There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to the cheating scandal that overwhelmed baseball this past week and is sure to dominate the conversation into spring training and beyond.
I was wildly wrong in writing last week that it wouldn’t lead to Alex Cora getting fired. I underestimated how much Rob Manfred wanted to make a point to every player, coach, manager, executive, and owner that ignoring the rules had to stop.
There are so many ways to look at what happened, none of them good:
■ Red Sox manager John Farrell and Yankees manager Joe Girardi were both fired in 2017 after losing playoff series against Houston. The Astros hammered Chris Sale at home in Game 1 of the Division Series, then Drew Pomeranz in Game 2.
The Astros then won a seven-game American League Championship Series against the Yankees. They averaged 3.75 runs at home in that series, 1.6 on the road.
Farrell was fired for reasons that went beyond losing the ALDS. But had the Red Sox won that series and acquitted themselves well in the ALCS, perhaps Farrell keeps his job.
Cora broke the rules to help Houston beat the Sox then took Farrell’s job, at least partially as a result. That’s an act you can never explain away.
Or consider Dodgers righthander Yu Darvish, who was labeled a choker for not being able to get out of the second inning in Game 3 of the 2017 World Series at Houston. Then there’s Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, on the hot seat to win a championship.
Ever heard of Mike Bolsinger? He was a journeyman reliever trying to stick with the Blue Jays in 2017 when he faced the Astros in Houston Aug. 4. He allowed four runs on four hits and three walks and got only one out.
Toronto designated him for assignment the next day and he has not pitched in the majors since, deciding to go to Japan to play.
Carlos Beltran doubled off him in that inning.
■ Major League Baseball did not punish Beltran but named him in the report as wanting to find a better way to steal signs. No other player was named. That left the Mets little choice but to fire him, especially considering Beltran had lied to reporters about knowing anything about it when the story broke.
Without diving into the difficult proposition of determining what every Astros hitter did, MLB found a way to get Beltran.
■ Beltran was with the Mets for 77 days and never managed a game. But that’s hardly a record. In 2004, Wally Backman lasted only four days as manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He was hired Nov. 1 then fired on Nov. 5 after a story in the New York Times revealed he had been arrested for a domestic dispute, filed for bankruptcy, and was found guilty of driving under the influence.
The Diamondbacks admitted they had not done a background check on Backman. They then hired Bob Melvin as manager.
■ If the Red Sox decide to hire a veteran manager — Dusty Baker, for instance — they’ll have to carefully vet whether any of their teams were creditably accused of stealing signs improperly.
That could lead to a first-time manager who Chaim Bloom can grow into the job with. An older manager would be better equipped to manage the attention in spring training. But that will fade in two weeks.
Two things vital for the next manager: A personal understanding of the baseball culture in Boston and the ability to clearly communicate with the players, public, and media. Those were among Cora’s strengths.
A manager represents the franchise on a daily basis for essentially eight months a year. The Red Sox must have somebody they can trust in that role.
■ Manfred’s report fell over backward to exonerate Astros owner Jim Crane, and the same will almost surely happen for the Red Sox.
But there are dozens of players on the roster over the course of a season and the same number of executive, coaches, trainers, and staffers around the team. Nobody ever noticed the video monitor outside the dugout at Minute Maid Park and thought to mention it to the owner?
■ Former Astros manager A.J. Hinch is portrayed in the report as disapproving of the scheme but not doing anything to stop it. He’s not a sympathetic figure, to be certain.
But his superiors were assistant general manager Brandon Taubman and GM Jeff Luhnow. Based on what we now know about them and the almost complete lack of morality in the Houston front office, nothing would have been done.
Hinch was in a very bad spot. But he didn’t try hard enough to find a way out. He needed to go to Crane.
■ If you believe Cora or Hinch will never get another chance in baseball, consider the case of Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez feuded with the Yankees throughout the 2013 season, to a point where GM Brian Cashman said he wasn’t comfortable even talking to him.
Rodriguez was then suspended for the 2014 season for using what MLB said were “numerous forms of performance-enhancing substances.”
Rodriguez was a pariah at that point, at war with the Yankees and even the Players Association.
But Rodriguez returned to play in 2015, and when he was released during the 2016 season, fans at Yankee Stadium gave him a standing ovation during his final game.
The Yankees hired Rodriguez as an adviser and he ended up on ESPN and “Sunday Night Baseball” in 2018. Now he’s engaged to Jennifer Lopez and popping up on all sorts of television shows.
Cora is 44 and Hinch is 45. They’re going to get a second chance. They’re getting kicked around now, but people love a comeback story.
■ The story about the Red Sox using an electronic device to relay stolen signs in 2017 is coming up again. But it was a Fitbit that could receive text messages, not an Apple Watch. As one loyal reader said in an e-mail, Fitbit needs better marketing.
■ ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza sharply criticized Mike Fiers for speaking to reporters from The Athletic about how the Astros stole signs, which started the scandal. She used the term “ratted out” on one of the ESPN shows she was on.
Mendoza is welcome to her opinion, but she’s also employed by the Mets as an adviser and that’s a conflict of interest considering Beltran was involved. Mendoza was at the Winter Meetings working for the Mets, discussing team issues with Beltran.
There are several media personalities who also work for teams. The Dodgers are among the other teams who have banned them from their clubhouse because of the conflict. More teams may follow suit.
THEY’VE GOT IT ALL
Twins loaded up for a big year
The best team in Fort Myers this spring won’t be the Red Sox. The Twins are loaded coming off a 101-win season.
The addition of Josh Donaldson gives Minnesota a lineup with six players who hit at least 30 home runs last season. Having Donaldson at third base also allows the Twins to shift Miguel Sano to first base. That should improve a position that generated a modest .744 OPS last season.
Donaldson also will improve their defense at third base.
If Nelson Cruz can stay productive in what will be his age-39 season, the Twins are capable of improving on the 5.80 runs they averaged last season. The nine players projected to start hit 247 home runs last season.
“We’re pretty stacked,” said lefthander Rich Hill, who was signed to a one-year deal by the Twins in December. “It’s an exciting team.”
The Twins added Homer Bailey to their rotation and Tyler Clippard to the bullpen. They also retained Sergio Romo for the bullpen after acquiring him from Miami at the trade deadline last season.
All the Twins have to do now is avoid the Yankees. They are 0-10 against the Yankees in playoff games since 2009. Overall, Minnesota is riding a 16-game postseason losing streak with 13 of those games coming against the Yankees.
As for Hill, he is recovering from a modified version of Tommy John surgery and hopes to be ready in June. His $3 million deal includes as much as $9.5 million in incentives based on starts and innings.
“I have to stay on the schedule they gave me and not be too anxious,” Hill said. “But I feel really good.”
Hill is 41-20 with a 2.91 ERA since his career renaissance in 2015.
He was in Boston on Thursday to receive the Tony Conigliaro Award from the Red Sox as part of the 81st annual Boston Baseball Writers dinner. The Conigliaro Award has been given since 1990 to a player who has overcome adversity.
REPORT FROM FORT
Veteran Price feels ‘really good’
Intrepid WBZ radio reporter Jonny Miller arrived in Fort Myers two weeks ago and this past week recorded an interview with David Price.
Price told Miller that he’s throwing four times a week and will soon start working off the mound. His left wrist has fully recovered after surgery to remove a cyst.
“Everything feels really good,” Price said.
Price also is unconcerned with the idea that he could be traded.
“That doesn’t affect me,” he told Miller. “I still come up here to get my work in. I’ve been traded twice; it’s just part of the business. This is a business at the end of the day. Moves will be made and you just have to go out there and play baseball.”
Other observations on the Red Sox:
■ Dustin Pedroia is expected to be in uniform for the start of spring training, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said. It’s not yet clear how much Pedroia will be able to play or whether he would be ready for the start of the regular season. But he’s giving it a shot.
■ After playing with him for Team USA in the fall, Bobby Dalbec hopes that righthander Noah Song will get a chance to pitch for the Sox again.
“He’s an incredible talent,” Dalbec said. “If he was in our system, he’d move fast. They used him in relief and he stayed with two pitches. But he has four good ones.”
Song, who graduated from the Naval Academy, reported for duty in December after his request for a waiver was not endorsed. For now, the 22-year-old has a two-year commitment before possibly getting a chance to play again.
“It was awesome playing with him,” Dalbec said. “His fastball really pops and he works at a great tempo. Noah is a great person, too. He stood at attention every time they played the national anthem. His service means a lot to him.”
■ The Red Sox followed a growing trend around the game by hiring a college pitching coach to join their minor league staff.
Brett Merritt, who was with College of Central Florida, will have the same role for Single A Salem. Under Merritt, Central Florida had one of the top junior college staffs in Florida last season.
■ The Sox also hired John Shelby III and added him to the staff with Single A Greenville. Shelby, whose father played in the majors for 11 seasons, was a minor league outfielder and a scout before returning to the University of Kentucky to complete his degree while serving as a student coach.
■ Jerry Remy received the Judge Emil Fuchs Award for long and meritorious service to baseball at the Boston Baseball Writers dinner. As part of the program, Remy did a Q&A with Mike Lynch.
Remy spoke emotionally about his struggles with cancer and depression and the murder conviction of his son. He also said he plans to continue calling games for NESN as long as he can.
DePodesta not on winning side
Paul DePodesta worked in the front offices of the Indians, Athletics, Dodgers (as general manager), Padres, and Mets from 1996-2015. The character Jonah Hill played in “Moneyball” was based on DePodesta, although they look nothing alike.
DePodesta then made a surprising career switch to the NFL in 2016 to become the chief strategy officer of the Browns.
Cleveland is 14-49-1 since with a constant churn of players and coaches.
DePodesta’s influence on owner Jimmy Haslam was reportedly a major consideration in the Browns being unable to make a deal with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to become their coach. They hired Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski instead.
DePodesta was considered a groundbreaking executive in baseball because of how he deployed analytics in roster building. He is a smart guy given his eclectic career.
But DePodesta is on a tough run. Since 2005, 10 of the 15 teams he has worked for had losing records and only two made the postseason.
Larry Lucchino, who underwent surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to remove a cancerous blockage in the kidney area in December, was back at work this past week. Lucchino, 74, is the chairman and principal owner of the Pawtucket Red Sox. He’s also chairman of The Jimmy Fund . . . With A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora out of their jobs, 10 of the 30 teams in the majors will start the coming season with new managers . . . Alyssa Nakken, who was added to the Giants staff on Thursday, is the first female coach in major league history. Her duties will include “developing, producing, and directing a number of the organization’s health and wellness initiatives.” The former Sacramento State softball standout also will throw batting practice and assist in coaching base running and outfield defense. Nakken, 29, joined the Giants as a baseball operations intern in 2014. San Francisco manager Gabe Kapler now has 13 coaches on his staff. Only seven can be in uniform for games . . . Raise a glass, but not your middle finger, to Byung-Hyun Kim, who is celebrating his 41st birthday. The Red Sox acquired him from the Diamondbacks two months into the 2003 season to work in the rotation then moved him to the bullpen in July when the closer-by-committee approach was abandoned. Kim had 16 saves and a 2.28 earned run average over the final three months of the season. But Kim allowed a run in Game 1 of the Division Series against Oakland then was booed before Game 3 at Fenway Park when the teams were introduced. Kim flipped off the crowd and didn’t pitch again in the postseason. Kim actually returned to the Sox in 2004 and had a 6.23 ERA in seven games before being traded in 2005. Kim now owns a sushi restaurant in San Diego on Shelter Island.
SunTrust Park in Atlanta is now Truist Park. Truist isn’t a word, but it is the name of a bank that bought out the other bank . . . Oklahoma State added Robin Ventura as a student assistant. Ventura, 52, left OSU when he was drafted in 1988 and is going back to finish his degree. Matt Holliday is a volunteer assistant coach. His brother, Josh, is the head coach.