Red Sox leave the door open for Alex Cora to return following suspension for sign-stealing scheme

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred released his report detailing the investigation into the 2018 Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. The Red Sox were said to have illegally stolen signs that season — a World Series championship season — and Manfred’s report confirmed those suspicions. Video replay operator J.T. Watkins was found to have used video to illegally steal signs in real time.

“I find that J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video replay system operator, on at least some occasions during the 2018 regular season, utilized the game feeds in the replay room, in violation of MLB regulations, to revise sign sequence information that he had permissibly provided to players prior to the game,” Manfred said in his report.    

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Red Sox’s punishment is that former manager Alex Cora was not disciplined. He was given a one-year suspension for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Cora was Houston’s bench coach in 2017 and Manfred’s report identified him as a ringleader. With Boston, Cora did not have an active role in their sign-stealing scheme and was punished further, according to Manfred.

“Alex Cora will be suspended through the conclusion of the 2020 Postseason for his conduct as the bench coach of the Houston Astros in 2017,” Manfred wrote in his report. “While I will not impose additional discipline on Cora as a result of the conduct engaged in by Watkins (because I do not find that he was aware of it), I do note that Cora did not effectively communicate to Red Sox players the sign-stealing rules that were in place for the 2018 season.”

Speculation that Cora would be given a significant punishment — including that found in these very internet pages — proved to be premature and incorrect. With Boston, Cora was guilty of not ensuring those working under him were aware of the sign-stealing rules and that’s it. Manfred states Cora did not have an active role in the Red Sox’s scheme despite being a central figure in Houston’s.

Following Wednesday’s announcement Red Sox president San Kennedy, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, and general manager Brian O’Halloran held a conference call with reporters to discuss the sign-stealing scandal. They were of course asked about the decision to part ways with Cora and replace him with Ron Roenicke, who had the interim label removed and is now the full-time manager.

“We did part ways with Alex Cora given what had happened in Houston and it was a mutual parting of ways,” Kennedy said. “It was a difficult parting of ways because everyone with the Red Sox — (owner) John Henry, (chairman) Tom Werner, myself, Chaim Bloom, Brian O’Halloran — we all have great admiration and respect for Alex. He came to the conclusion, as did we, that we needed to part ways given the conduct in Houston. Nothing has changed on that front.”


Could Alex Cora’s second chance come with the Red Sox?

Bloom added: “At the time we parted ways with Alex, we were clear that that was a result of his role in what happened with the Astros and everything the investigation over there revealed. It had nothing to do with what may or may not have occurred in Boston. That’s still the case. All the reasons we parted ways with him there are still the case.”

Now that Manfred exonerated Cora from any wrongdoing with Boston, does he deserve a second chance to be a big league manager? Kennedy believes so, and Bloom did say the decision to move on from Cora had “nothing to do with what may or may not have occurred in Boston.”

“I do (believe he deserves a second chance),” said Kennedy. “That’s my personal feeling. He does need to go through a rehabilitation process. What he did was wrong. He acknowledged it to us and apologized to us for that. But I’m a big believer in second chances and we all wish him well.”

That would seem to leave the door open for Cora to return to Boston once his suspension is up. Roenicke is on a one-year contract, and while the interim label was removed Wednesday, he may still functionally serve as an interim. Once Cora’s suspension is up, the Red Sox could easily bring him back to replace Roenicke. He’s beloved, as Kennedy said, and he’s also a brilliant baseball mind and strategist. He’s an asset in the dugout.

At the same time, Cora is also a known cheater. He was not an active participant in Boston’s sign-stealing scheme but Manfred made it clear he was a major player in Houston’s. “Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct,” Manfred wrote in his January report.

Teams are willing to overlook cheating. Case in point: players who fail performance-enhancing drug tests keep getting lucrative contracts. If the good (he helps you win and make money) outweighs the best (negative PR), the team will bring you aboard. The same will be true with Cora, and former Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow at that. Is the net value added positive? If yes, they’ll find a way to make it work.

For the Red Sox, it might be best to turn the page completely and move on from Cora. Bring him back next year and his presence will become a distraction. He didn’t play a role in Boston’s sign-stealing scheme, but he was a major player in Houston’s, and the questions will linger. He’ll be asked about it daily, the players will be asked about it, Kennedy and Bloom and everyone else in the front office will be asked about. It’ll become A Thing.

The guess here is Cora and Hinch will one day be allowed back into baseball, likely sooner rather than later. Luhnow is a bit of a different case and may not be so lucky. Even if teams are not yet ready to put Cora and Hinch back in the manager’s seat, they can help in front office roles. Some image rehabilitation is required, but it’s clear second chances are coming. With Cora, it’s entirely possible the second chance comes back in Boston.

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