The Boston Red Sox should bring back Alex Cora as manager once his suspension has concluded now that MLB’s report has vindicated him of further wrongdoing.
As reported by The Athletic, Major League Baseball has ruled on the Red Sox sign-stealing investigation and determined that J.T. Watkins, the team’s video replay system operator, was the primary culprit. Not the front office, not the players or coaches, and certainly not the manager.
In his report on MLB’s findings, Commissioner Rob Manfred actually went out of his way to absolve Cora of any wrongdoing.
"“I do not find that then-Manager Alex Cora, the Red Sox coaching staff, the Red Sox front office, or most of the players on the 2018 Red Sox knew or should have known that Watkins was utilizing in-game video to update the information that he had learned from his pregame analysis,” Manfred wrote in Wednesday’s report. “Communication of these violations was episodic and isolated to Watkins and a limited number of Red Sox players only.”"
Cora has been suspended through the conclusion of the 2020 postseason but the report is clear that the punishment stems from his involvement with the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal when he served as their bench coach in 2017.
The Red Sox and Cora agreed to mutually part ways in January after Manfred found the Astros guilty of improper use of video to decode signs during games. A statement from the team at the time indicated that the sides “collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward.”
In light of the commissioner’s findings in his investigation of the Red Sox, that perception has drastically changed. It was widely speculated that the Red Sox moved swiftly to part ways with Cora in order to distance themselves from the fallout of the Astros controversy and buy themselves some goodwill with Manfred by showing they were willing to cooperate.
Now we know that Cora has been vindicated of the accusations that he brought any sign-stealing shenanigans with him from Houston. We’ve also since learned that the Astros cheating methods went far deeper than anyone initially imagined. The “Codebreaker” system the Astros developed predates Cora’s tenure with the organization, confirming he wasn’t the mastermind of their scheme. He was the guy thrown under the bus since he had already moved on to join an American League rival.
Cora isn’t exactly innocent in the Houston case, as essentially everyone in that organization has their hands dirty. He wasn’t the architect he was made out to be though and there’s no evidence that he was using any of those old tricks while serving as the manager of the Red Sox.
That makes forgiveness easier to come by and it’s why the Red Sox should bring back Cora in 2021 once he’s served his suspension.
Cora led the Red Sox to a franchise record 108 wins and a World Series title in his managerial debut season in 2018. His reputation as a great communicator who could relate to his players and inspire strong clubhouse chemistry proved accurate. He showed that he’s capable of handling the role and pushed all the right buttons to lead a powerhouse team to glory.
Last year didn’t pan out nearly as well but that’s not entirely Cora’s fault. His decision to give his starting pitchers a light workload in spring training will forever be second-guessed but it was a lesson learned for a young manager. The injuries that ravaged the pitching staff doomed the 2019 Red Sox and that’s out of the manager’s control.
He was popular with his players and many were disappointed to see Cora dismissed. Boston needs to rectify that by bringing him back as soon as they can.
The Red Sox removed the interim tag from Ron Roenicke‘s status as manager, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. This formality was always expected once MLB’s investigation confirmed that Roenicke wouldn’t be punished. It’s not necessarily an indication that he’s the team’s long-term solution for the role.
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Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom may want to conduct his own search for a manager next year but there’s no reason why Cora can’t be a candidate. He’s a young, creative mind and a proven winner who can handle the pressure of managing in this market.
It’s unclear when the 2020 season will begin as the COVID-19 pandemic has the sports world in a holding pattern. It’s entirely possible that the season is cancelled if MLB can’t find a way to safely resume baseball activities. In that case, there’s no reason to believe that Cora would be further punished by extending his suspension. He should be free to return to managing in 2021 regardless of if we have a season this year. Just as players eligible for free agency after this season will still hit the open market either way.
That potentially sets up a feasible scenario where Alex Cora and Mookie Betts could both return to Boston in 2021 without missing a single regular season game in a Red Sox uniform. Betts seemed to have a strong relationship with his manager so rehiring Cora could give the Red Sox an edge in the expected free-agent bidding war.
Cora was branded a cheater and unfairly vilified for his role in stealing signs. Now that we know his involvement in Houston wasn’t quite what we were led to believe and he’s been exonerated of all charges from his time in Boston, Cora deserves another chance. The Red Sox remain impressed by what he brings to the table as a manager and they would be wise to grant him another opportunity.