Alex Cora is gone. It is called being a mutual parting of ways, and while that may be technically true it’s pretty clear he was going to be out the door whether he agreed or not. None of this is a surprise after A.J. Hinch and Jeff Lunhow were fired by the Astros just over 24 hours prior after being suspended for the season by MLB for their role in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal. Cora’s punishment hadn’t been handed down yet, but it was going to be at least that severe, and likely moreso. The Red Sox simply got ahead of it.
Beyond what that means for Cora himself and who the Red Sox may look to in the dugout in Cora’s stead, this just generally makes a complicated offseason even more complicated for Chaim Bloom and the rest of Boston’s front office. That is not to say we should weep for Bloom — he knew what he was signing up for with regards to at least some of the stuff — but the next six weeks are going to be pretty fascinating in Boston.
That brings us to what many people have turned to after this decision, and really since the Astros punishment provided a rough blueprint for what the Red Sox could be looking at whenever MLB’s investigation into their 2018 conduct is concluded. It’s been fairly common for people to wonder if this means it’s time for the Red Sox to turn harder into a reset or a retool or a rebuild or whatever re-word you want to use. Folks, it’s absolute poppycock.
Now, I will start by saying this is not the same as me telling you it’s not going to happen. I haven’t been able to predict anything this offseason and I’m not going to pretend I’ll be able to now. Basically nothing would surprise me at this point. It certainly wouldn’t be overly surprising if the organization decided to use this as a reason to more aggressively cut payroll and we hear trade rumors start to ramp up over the rest of this week (or maybe after Winter Weekend). All I’m saying is that this entire sign-stealing scandal and the fallout — both firing Cora and the imminent punishment — should not be the excuse.
I liked Cora as a manager. Obviously the sign-stealing stuff puts a valid cloud over everything he accomplished and you can’t just hand-wave the effect it had. I won’t try to specificy how much of an effect it had because I’m super not interested in trying to quantify the unquantifiable, but while it was non-zero I don’t think it was massive, either. To put it another way, Cora brought a lot more to the table than a way to illegally steal signs. The respect he had in the dugout (maybe at least partially because of this!) was undeniable and I think he had a positive effect on the players even outside of this whole thing. Even taking away the sign-stealing, I think the Red Sox under Cora were better than they would have been without him, particularly in 2018.
That being said, losing him does not drastically alter the outlook of the 2020 Red Sox. Now, there is a pretty wide variety of opinions of what this 2020 Red Sox team is in terms of true-talent, but my point is that Cora being out of the dugout shouldn’t alter whatever your view happens to be too much. As long as the Red Sox don’t bring in another Bobby Valentine, it won’t make too much of a difference. I have made it clear I think this is a talented roster with every opportunity to make the playoffs this year, and I don’t see any manager they could reasonably bring in for the season changing that outlook. So, specifically losing Alex Cora shouldn’t be any sort of motivation to tear it down.
The bigger argument people are putting forward to retooling (or whatever you want to call it) is the likelihood that the Red Sox are going to lose draft picks. We don’t know the exact penalty at this point, but the Astros lost their first and second round picks in the next two drafts. The Red Sox’ scheme wasn’t as egregious, but it’s not a stretch that they could get the same penalty considering they were specifically warned about this at the very end of the previous season. Repeat offenders get their penalties increased in every facet of life. At the very least, I think they’ll lose their first and second round picks in the coming draft, but that’s pure speculation.
The specifics aren’t as important as the fact that, presumably, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt even more for a team like the Red Sox that does not have a particularly good farm system. (Side note: This all puts a lot more importance on the outcome of Noah Song’s situation falling in Boston’s favor.) So, the argument goes that the Red Sox need to make some trades to make up for the prospect value they will lose with these prospects.
To which I say: No. First of all, who are you trading to make up that value? Jackie Bradley Jr. and David Price obviously aren’t getting you there. Mookie Betts isn’t getting you nothing, but he’s also not getting you anything close to what a player of his caliber would seemingly deserve. Consider that most of the reports regarding his market have leaned towards a deal this winter being unlikely because teams don’t seem willing to give up fair value for him with just one year of control at $27 million. You may get a nice piece or two, but you’re not dramatically altering the farm. If your goal is really to build the farm system up, that means you’re tearing down for 2020 and a few years beyond that. It means you’re dealing Andrew Benintendi and Eduardo Rodriguez and Xander Bogaerts if you’re going to the extreme. Anything short of that is putting lipstick on the pig that is your farm.
In fact, I would argue it is at least as logical to go in the opposite direction. You could look at your farm system and look at the (presumed) upcoming penalties and think, “Well, our future is kind of screwed so we might as well push even further in for the short-term.” You could look at the very real possibility of your first pick in 2020 not being until the third round and decide now is as good a time as any to go $40 million+ over the tax threshold and drop ten spots. Who really cares once you get that deep, you know? Just go absolutely nuts and trade for Nolan Arenado, move Rafael Devers to first base and win a championship. This is mostly tongue-and-cheek because it’s extreme and never going to happen, but the point is that it’s really no more extreme than doing the things you’d need to do to legitimately rebuild your farm system.
In reality, my answer to all of this is boring: None of this should change a thing. The news that has come out since the Astros’ punishment was handed down has been anything but insignificant, but this setback shouldn’t alter offseason plans. The real answer is to simply keep along with the plan you had already set out in front of you. Granted, there’s a very real chance I’m not going to like that either, but I’ll like it even less if you let any of the stuff happening now significantly affect your thinking.