Alex Cora joked Monday that much of his offseason has been spent on a plane, commuting from his home in San Juan to Boston as the Red Sox continue to work their course correction. Of course, the manager has enjoyed spending more time with his family, but the early vacation was never what he had in mind, to be on the outside of the baseball playoffs looking in only one year after winning it all.
But that’s the reason Cora needed to make this latest trip to Fenway Park, for the introduction of his new boss, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, who replaces Dave Dombrowski in running the Red Sox baseball operations. And the day was all about Bloom, the 36-year-old former Tampa Bay executive whose tender age belies a long, deep baseball résumé and whose reputation for collaboration and forward thinking earned him this chance to take the reins of a franchise.
Yet as much as the powers that be — John Henry, Tom Werner, and Sam Kennedy — were inspired to voice their debt of gratitude to the four executives (Raquel Ferreira, Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero, and Zack Scott) who ran things during the hiring process, as much as they were delighted to tout Bloom as an asset to them and everyone else in the building, there is another holdover who is just as certainly set to be an asset to Bloom.
“A huge asset,” Kennedy said. “First of all, Alex is a great guy and relationships are his priority. He brings an intellectual curiosity that I think I is really important in today’s game. He’s always asking, ‘How are we going to get better?’ ”
This offseason, Cora has been directing that question at himself, and he’s not afraid to admit it. He knows his team was too inconsistent. He knows that responsibility is on him. He knows the emphasis right now is on getting starters Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi healthy, so that issues that can be traced all the way back to spring training won’t be repeated this year.
“A lot of people are doubting us, which is good,” said Cora. “I think it’s going to push us to be great. From my end, on a personal note, I’ll use that to push me to be better. Last year, I wasn’t good. Two years ago, I was great. We’ll see what happens next year.”
He is confident that he and Bloom can attack problems together. It’s not to say the Sox are suddenly going to adopt the use of an opener the way the Rays did last year, or worse, that Cora will sit idly by as the front office handed him a lineup card.
It’s more to say all conversations are welcome. And if Bloom is wise, he’ll ensure that Cora’s seat at the table is as prominent as it’s always been. Dombrowski may have been the one to hire this manager, but Bloom should consider himself fortunate to inherit him.
Though an old sports adage might say that GMs aren’t truly judged until they hire their own coach, that’s generally reserved for teams that are in complete rebuild mode. The Sox were on top of the baseball world only a season ago. In Cora’s view, that achievement wasn’t just some fairy-dusted carpet ride, but the result of respect for tradition and the use of new-age insight, a combination he feels can only be enhanced by Bloom’s arrival.
“I think there’s a feeling we were very old-school,” said Cora. “I don’t necessarily agree. I think we were very balanced, the way we saw it. We made decisions last year based on information.
“It’s not magic. I’m glad I’m able to say this now: It wasn’t a magic ride. It was information and collaboration, and that’s what we’re doing. Obviously with Chaim here, he’s going to bring some good ideas, we’re going to make adjustments, and we’re going to keep getting better.”
With a market and a fan base so accustomed to winning, is anything else acceptable?
There’s a reason Bloom addressed the fans directly Monday, saying, “I know how passionate you are and I know how important this team is to you, and I don’t take that lightly. My teammates and I will work together and do everything we can to make you proud on and off the field.”
And there’s a reason he took time from his microphone to look directly in Cora’s direction, where the manager sat in the second row alongside team executives.
“Thank you, Alex Cora,” Bloom said, “for how you have welcomed me to the Red Sox. I have great respect for your talents as a manager and I’m looking forward to our relationship.”
Cora smiled, nodding his agreement. And then he listened, listened as the assembled media peppered Bloom with questions, listened as Bloom peppered his answers with the same core principles.
“There are a few words I used here 2½ years ago, three years ago, and they were, ‘Genuine, transparent, and be responsible,’ ” Cora said. “For him to use those words, I was pleased. It means that we’re on the right track.
“This organization is one of the best organizations in the world. A year ago, we were on top of the world. Right now we’re not, but we know what we can accomplish and I think moving forward the way we’re going to think, the way we’re going to do things, maybe it will be a little different than the last two years since I’ve been here. But I think it’s for the best for the organization.”
He heard Bloom. And as the two men go forward, Bloom should listen to Cora, too. They can be assets to each other.