Alex Cora needs to choose a side.
In the ongoing back-and-forth between the Boston Red Sox and Xander Bogaerts, the manager has one foot in either camp. The result is infuriatingly milquetoast, not to mention disingenuous.
Over the weekend, as the Sox let themselves be swept by the Toronto Blue Jays up in the Great White North, Cora once again praised his longtime shortstop, and then immediately reversed course:
"“I hope he’s my shortstop for however long I want to manage. That’s the goal here.We like him, we like him a lot, and obviously he has a decision to make first.We’ve been open about this, we want him back, we want him here. Whatever decision he makes and whatever happens after that, we’ll see. It should be fun. We’re not closing the door on a lot of these guys. Everybody thinks that everybody is going to be gone. Some of them are going to be here, some of them aren’t going to be here.”"
And yet, totally believable given this organization’s track record with homegrown stars.
To say that Bogaerts “has a decision to make” is only true in the most literal, technical sense. He’s made it clear on many occasions that he wants to spend his entire career in Boston; he wouldn’t even be thinking about opting out if this organization hadn’t lowballed him to the point of absurdity back in the spring. They offered him one extra year and $30M tacked onto the end of his current team-friendly deal. You know, the one he approached them about back in 2019.
Seemingly incapable of learning from their worst, most unnecessary mistakes, the Sox are handling Bogaerts the same way they dealt with Jon Lester and Mookie Betts: lowball, trade, claim it was unavoidable, replace with a more expensive, inferior player. It’s scary to think that Bogaerts would probably be gone already if he hadn’t taken matters into his own hands and approached the team about an extension in 2019, a deal that includes a full no-trade clause. Even with that job security, his name was still all over the trade deadline rumors to the point that he was actually worried the Sox would ask him to greenlight his own departure this summer.
Will Xander Bogaerts opt out of his Red Sox contract?
Within the five days after the World Series ends, Bogaerts will have to decide if he wants out of the remainder of his current deal, which has three years and $60M left. He says he hasn’t decided yet, but given the market for superstar shortstops and the Sox’ track record with homegrown talent, most people don’t believe that.
Bogaerts is the undisputed unofficial captain of this team and has been for years. He is both the anchor and steering wheel of an otherwise rudderless ship. He’s a proven winner and an invaluable leader and role model. His name is all over the franchise record books, and he’s been one of the best (often the best) offensive shortstops in the game for several years. To lose him, especially after losing Betts, is unacceptable, especially because it’s entirely preventable. As Trevor Story, Bogaerts’ would-be replacement who very clearly does not want to play without him, so aptly put it:
"“I don’t see how we get better if we’re losing him.”"
While Bogaerts would likely accept a lower offer from the Sox than he could get from another team, it still needs to be a fair deal; he’s not going to debase himself and tolerate the miserliness of an ownership group that’s approaching $10 billion in valuation. Good on him for not condoning their ‘Scrooge before the ghosts visit’-esque behavior.
And how ridiculous of Cora to say that the Sox have been “open” about what they want when their words mean nothing. The Sox brass have been in preemptive damage control all season long. Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom keeps dancing around this topic all summer, doing the hokey pokey, one foot in, one foot out. A month ago, CEO Sam Kennedy said the front office plans to continue “to invest at the major-league level” because they’re “hungry for another World Series championship.” You know who knows how to win those? Xander Bogaerts. He already has a ring for each hand.
It’s almost certainly true that Cora doesn’t want this to be the end of Bogaerts’ Boston career. He probably means it when he says, “I love my shortstop,” just not enough to stop himself from following Bloom down the PR path.
Before his cheating scandal, Cora was more outspoken, beloved in Boston for his brashness and passion. He was the young, vibrant manager who motivated Rafael Devers with Chipotle and told the Yankees “Suck on it!” at the beginning of the World Series parade. He’s become more measured and guarded since the Sox rehired him, toeing the line to a fault, an overcorrection for his transgressions.
But what is the point of being a company man if it costs you the best men you have? Bogaerts was one of the first players to reach out to his manager after he got suspended. At that point, it was unclear if Cora would ever manage in Boston again, but that didn’t stop Bogaerts from showing his support. And when the Sox lowball Bogaerts again and he opts out and signs with a team that actually values him, they’ll shrug their shoulders and say ‘We tried.’ No one should believe them.
No rational person expects Cora or Bloom to reveal their hand to the public, but they need to find the sweet spot between complete transparency and neverending platitudes. Red Sox fans are too smart to buy what they’re selling, and it’s insulting that they keep trying.
Hopefully, Cora has his shortstop’s back behind the scenes, where it matters most. But it’s not encouraging that he sounds more concerned with self-preservation.