By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Alex Cora was confident, owner John Henry told us, almost too confident. And as we have learned with Bill Belichick, that kind of confidence can sometimes spill into an area where it becomes a flaw, proof that a mean’s greatest asset can ultimately lead to his undoing.
And so, as we await word from Major League Baseball on the next investigation involving the epidemic that is electronic sign-stealing, the proverbial writing on the wall might as well be painted in big, block letters above the left-field scoreboard at Fenway Park: Cora looks cooked. Less than 24 hours ago, MLB suspended both Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for the entire 2020 season, an announcement that was, within minutes, trumped by the firing of both men by Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.
The only man who escaped formal judgment yesterday was Cora, whose name was splattered throughout commissioner Rob Manfred’s damning statement on the matter and who seems to have been granted nothing more than a stay of execution.
If you are Henry, this is where you are now: based on multiple media reports yesterday, Cora will be suspended for at least a year. Beyond that, the best team in baseball over the last three years fired both its manager and general manager to set a standard for punishment, which will make Henry and the Red Sox look awfully weak if they pull even a single punch.
Simply put, Cora looks like toast, an astonishing turn from where he was a year ago at this time, when the Red Sox were coming off a season in which they won a total of 119 games and steamrolled their way to the world title. Cora then spoke to an assembled crowd at the annual 2019 Boston Baseball Writers dinner – scheduled for this Thursday, by the way – and stated the following: “Somebody might write this, I don’t care. If you guys thought last year was special, wait `til this year.”
We all know how that went. The Red Sox started 2-7 and 6-13, and never really recovered. They lost the division by a whopping 19 games and missed the playoffs. Now Cora looks like the mastermind of a cheating scandal and is sitting on a spring-loaded chair.
Talk about a meteoric rise and fall.
Obviously, there’s a lot to address here, particularly as the Red Sox look to shed payroll under a first-time general manager who must think he just bought a ticket on the Hindenburg. Dear Chaim Bloom: we’re not in Tampa anymore, Toto. David Price is chronically unhappy. Mookie Betts probably wants out. Your $80 million starting rotation remains an unknown and your manager is in the eye of a historic cheating scandal. If your new job allows you to return it within 90 days of purchase, you still have a little time to get out. If it doesn’t, well, we have a few ideas.
In all seriousness, think of the mess Bloom has walked into. On top of all the aforementioned issues, Bloom has a player development system to rebuild. Meanwhile, the Astros have been stripped of their first- and second-round selections in each of the next two drafts. If the Red Sox organizational penalties are anything close to what the Astros received, Bloom will have no payroll flexibility, no high draft picks, no manager and a superstar (Betts) who probably wants out.
Yowza. Talk about having your wrists and ankles bound with duct tape while being blindfolded and locked in a room with no doors and no windows.
So what should Bloom do? Good question. For starters, he might want to reach out to Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, a former Red Sox catcher, and see if he can pry him out of Tampa via trade. (Admittedly, it’s a longshot. But it can’t hurt to make the call.) Beyond that, Bloom can do nothing but sit back and let the smoke clear from what has been a turbulent beginning to his time in Boston, thanks largely to the indiscretions of an organization and manager he had nothing to do with.
As for Cora, we should know his fate in, at worst, a few weeks. For Manfred, after all, the start of spring training seems like a good time by which to have all this resolved.
And then – and only then – can the Red Sox begin to dig themselves out of all this.