurate. The Dodgers — analytically wise but willing to pay for high-end talent — are the real model. I don’t think this is the free agent class to spend on the biggest names (Trevor Bauer would be a godsend to sports radio), but the Red Sox will pay for superstars when the right ones come along.
8. It bugs me that the Indians have all but acknowledged that they have to trade Francisco Lindor for financial reasons. He’s everything you’d want in a cornerstone player, one of the most charismatic stars in the game, and someone who plays with unbridled joy and a burning desire to win. He’d be the ideal player for the Sox to go after if they didn’t have Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. And as we know, he moves to third base only for Stephen Drew.
9. So with Cora back, the Red Sox get Mookie back now too, right, and get to reunite the whole band from 2018? Whaddaya mean that’s not how this works?