FORT MYERS, Fla. — Yes, the Red Sox will have a manager when their pitchers and catchers take part in their first official workout of the spring on Wednesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, the team elevated Ron Roenicke — the team’s bench coach in 2018-19 under former manager Alex Cora — to interim manager. In so doing, the club identified a leader who made enormous sense for a team trying to regain its footing after a tumultuous month.
“I understand the challenges that we’re going to have,” said Roenicke. “Our focus is on a really good bunch of guys and a great team, and trying to get back in the playoffs. We’re very disappointed, as are all these players, in what happened last year, and our focus is to try to get back in the playoffs and see what happens after that.”
Roenicke’s hiring will allow the team to start looking forward to such a mission. In the past four weeks, the Red Sox have been upended by the unexpected departure of Cora in the wake of an Major League Baseball investigation into sign-stealing practices by the 2017 Astros, an MLB investigation into whether the 2018 Red Sox illegally used live video feeds to steal sign-sequence information, and most recently the trade of Mookie Betts and David Price.
Each of those elements has been disorienting. In their totality, they’ve been jarring.
Given that the Red Sox are making the latest preseason managerial hiring since 2002 (Grady Little with the Sox and Frank Robinson with the Expos), Roenicke offered an anchor. As the Red Sox engaged in their search — one that included at least four additional candidates in Sox third base coach Carlos Febles, former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, Diamondbacks bench coach Luis Urueta, and Athletics coach Mark Kotsay — Roenicke emerged as what chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom called “our very clear choice.”
Instead of building new relationships, Roenicke knows the team’s players, coaches, and front office members. Roenicke also has prior managerial experience, having spent a bit more than four seasons at the helm of the Brewers from 2011-15, during which he went 342-331 and led Milwaukee to the 2011 National League Championship Series and two additional winning seasons.
“You hope when people have different experiences that they learn things from those experiences. They grow, they have things in their rolodex, so to speak, that they can call on that will help them, and I think that certainly is the case with Ron,” said Bloom. “I also think obviously him knowing our group, anybody would love that advantage to really know a group of players and a staff inside and out. So for us, it wasn’t necessarily that certain boxes had to be checked as much as I think the totality of everything Ron brought to the table as a candidate, including those things, made him a very strong choice.”
Players viewed Roenicke as a strong choice.
“He’s awesome,” said reliever Matt Barnes. “He knows the game incredibly well. I think it will be nice having a familiar face with somebody who knows the guys, who’s been there, who has the experience that he has.”
The Red Sox reached a similar conclusion after a four-week search that had to run in parallel with complex trade negotiations that led to the deal sending Betts and Price to the Dodgers on Monday.
Bloom — in his first offseason with the Red Sox — and other front office members met informally with Roenicke during the week of Cora’s departure. Bloom and general manager Brian O’Halloran followed up with another informal conversation during the team’s Winter Weekend events in Springfield in late January, and then had Roenicke meet with team officials for a more comprehensive interview roughly a week after that.
Through that process, O’Halloran came to new realizations about the bench coach. Roenicke’s passion for helping others — both players and Cora — was evident, as was his baseball intelligence.
O’Halloran and Bloom were further struck by Roenicke’s desire not to be the same manager he was in Milwaukee, but rather a better one who was eager to work together with the front office and to have an open exchange of ideas to help the team.
“He talked about . . . wanting to learn all the time, knowing that despite all that great experience he doesn’t have all the answers,” said O’Halloran. “That’s something that Chaim and I and our group feel very strongly about. None of us have all the answers. The fact that we were very much on the same page when we talked about that was great to hear.”
Absent any unforeseen revelations that would connect Roenicke to wrongdoing in MLB’s investigation into the 2018 Red Sox, the team expects that Roenicke will lose the interim tag once the league releases its findings.
“We have no reason to think that there’s anything that would cause an adverse result for Ron in this investigation, but of course the investigation is not complete,” said Bloom. “We’ll address permanency once [the investigation] is complete.”
While there has been speculation about whether Roenicke’s appointment might leave the door open to an eventual return for Cora — whose punishment by MLB is pending — Bloom said such a consideration wasn’t at play.
“[The possibility of an eventual return by Cora] wasn’t really something we factored into the process,” said Bloom. “Obviously, we were pretty clear on the reasons we parted ways, and Alex was very clear to us on those reasons as we discussed them, and I think all those reasons are still in place even though we still think the world of Alex. Obviously, there’s a process for him to go through of rehabilitation in a sense. I still think he has a ton to offer to this game, but it wasn’t a consideration throughout this process.”
Instead, Roenicke’s selection came from a belief that he was the right voice to help maximize the potential of a team that — even before this chaotic offseason — underachieved en route to a third-place finish in 2019. It is a task that the 63-year-old relishes, looking for the sort of contributions that can help the team succeed despite the departures of Betts and Price.
“These guys, they want to win. They are not happy with what happened last year,” said Roenicke. “I know we had streaks where we were pretty good, but the focus is going to be on moving forward and trying to have that great season that we know we’re capable of.”
With the Dodgers blockbuster and the selection of Roenicke behind them, the Red Sox expressed hope that the team is now positioned to leave behind the swirl of recent months and to turn its attention to its on-field potential.
“We’re excited about that choice, that person. And it’s natural for it to feel like turning a page,” said O’Halloran. “It definitely feels like we’re starting fresh and I’m excited to get to [Wednesday] and watch baseball.”