Tomase: Red Sox' positive clubhouse vibes are a pleasant surprise originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Alex Cora measures clubhouse chemistry not in vibes or personality, but slumber.
When he's overseeing a functional, professional group, he sleeps like a baby. When he's not, he might sport bags under his eyes, five o'clock shadow, and an irritable disposition.
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Twins shortstop Carlos Correa recently invited Cora to dinner, but figured the manager would be too distracted during the hectic early days of spring.
"I was like, 'You know what, Carlos? Honestly, when I get home, I've been very relaxed,'" Cora said. "Everything we've done has been very solid. I have no doubts about the clubhouse. When that happens, it's very easy to go home, watch TV, cook dinner, have a glass of wine, and go to sleep. I've been getting some good sleep the last three weeks.
"In five years," Cora added with a laugh, "that's not always the case."
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Say what you want about the 2023 Red Sox and their uncertain path out of last place, but early returns on the clubhouse, at least, are positive. Despite turning over much of their veteran leadership, the Red Sox so far exude quiet professionalism.
That might have something to do with the quality of winner they added this winter. Former Dodgers Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen won a World Series in 2020 alongside holdover Kiké Hernández. Former Braves Adam Duvall and Chris Martin won it all in 2021 (and Duvall also earned a ring with the 2014 Giants). Infielder Adalberto Mondesi made his big league debut during the 2015 World Series with the champion Royals. Right-hander Corey Kluber may not have won a title, but he carried Cleveland to within a whisker of one with a heroic 2016 postseason.
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So while outsiders might see a lackluster offseason devoid of star power, within the walls, the new arrivals expect to pick up where they left off.
"The expectation is to win, because we've got a bunch of guys that have won in the past," Duvall said. "That's where it all starts. You start with the expectation, and then the drive to do what it takes to win. And then you kind of let the chips fall where they may. I've been on a couple of World Series winners, and neither of them showed up not expecting to win. ... Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, but you just feel it when it happens."
It was fair to question the leadership transition given the talent drain. A year ago, the Red Sox could lean on Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Christian Vazquez, and Nathan Eovaldi to set the tone.
Now they're incorporating a host of new faces, and they don't appear to have been selected at random.
"Chemistry on the team is something that's very undervalued," said veteran left-hander James Paxton. "It's something that I think they paid attention to in putting this team together, and I think it's showing."
On any given morning in JetBlue Park, you might see right-hander Tanner Houck challenging teammates to games of H-O-R-S-E on a basketball hoop plunked in the middle of the clubhouse. Sale has been bouncing around with a hop in his step, clearly feeling healthier than he has in years. Jansen shares the locker right next to him and typically faces out, inviting conversation. Former teammates Hernández and Turner joke around, alongside Duvall and Christian Arroyo. Reliever Richard Bleier is deadpan funny.
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Whether this translates onto the field remains to be seen, but at least the Red Sox aren't starting at a deficit. A spring training visitor in 2012, for instance, could sense the dysfunction that came to define Bobby Valentine's clubhouse almost from Day 1. Similarly, the 2013 club showed up with a feeling of exuberance and togetherness that carried through the World Series trophy presentation.
"I've been in a lot of organizations and been on some teams with some really good chemistry in the clubhouse, and I think this is definitely a good group to build on for sure," Martin said. "We all still need to get to know each other and things like that, just because it's a pretty new group, but from what I can tell, everybody's ready to compete."
On a team with seven All-Stars and eight World Series winners, perhaps the most important stat is this -- Cora keeps getting a full night's sleep.