Meet the new manager, same as the old manager.
The Red Sox announced they will bring back Alex Cora for a second term as manager. The decision comes almost 10 months and one dismal season after the two parties agreed to part ways in January amidst a mushrooming scandal. Cora’s new deal is for two years with a two-year club option after the 2022 season.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to manage once again and return to the game I have loved my entire life. … Boston is where I have always wanted to be and I could not be more excited to help the Red Sox achieve our ultimate goal of winning in October,” Cora said in a team-issued press release. “This past year, I have had time to reflect and evaluate many things, and I recognize how fortunate I am to lead this team once again. Not being a part of the game of baseball, and the pain of bringing negative attention to my family and this organization was extremely difficult. I am sorry for the harm my past actions have caused and will work hard to make this organization and its fans proud.”
Cora’s 27-month tenure as manager ended abruptly in January when MLB determined he’d played a central role as the bench coach of the 2017 Astros in an illegal sign-stealing scheme and the Red Sox were under investigation for a lesser but similar infraction. Ultimately, Cora was suspended for the 2020 season by MLB for his role in the Astros infractions but received no further punishment from MLB for the Red Sox' own rules violations.
The latter determination helped clear a path for Cora to return to the big leagues once the World Series concluded. His successor, Ron Roenicke, who was elevated to interim manager in February then shed the interim tag in April, was let go on the final day of a dismal 2020 season.
Yet despite speculation that long pegged him as the industry favorite to succeed Roenicke, Cora’s return to Boston was not a fait accompli.
While many in the organization had considerable familiarity and comfort with Cora, the person in charge of the search had a limited history with him. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, hired to head the baseball operations department in October 2019, had been on the job for just three and a half months of the offseason when Cora’s involvement in the Astros scandal and departure upended the organization.
Bloom and the Red Sox did not treat Cora’s return as a turnkey proposition for multiple reasons, including a desire to take a thorough approach to the search, Bloom’s lack of history with Cora, the team’s struggles under Cora in 2019 (some related to communication breakdowns between the team’s analytics department and field staff), and questions related to the rules violations in Houston in 2017 and Boston in 2018.
During the month between the end of Roenicke’s tenure and the completion of Cora’s suspension, the Sox conducted a broad search.
The team had first-round interviews with at least eight candidates beyond Cora and advanced to in-person second interviews with at least four: Phillies player information coordinator Sam Fuld, Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza, and Marlins bench coach/offensive coordinator James Rowson.
On Oct. 30, Bloom and Red Sox GM Brian O’Halloran flew to Puerto Rico for a face-to-face meeting with Cora. That meeting was significant, representing an opportunity for Bloom both to explore a potential working relationship with Cora and to ask him any questions he had about his prior managerial run, including anything related to the infractions by the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox.
“Because of all that had happened, I knew that I wanted to speak with Alex once his suspension ended, but I didn’t yet know if it made sense to consider him for the job as well,” Bloom said in the press release. “Our conversations were lengthy, intense, and emotional. Alex knows that what he did was wrong, and he regrets it. My belief is that every candidate should be considered in full: strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments and failures.”
Yet that face-to-face meeting did not mark the end of the process, as team officials met with another candidate on Monday. Even so, as the week progressed, Cora remained in consideration while the Red Sox narrowed their search to three finalists: Cora, Fuld, and Rowson remained in the mix on Thursday, according to major league sources. Eventually, the choice on Thursday came down to Cora and Fuld.
Fuld, a 38-year-old native of Durham, N.H., has been viewed as one of the top future managerial candidates in baseball since he retired from playing after the 2017 season. While he lacks managerial or traditional dugout coaching experience, his role over the last three years as a conduit between the front office and players and coaches with the Phillies offered what many saw as a valuable training ground. Fuld also had a good relationship with Bloom that formed from 2011-13, when both were in Tampa Bay — Bloom as an executive, Fuld as an outfielder.
Still, Fuld’s lack of experience introduced unknowns into his candidacy. Cora, by contrast, had demonstrated an ability to succeed in Boston while enjoying enormous popularity throughout the organization with players, coaches, front-office members, and owners.
In many ways, everyone interviewed profiled as similar to Cora when the Sox initially hired him in 2017: No prior big league managerial experience, bright and intellectually curious, grounded in analytics and current dugout/front office dynamics, and young enough (ages 38 to 45) to relate to players. Ultimately, rather than looking for the next Cora, the Sox decided instead to bring back a manager whom they already knew and never wanted to leave in the first place.
“Alex Cora is an outstanding manager, and the right person to lead our club into 2021 and beyond,” said Bloom. “The way he leads, inspires, and connects with everyone around him is almost unmatched, and he has incredible baseball acumen and feel for the game.”
But his selection is not without controversy based both on the role he played in Houston’s sign-stealing and questions about whether he was in fact Bloom’s choice or if the Red Sox chief baseball organization was pushed to accept Cora by others in the organization.
Moreover, Cora’s job description is different than the one that he encountered when he was initially hired three years ago. Then, he was tasked with taking a young core that had reached the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and helping it achieve a new level of success — something he did immediately in 2018, when the team won a franchise-record 108 regular-season games and stormed to a championship.
Now, he inherits a team that finished in last place with a 24-36 record and that seeks a return to competitiveness after a drastic roster makeover — including the trades of Mookie Betts, David Price, Mitch Moreland, and others, along with the free agency of Jackie Bradley Jr. — during the last calendar year. Cora has managed just 17 of the players on the current members of the Red Sox 40-man roster in a big league game.
At the same time, many of those whom Cora has previously managed — including Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, Eduardo Rodríguez, and others — enjoyed the finest seasons of their careers with him at the helm in 2018 and 2019. The team is hopeful that Cora can once again draw the best out of a group that is coming off a painfully disappointing 2020 campaign. Members of the organization described player and staff reaction as exuberant – a sentiment captured in tweeted form by Rodríguez.
The excitement was reciprocated by the manager.
“I am eager to get back to work with our front office, coaches, and especially,” he said in the press release, “our players.”
Cora — one of seven managers in team history to win a championship — returns to the Red Sox with a 192-132 record, good for a .593 winning percentage that ranks fourth best in team history by a manager with at least one full season at the helm of the roster. He is the third manager in Red Sox history to be hired multiple times on something more than an interim basis, joining Bill Carrigan and Pinky Higgins.