Alex Cora is who the Red Sox wanted as manager from the beginning, but they knew they would have to act fast before the Nationals or some other team could swoop in.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and Red Sox ownership acted decisively to hire Cora, the Astros bench coach this season who blew them away in his interview. He understands the landscape in Red Sox Nation.
Since Pumpsie Green integrated the Red Sox in 1959, Cora is the club's 19th manager but the first minority. He was born on one of the rainout days before Game 6 of the 1975 World Series between the Red Sox and Reds. He was a member of the 2007 Red Sox team that won the World Series.
I remember being in Vero Beach, Fla., in spring training with the Dodgers in 2004 and having Cesar Izturis, Paul Lo Duca, Jayson Werth and manager Jim Tracy all tell me Cora was the smartest player in the game. He was Dustin Pedroia's sidekick in 2007 as Pedroia broke into the big leagues. He has fiercely led the revival of baseball in Puerto Rico and served as general manager for the island's World Baseball Classic club that made it to the finals last spring.
Cora is a man of boundless energy, a man whose people skills are immense. I remember him calling from the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy graduation in 2012 when a 17-year old Carlos Correa graduated first in his class.
In many ways, the hiring of Cora is a seismic shift for the Red Sox, who now must deal with the reality that the Yankees have become perhaps the major power in the American League East.
But the wires that bound this franchise from 2004 to 2013 are frayed. Deposed manager John Farrell was a critical figure in Red Sox history. He served as pitching coach for the 2007 champions, then returned in 2013 to manage the club to another title a year after the Bobby Valentine debacle. Farrell overcame cancer, but in the end, once general manager Ben Cherington was gone, the organization's metabolism slowed. By 2017, when Mike Hazen, Amiel Sawdaye, Jared Porter, Galen Carr and so many of Theo Epstein's management base had left, it seemed as if all that remained from the three World Championships in a decade were Pedroia and guys who filled in on NESN.
The 2018 season will be critical for the Red Sox to figure out which talented young players—such as shortstop Xander Bogaerts and outfielders Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley—need an energy reboot to move forward. Cora is that guy. Hanging out with him in the Astros clubhouse after they defeated the Red Sox in the AL Division Series, I could see how Correa, Yuli Gurriel and George Springer engaged with him.
But Cora will need help, and Red Sox management should look no further than Los Angeles to see how someone who had never managed in the big leagues—Dave Roberts—completely changed the Dodgers culture. When one watches how Roberts relates to players, it is a waterfall of trust and enthusiasm. Watch him manage and one notices the collaborative effort between Roberts and the front office, the analytics department, the scouting department and, most importantly, the coaches and players he manages.
Watch how Roberts uses his bullpen. For example, in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, Cubs manager Joe Maddon strung three righthanded batters—Willson Contreras, Addison Russell, Javier Baez—together in the order. Before the game, Kenta Maeda knew his role that night would be facing those three in an important situation. So in the seventh inning, with the Dodgers down a run, Maeda came in, knowing exactly what he wanted to do.
Managing is an organizational thing. The Red Sox front office has strong leaders capable of building such a cooperative in Boston. And to his credit, Dombrowski has never pretended to be an analytics expert, but when he got to Boston, he made it clear he respected everything Cherington had in place.
Like Roberts, Cora will need a strong coaching staff to empower. He also needs time on the field with his players, which might necessitate an alteration in the daily press conference requirement as the face of the franchise. He will be honest. He will be forthright. He cannot throw players under the train. But most important, Dombrowski hired him and will have his back.
I make no bones about it: I think Alex Cora can be a great manager, especially in an increasingly international era when in August the eight top prospects in baseball had all signed internationally.
Or as Epstein said: "I'm happy for him. Everyone is happy for him. It can be a great hiring."