FORT MYERS, Fla. — Alex Cora has been in professional baseball for nearly 27 years and around it even longer. He is unflinchingly pragmatic about how the game works.
That the Red Sox almost completely flipped their roster the last few years isn’t something that concerns him. He’s managing this Sox team, not the one it could have been.
“Nothing against those guys who aren’t here, but it’s been great, to be honest with you,” Cora said. “We work in a business where this happens. I accept the reality of that.”
During a recent conversation at JetBlue Park, Cora acknowledged the Sox have questions to answer as Opening Day approaches. But he believes the potential is there to exceed modest expectations.
“From my end, I bet on my team. Some people call it cockiness, others confidence. I feel this is a good group,” Cora said. “Do we have to be on point and is there a small margin for error? I believe so. Everybody knows it.
“But the division is the same way. The closest thing to a perfect team right now is Houston because they have what others don’t have: cheap pitching. I do believe if everything goes well — and health is the most important thing — we have a good team.”
Cora points to the addition of free agents Adam Duvall, Kenley Jansen, Corey Kluber, and Justin Turner as a reason to believe he has something better than a fourth-place team.
“What I like is that we have veteran guys. They don’t care what happened here last year or in ‘18,” Cora said. “Each one of them, they have reasons to prove people wrong.
“Kenley and JT probably thought they were going to be Dodgers for the rest of their careers. They’re not. Duvall has bounced around.
“The transition has been easier because we have veterans. And the kid at third base, he gets it. He understands that this is part of it.
“He’s been really, really good about the whole thing. He trusts what’s going on. That’s very important. Because if he’s not buying into it, then it sucks.”
The “kid” is 26-year-old Rafael Devers, who agreed to a 10-year, $313.5 million extension in January. A contract of that length and magnitude essentially makes him a partner in what comes next, whatever that may be.
Devers doesn’t shy from those duties.
“For me, [Cora] has been a great help. He’s the only manager I’ve ever had,” Devers said via a translator. “We need to take this team to the next level and do whatever needs to be done.”
Said Cora: “He sees it. He’s not just talking about it, but acting. That means a lot to me.”
It’s not like the developments of the last few years have come as a surprise.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom didn’t make the decision to re-hire Cora as manager in 2020 until after they met in Puerto Rico. Had Cora balked when Bloom laid out his long-term plans, somebody else would have gotten the job.
“I understand what we’re doing; I really do,” Cora said. “When I sat there in that hangar and we were talking, it was deep.
“I’m glad they picked me because I see the direction. I always pay attention to arms in the second half of [spring training] games and this year we have stuff. You see guys throwing 97, 98. I think we’ve caught up with what’s going on in the game on the pitching side of it.
“We’re very close to being able to rely on what we produce and then do other stuff.”
Cora agreed to a two-year contract with a two-year team option. Without fanfare, the team picked up the option after last season.
At 47, Cora has ambitions in baseball beyond managing. The idea of someday being a general manager is intriguing. But managing remains his passion. That his twin sons, who turn 6 in July, can enjoy being around the team makes it even better.
His partner, Angelica, comes from a baseball family. Her father, Jesus I. Feliciano, was a top pitcher on Puerto Rico’s national team for years.
“We enjoy this as a family,” Cora said. “We love Boston and the area. The kids are growing up. We’ll make decisions school-wise when we have to. Time will tell, but I love managing.”
As Bloom made a flurry of moves over the offseason, Christian Arroyo, Kiké Hernández, Rob Refsnyder, and Trevor Story held the group together behind the scenes.
“They recruited players; they talked to people,” Cora said. “We don’t lack leadership here. It’s in different ways.
“As great as 2018 was, it was a challenge. We didn’t feel the pressure, but it was there. This year might be similar to ‘21. No expectations, just go out there and play.
“This group knows what we can do, but the world doesn’t.”