There’s a good chance Alex Cora won’t be managing the Boston Red Sox in 2020 — and perhaps not ever again.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced his punishment Monday for the Houston Astros in their sign-stealing scandal and the harshest penalty yet might be looming for Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach when the cheating scheme happened in 2017.
Cora was spared for now, as Manfred noted the league’s department of investigations was next turning its attention to sign-stealing allegations against the Boston Red Sox that surfaced last week. Those involve the 2018 season, when the Red Sox won the World Series with Cora as their first-year manager.
The Red Sox are alleged to have, according to The Athletic, used their video-replay room to decode signs and pass them along to teammates. This wasn’t as sophisticated as the Astros’ system, but it was still illegal, particularly after MLB issued a warning to teams against doing this very thing.
If the Red Sox were smart, they wouldn’t wait for MLB to finish its investigation. They’d fire Cora right away. They’d clean their hands of this mess and its implications about their 2018 World Series title. They’d do it before an MLB investigation finds anything else unscrupulous about Cora’s tenure with the team or while the attention is still on the Astros.
The Red Sox already got rid of their 2018 GM Dave Dombrowski and hired someone new. Given what we learned Monday about Cora’s role in the Astros’ cheating, starting with a clean slate is probably Boston’s best move right now. Nobody would blame the team given how MLB pointed to Cora as the mastermind.
In Monday’s ruling on the Astros, MLB suspended GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch each for the 2020 season. Not long after, Astros owner Jim Crane upped the ante and fired both of them. Here’s the rub, though: MLB’s investigation didn’t explicitly implicate Luhnow or Hinch as being the mastermind of the sign-stealing scheme.
Luhnow maintained to MLB investigators that he didn’t know about it. Hinch admitted that he knew about it and took steps to discourage it (like smashing the monitor players used to watch illegal video of opposing teams’ sign), but he never actually put a stop to it.
But you know who was mentioned the most in MLB’s investigation? Alex Cora.
In Manfred’s statement — which totaled nine pages after three months and 68 witness interviews, plus review of thousands of emails and Slack conversations — Cora’s name appears 11 times.
According to MLB’s investigation, Cora was involved in the sign-stealing scheme from the beginning. It was Cora who arranged for a monitor to be installed near the Astros dugout showing a feed of a center field camera that players could use to watch opposing teams’ signs. And it was Cora who helped develop the famous signal, banging on a trash can to signal batters that a breaking ball was coming.
After all those hours of investigating, MLB believes that the scheme was “with the exception of Cora, player-driven and player-executed” — said another way, he was the only person in a position of authority directly involved in what was going on.
When Luhnow issued a statement Monday afternoon, there were two notable parts. First, he said adamantly, “I am not a cheater.” Then, he pointed the finger at Cora:
“The video decoding of signs originated and was executed by lower-level employees working with the bench coach.”
That’s not just Luhnow throwing Cora under the bus to save himself. It’s actually pretty close to MLB’s conclusion about Cora, in which Manfred said:
“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.”
Considering Hinch got suspended for a season by MLB, that would seem to be the starting point for a Cora suspension based on what’s in the Astros report. But if you combine whatever punishment is awaiting Cora after a Red Sox investigation, it stands to be much more.
Which is why there’s one alternative that makes sense for the Red Sox: Fire Alex Cora.
Astros ownership already set the precedent. If the Red Sox try to stick by him now and hope for the best in their own investigation, things could get even worse.
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