What’s known about the Red Sox search to replace manager Alex Cora? Not a lot.
New chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is leading the search. Consistent with the way he’s approached the rest of his first offseason in Boston, all indications are that Bloom prefers a methodical and thorough process.
The Mets — who joined the Astros and Red Sox in the need to find a new manager last week because of the fallout of Houston’s sign-stealing scandal — became the first team to fill its vacancy, reportedly remaining internal with the selection of Luis Rojas to replace Carlos Beltran. While it would be a mistake to assume Bloom and the Sox won’t explore outside options, the team has made clear it will examine internal candidates.
Already, Sox slugger J.D. Martinez has stated that a familiar voice would be welcome, with three members of the organization — bench coach Ron Roenicke, third base coach Carlos Febles, and special assistant Jason Varitek — being mentioned most prominently. Here’s a closer look at each — with the necessary caveat that their candidacy presumes that they are not in danger of being implicated for wrongdoing in connection with MLB’s investigation into whether the 2018 Red Sox illegally used video replay to steal signs:
Roenicke — who spent eight years in the big leagues in the 1980s before accumulating decades of experience as a minor league manager and big league coach with the Dodgers and Angels — has the benefit of four-plus seasons of managerial experience in Milwaukee, where he forged a 342-331 record from 2011-15. He led the Brewers to a 96-66 record and the National League Championship Series in 2011.
In 2014, Milwaukee led the NL Central for most of the first five months of the season but cratered in September and missed the playoffs. When the Brewers started 7-18 in 2015, Roenicke was fired. Still, he had a number of experiences — spanning success, failure, and crisis management (Ryan Braun’s suspension for PEDs amid a dismal season) — that made him a natural bench coach for first-time manager Cora.
If Roenicke was named Cora’s replacement, the Sox wouldn’t have to worry about on-the-job training. He was considered an excellent communicator with his players in Milwaukee, and likewise has received strong marks for communicating expectations and responsibilities to players in Boston.
And at a time when the Sox could face scrutiny and a challenging atmosphere, Roenicke possesses a calm demeanor that would represent an asset. He’s also familiar not just with handling a roster and in-game decisions but also working with a front office and owner.
“He’s pretty poised. He understands the game, understands there’s good games and bad games . . . Things don’t bother him to the point that he’s going to do something stupid,” said Doug Melvin, Roenicke’s general manager in Milwaukee. “I think Ron’s the type of guy who can work with any general manager . . . He’s not afraid to speak his mind, but in a diplomatic way.
“I’d love to see Ron get a second chance. I do think there are a lot of guys who, with second chances, do better. This game is great for learning from past experiences.”
Varitek’s enormous role as a Red Sox player for parts of 15 seasons — the last seven as captain — help explain why he’s been a popular name brought up by fans since Cora’s departure.
But what of Varitek as a managerial candidate? He would come with less experience than Cora did — and Cora was considered at least something of a risk given that he had no prior managerial experience. Yet Cora had a full year as a bench coach, time as a GM of Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and time as a manager in the Puerto Rican Winter League.
Varitek can’t match that range of responsibilities. Some believe that he hasn’t had the specific role or responsibilities to make him an ideal fit for the current vacancy.
On the other hand, in his career Varitek dealt with many of the responsibilities a manager would face: leading a pitching staff, clubhouse leadership, handling information and translating it to game-planning, and dealing with the media.
“What else does a modern manager have to do?” wondered one evaluator.
Moreover, as a special assistant to the baseball operations department, Varitek has become familiar with the work and decision-making of a front office — valuable at a time when managers are expected to have collaborative relationships with front offices and analytics departments.
Finally, Varitek has spent an increasing amount of time as a clubhouse and sometimes dugout presence in his post-playing career. In 2019, he was in uniform with the team before most home games, and was with the team full time over the final two months of the season. He tried to help the organization work through some of the friction that existed between the coaching staff and front office regarding the role of analytics.
To date, Varitek is known to have interviewed for just one managerial vacancy. After the 2015 season, he was one of five candidates for the Mariners’ vacancy (The others — Cora, Scott Servais, Charlie Montoyo, and Dave Roberts — all have landed jobs since). After the interview process, Seattle’s front office suggested that Varitek came as advertised, with leadership skills and baseball IQ, though with questions about whether he was ready to uproot his family at a time when they’d settled in the Atlanta area.
But the appeal of the Sox job might be different. Still, while Varitek’s preparation for a job has grown, there likely would be a period of transition — one that might give the team pause at a time when it’s trying to create calm. Many wonder whether Varitek might be interested in a job as bench coach if Roenicke gets hired as manager.
Febles spent parts of six years in the big leagues with the Royals, an organization where he emerged as a leader in the minors even as the Dominican native was still learning English.
“At the lower levels, even when he was still learning the language, he was a multicultural communicator because of who he was,” said Mets assistant GM Allard Baird, who served as GM in Kansas City when Febles was a player. “He has a passion for the game but also doesn’t take anything for granted. He’s a good human being and cares about people.”
Those traits have been evident during Febles’s seven-year managerial tenure in the Red Sox farm system, during which he worked with and earned the trust of several of the team’s position players as they made their way up the ladder, including Mookie Betts, Rafael Devers, and Michael Chavis.
Febles proved capable of forging close relationships that allowed him to have direct conversations that helped players realize their ceilings.
“He has a real trust with [players], whether they like the information or not,” said Baird, who was in the Sox front office when Febles worked as a coach and manager in the organization. “That’s a real skill.”
Febles was on Cora’s staff for the last two years, though as a third base coach he’s been less directly involved in game management than Roenicke or (as a catcher) Varitek. Given that background, some believe that his ideal first managerial gig would come for a developing team.
Febles interviewed for the Twins’ managerial vacancy after the 2018 season and said he’d embrace the chance to discuss the Red Sox’ opening.