By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
In the span of weeks, the Red Sox lost their manager, their best all-around player, their highest-paid pitcher. Their second baseman will probably never play again. Their general manager looks like he’s in the 10th grade.
And so, Xander Bogaerts, we turn to you.
The start of the 2020 Red Sox season is basically one month away, folks, and amid all of the questions about the starting rotation and bullpen, the Sox may have a far more impactful issue: who will lead them. Following the trade that set Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers, we (or at least I) would feel a hell of a lot better about the Sox if Cora were still the manager. But Cora is gone, forever damaged by the explosion that was the Houston Astros cheating scandal, and the Red Sox have passed on to Ron Roenicke as if he were their grandfather.
Say what you will about Cora, but admit this: he had presence. Cora’s confidence permeated the Red Sox clubhouse to a championship in 2018, and his overconfidence brought them back to earth a year later. Regardless, Cora’s personality made the Red Sox who they were, made him the most dominant personality in the organization, and helped elevate some of the most talented, underachieving members of the Red Sox to All-Star levels.
Christian Vazquez blossomed last year under Cora, Eduardo Rodriguez became a near-20-game winner, Rafael Devers turned into a bona fide offensive force. And then there is Bogaerts, whose two seasons under Cora produced a .914 OPS, 10th-best in baseball, and who was the team’s best all-around player a year ago.
Bogaerts, of course, has attributed much of his growth as a player and person to his former manager, which brings us to this: it’s time for Bogaerts to take the lead. The Red Sox have undergone some major changes to their core in the last several weeks, losing both talent and leadership. The former is something they still have plenty of, at least on offense, even in part on the pitching staff. The middle of the Boston lineup still consists of Bogaerts, Devers and J.D. Martinez. The pitching staff, if healthy, still has Chris Sale, whose return to form could easily trigger a return to the playoffs.
But the clubhouse? For good and for bad, the DNA has been dramatically altered. Price was often a negative in the eyes of the public, but he was a strong influence in the room. Rick Porcello was a presence, too. Sale demonstrated during the 2018 World Series that he is more than capable of rallying the dugout, but starting pitchers perform only once every five days, at most, again assuming health. J.D. Martinez feels more and more like a hardball Hessian. He plays, he hits, he cashes his checks.
But Bogaerts? He was Cora’s project – and not just on the field. Cora was his mentor in the clubhouse, too. Bogaerts is not as cocky as Cora, not as brash nor as blunt. But he is capable of leading the Red Sox more than anyone else on the Boston roster because he is everything the team needs him to be. Bogaerts is respected. He is talented. He is smart and he is dependable, and with Dustin Pedroia transferred to the 60-day disabled list, he is now the only person on the 40-man roster with significant playing time in the 2013 and 2018 championship seasons.
In the end, here it the ultimate point: Bogaerts was born into this from the very beginning, a lifelong member of the Boston organization. Cora groomed him, developed him, assured him. Now the Red Sox have an entirely new mix of people and players, a new head of baseball operations, an interim manager. And the new center of the organization is their 27-year-old shortstop, in the prime of his career, a man who wears No. 2 in honor or his idol, Derek Jeter.
Like Bogaerts, Jeter wasn’t overly vocal, certainly wasn’t particularly flashy, didn’t make news or waves with his mouth or actions. But was the identity of the Yankees during a Hall-of-Fame, 20-year career because of what he did and what he stood for.
Now, more than ever, it is time for Bogaerts to do the same.
And the Red Sox, more than ever, need him to.