Peter Gammons: After due celebration, Alex Cora will quickly refocus on Boston

LOS ANGELES—It has been a long year for Alex Cora, exhausting at time. He assembled and ran the Puerto Rican team that finished second in the World Baseball Classic. He served as A.J. Hinch’s LBJ, a bench coach who coordinated practice and video and conduit to players; be it Carlos Correa’s injured hand, the hurricane ravaging of his Puerto Rico and its impact on Astros players and coaches or the intervention Cora, Alex Cintron, Carlos Beltran and Correa conducted that re-balanced an embarrassed Yuli Gurriel.

He worked through the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers series, and what remains is the parade in Houston. Then, this weekend in Boston, Cora becomes the face of the Fenway franchise, and by Monday he will be fully into the next step of his baseball life, now, after his year with Hinch and all the human tributaries that come with a season that begins around April Fools Day and ended in November, he wades into one of the most trying managerial positions more convinced than ever before that he can do it. “I think Alex learned a lot about himself this season,” says Hinch. “He knows he is a force in the clubhouse and the dugout,” says Correa, who had known Cora since his days at the Puerto Rican Acadamy, when the teenager was the smartest kid and best athlete in the school.

Puerto Rico is extremely important to Alex Cora. He will have a longtime friend who lives in Newton, Javier Vazquez, for support. He will have an ownership that will support him; no one who knows Tom Werner, John Henry and Sam Kennedy would be surprised if sometime in the next few weeks the Red Sox make a major trip to his country, where ever since it was announced that he would be the Boston manager—the second Puerto Rican manager—it has been frontpage news, importantly positive frontpage news, across the island that still is close to 70 per cent without power. The fact that the world champion had a Puerto Rican manager, a potential Hall of Famer and the World Series MVP whose mother is Puerto Rican is huge, but Alex Cora is the hugest news of all.

The staff Cora assembled with Dave Dombrowski brings an experienced, highly respected bench coach in Ron Roenicke; a much-needed energetic force in Carlos Febles, considered a future manager; and Tom Goodwin, like Roenicke out of the Dodger organization in which Cora was raised.

Though there is still work to be done, most importantly finding a pitching coach. Brian Bannister and Dana Levangie, who are extremely important to the pitching, will be back, but because Cora could not talk directly to candidates while in an Astro uniform, a lot of the pitching coach prospects in whom there was interest have moved on, or been re-signed; Jim Hickey went to the Cubs, Dave Eiland to the Mets, Mike Maddux to the Cardinals, and Larry Rothschild is apparently returning to the Yankees, as is Ricky Bones.

The starting rotation may be sound in Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez are healthy, but building a power bullpen in front of Craig Kimbrel from their current assemblage of big arms is vital to competing with a Yankee team that looks to be on the brink of run comparable to 1996-2001.

So that will be a priority. So, too, he has to replace Chili Davis, with the goal to create more launch in Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts. He will have input on what power bat they add. J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are all represented by Cora’s agent Scott Boras, but where ownership will go with the payroll is TBD. The Red Sox have not reached out to Giancarlo Stanton’s agent Joel Wolfe, and they probably understand that not only is Stanton’s contract sizeable, he—and no one else—will decide where he goes because of that contract. Boston is an unlikely choice (although Stanton’s mother is from Ponce), and while the Cardinals have reportedly made one of their best young pitchers available if the Derek Jeter ownership will take back some of the money, there is no comparable pitching in the upper half o the Boston system right now even if in the unlikely event Stanton says he’d go there that they could agree on player compensation. Understand: in the last week three different general managers of profitable market teams have said that if Stanton were put on waivers, he would, like Manny Ramirez 12 years ago, go unclaimed. That’s complicated.

The reports on Blake Swihart, whose ankles finally regained their strength in late August, are very good in the Dominican. Cora knows Rafael Devers’ potential from breaking down video when the ‘Stros and Red Sox played their September-October series. The same can be said about Benintendi and his high ceiling. He knows that Bogaerts and Bradley suffered from periods of lost confidence; Bogaerts is overly accountable and hard on himself, but regain the loft to his swing and his self-esteem and he can be what we all once thought he was.

Cora has long been close to Christian Vazquez, and was the person who originally introduced him to Yadier Molina, who became a mentor to the young Boston catcher. In his time with the Red Sox, Cora was very close to Dustin Pedroia. He was also close to Mike Lowell, who likely will come to Fort Myers to help Devers.

Assistant General Manager Eddie Romero will be a key figure in the transition team, a team that will also put a greater emphasis on analytics of all kinds. One major figure in the Houston front office said during the World Series that he felt the Yankees and Dodgers had surpassed the Astros in analytics practices and research, and that the team that had slid back the farthest was Boston. In his year with the Astros and working with Hinch, Cora has great respect for analytics and how they are translated to players.

Cora is not old school, very different from the schools from whence the Dombrowski/Frank Wren administration comes. He understands what Dwight Eisenhower meant when he said ”leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” What George Marshall meant with “a leader places the mission above themselves.” He knows how Theo Epstein always seeks criticism and contrary opinions. How managing people’s morale over a 162 game season is just as important as micromanaging lefty-righty matchups on a hot August Thursday day game.

He’ll get his ring sometime this spring, and he will be damned proud of it, for those Astros players who hypnotized so many of us, for his fellow citizens of the United States that live in Puerto Rico. Epstein jokes that I have thought Alex is a big league manager for a decade, about the time he began preparing for the job.

Today he celebrates. Tomorrow he’s in the parade in Houston.

Saturday morning someone will remind him that if Game Six of the 1975 World Series hadn’t been delayed, he’d have been born the day it was scheduled to be played.

Because on Saturday, managing the Red Sox is his full-time job.

Comments

  1. Please say you know, unlike our kleptocrat-in-chief, that PR is in fact not a country but part of the US . . .

  2. Peter, who in your opinion will Cashman sign to manage the Yankees?

Speak Your Mind

*