Red Sox

Is Roenicke Just Keeping Seat Warm for Cora's Return to Red Sox?

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ron Roenicke talked. Chaim Bloom smiled. Brian O'Halloran nodded.

And the only man I could think about as the Red Sox introduced their new manager was their old one.

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Alex Cora will not be in charge of a baseball team in 2020. We needn't wait for the commissioner's report on cheating in the 2018 championship season to know that much. Still, as long as he's out there, and as long as the Red Sox don't find someone more permanent-sounding than a respected 63-year-old baseball lifer hired to make the best of a bad situation, we'll all ponder the same question:

With Cora's shadow looming over his old office, might he one day reclaim it?

It's not beyond the realm of possibility. Roenicke himself called Cora the most gifted communicator he has ever seen on Tuesday, and even as he's expected to lose the "interim" modifier from his title once MLB announces the results of its investigation and presumably clears him, it's questionable to consider the former Brewers manager the long-term solution.

He feels like a placeholder for the predecessor who hired him, because Cora still checks all the boxes that made him such a hot commodity two years ago: great communicator in multiple languages, confident, daring, whip-smart, analytically inclined, a presence in all aspects of baseball operations. The one significant demerit against him -- convicted cheater -- can be overcome, like most things, with the passage of time. A contrition tour wouldn't hurt, either.

Welcome to the manager's office, Ron Roenicke. If the Red Sox struggle in 2020 through no fault of Roenicke's because of an undermanned rotation and lack of organizational depth, and if the Red Sox decide to go manager hunting again in the fall, but this time with an entire offseason to conduct their search, would anyone be surprised if they rehire Cora?

I wouldn't, which is unfair to Roenicke, but also reality, though there are obviously complicating factors. If Cora is suspended for more than a year, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox leaving the light on for him. If he's suspended for life, which felt possible in the days after his ouster but not so much anymore, then it's really time to move on. And considering that Bloom bears little allegiance to him, he'd need to win over the new boss.

But if Cora misses a year and the end of his suspension just happens to coincide with the start of a new managerial search, then it would be easy to see the stars realigning for his return.

I'd be all for it, because I continue to believe Red Sox overreacted by parting ways as abruptly as it did. John Henry and Co. described the split as mutual, and maybe in the heat of the moment, with the world crashing down on him, Cora really did believe he had lost the ability to lead. I suspect, however, that the perspective afforded by even a couple of weeks away has softened his stance. Rather than accept his mutual resignation, the Red Sox could've insisted that he hold off on such a momentous decision until the overheated emotions had cooled.

But they didn't, perhaps because they believed it would buy them some leniency in the investigation that is projected to wrap up any day now, and which seems intent on making Cora its fall guy.

That's too bad, because we know that Henry loves him, that the front office loves working with him, and that he was eager and open to increasing the role of analytics in his game-planning, which, love it or hate it, is the way of the world. Only a handful of former players command respect equally amongst the jocks and the nerds, to colloquialize, and Cora's one of them.

That's a rare combination, and when you find someone featuring those traits, you only let him go under duress, which is what happened here.

So while the Red Sox celebrate Roenicke's arrival and its attendant stability following a tumultuous offseason, let's not forget about the guy who used to man his office.

He may yet find his way home.


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