January 14, 2020
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Red Sox should follow Astros’ lead and fire Alex Cora if he’s suspended for sign stealing

Michael Dwyer | AP
Michael Dwyer | AP
Boston Red Sox manger Alex Cora speaks during a news conference at Fenway Park in Boston, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019.

The Astros fired manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow on Monday after Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred suspended both for the 2020 season.

The Red Sox should follow the Astros’ lead and fire manager Alex Cora if Manfred suspends him for a year or longer for his role in illegal sign stealing both in Houston and Boston.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Cora’s punishment “is bound to be far longer” than the suspensions Hinch and Luhnow received for their involvement in the Astros’ scheme.

Cora served under Hinch as Houston’s bench coach in 2017 and played a key role in devising the electronic sign stealing system the Astros used. MLB still is investigating the Red Sox for using their video replay room to steal signs electronically during 2018, Cora’s first year as Boston’s manager.

“Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs,” the MLB report about the Astros’ sign stealing stated. “Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct.”

Kudos to Manfred for handing out unprecedented punishments to Hinch and Luhnow. He now should do the same with Cora. Electronic sign stealing is ruining baseball. Not only does it put pitchers at an extreme disadvantage (also kudos to pitcher Mike Fiers for exposing the Astros’ scheme), but it also has helped slow down pace of play.

The severity of these punishments is exactly what the league needed to end — or at least drastically decrease — illegal sign stealing. How many players, managers and front office employees now will think twice before doing it? A suspension of a year or longer is not worth the risk.

It makes little sense for the Red Sox to wait for Cora to return if his suspension is far longer than Luhnow’s and Hinch’s, as Passan suggested. Players and coaches spend 10, 12 hours (sometimes longer) each day at the ballpark during a 162-game schedule. The Red Sox, like any team, need a leader who will be there every day, breaking down gameplans, studying film with pitchers, hitters and coaches. They need stability at manager. So much changes for a team during the course of a season. Why wait for a manager who is sitting at home because he cheated?

When a new general manager is hired, he is typically allowed to select his own manager anyway. Red Sox ownership committed to keeping Cora after firing president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in September and hiring Chaim Bloom as their new chief baseball officer in October.

This is the perfect excuse for the Red Sox to give Bloom a chance to make his own hire.

All major league pitchers should be ecstatic about the punishments handed out Monday. I heard multiple major league pitchers last year talk about the increase in homers to the opposite field by non-power hitters. Ask any pitcher. “Everyone is going oppo,” they’ll all tell you.

There’s more to it than a juiced baseball.

The Astros used their sign stealing scheme throughout the 2017 postseason, MLB stated in its report.

Red Sox ace Chris Sale immediately should have called Cora after reading the initial report from The Athletic to ask him how much sign stealing contributed to Houston dominating him in Game 1 of the 2017 ALDS. Sale allowed seven runs, all earned, nine hits and three homers. The ace finished second for the 2017 AL Cy Young and the Astros annihilated him in his first ever postseason appearance. Coincidence? Cora previously said the Astros beat Sale by splitting the plate in half and not swinging at Sale’s inside pitches.

Maybe Sale doesn’t care about one game or his personal statistics. His personality suggests he wouldn’t care. But he should.

Postseason legacy matters, especially for someone like Sale who is putting together a Hall of Fame resume. The lefty has a career 5.76 postseason ERA. Eliminate that one start vs. Houston and he’d enjoy a more respectable 4.05 ERA in the playoffs.

Pace of play, meanwhile, is a major issue in baseball. The 2019 Red Sox led Major League Baseball in average time (3 hours, 25 minutes). Sixteen of their games extended beyond 4 hours. Thirty-three Red Sox games lasted beyond 3 hours, 39 minutes.

MLB placed a limit on mound visits (six per game for each team) to try to improve pace of play. Catchers were visiting the mound to change signs. Limiting mound visits didn’t fix the cheating, obviously. It probably made it easier for hitters (and coaches).

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