By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Alex Cora was, without question, one of the best managers in all of baseball in 2018. Perhaps the best.
Besides only J.D. Martinez' presence in the middle of the order, Cora made the single biggest difference on the Red Sox from 2017 to 2018. He took a clubhouse that was almost exactly the same as the previous group under John Farrell, and transformed them from October underachievers to World Series champions and one of the most dominant teams in baseball history.
But he was never going to win AL Manager of the Year. It shouldn't be a surprise that he didn't win that award. To anyone.
Bob Melvin of the Oakland Athletics had the thing wrapped up for months.
Melvin just took the perpetually penny-pinching, scouting and analytics-dependent A's to their highest win total since 2002, a season that was immortalized in the book/movie Moneyball. They went 97-65 in 2018, despite having no starter with more than 12 wins or lower than a 3.33 ERA. Third baseman Matt Chapman led all A's batters with at least 200 at-bats in batting average with an ehhh .278. Besides Khris' Davis 48 home runs, the team's win total is the only area where they really jump off the stat sheet.
They were the AL's most surprising team, the group that most exceeded expectations. That is just about always where Manager of the Year voting is going to gravitate. It certainly won't gravitate to the team with the highest payroll in baseball.
It's the same reason Terry Francona has won it twice with the Indians and never won it with the Red Sox. He took over a 68-win team for 2013 and managed them to 92 wins in 2013. He won it again in 2016 when the Indians jumped from 81 wins to 94.
Never mind the managers. Look at the teams with the Manager of the Year winner. Since the last win for the Red Sox (Jimy Williams in 1999), here's how Manager of the Year breaks down by team:
Cleveland Indians (3)
Oakland A's (2)
Tampa Bay Rays (2)
Texas Rangers (2)
Chicago White Sox (2)
Los Angeles Angels (2)
Minnesota Twins (2)
Baltimore Orioles (1)
Seattle Mariners (1)
Detroit Tigers (1)
Kansas City Royals (1)
It's a small-market award. Plain and simple.
Cora may have spurred a big turnaround on paper with the Red Sox going from 93 wins to 108, but the Red Sox were supposed to be one of the best teams in baseball. They've been in contention for the World Series ever since Dave Dombrowski took over as president of baseball ops. They've spent more than any team.
That's just not a team that's going to get the Manager of the Year, as great a job as Cora did. Even though he still somewhat exceeded expectations with the highest win total in franchise history, he wasn't going to do enough to overcome the fact that the Red Sox essentially did what they've been expected to do.
This is hardware saved for the Oaklands and Tampas of the baseball world. Not for the guy steering the most expensive ship in the game.
That's not to say that Cora didn't deserve to win the award. To anyone who watched the Red Sox in 2017 and 2018, and saw the night-and-day difference (especially in October), you know he did. It's just the reality of baseball that, for this trophy, they reward the small-time operations who overachieve. Managers get docked points for running big-market operations. Might not be the most fair thing in the world, but that's just how it is.
There's been a little bit of social media outrage over Cora not winning the award. The shock shouldn't be there. This was always going to be Bob Melvin's award, even if he was merely the second-best manager in the game.
And through all this, Cora won the only trophy that really matters anyway.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].