Cora has lots of proving (and improving) to do

FILE - In this Nov. 1, 2018, file photo, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora waves as he walks onto the court with the baseball World Series trophy during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks in Boston. The Red Sox rehired Cora as manager Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, less than a year after letting him go because of his role in the Houston Astros cheating scandal. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Alex Cora has some work to do. As in heavy lifting, of the fork-lift variety.

And we’re not talking about any collateral damage from the Houston Astros cheating scandal he apparently led. That’s a discussion for another day.

This is about the Boston Red Sox which hired – or rehired – Cora to return as the manager of the team going forward.

His year suspension after being implicated in the Astros cheating scandal of 2017 has been served.

This is different from 2018, when pieces were in place and Cora only had to make, it seemed, easy decisions with five players being named All-Stars (Mookie Betts, Mitch Moreland, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel), three finishing in the top 13 for American League MVP (Betts, first; Martinez, fourth; Xander Bogaerts, 13th) and a pitching staff with four high-end starters (Sale, Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez) pitching every fifth day.

Amazingly, the 2018 Red Sox never lost more than three straight games, and the only three times they did in late August and late September, their cushion was too big to matter.

Cora was the perfect guy for that veteran squad. He had the likeable personality and let the guys play.

This is 180 degrees away from 2018.

There are enough question marks to fill an SAT exam.

There is no Mookie. There is a questionable and fragile pitching staff. There is one MVP candidate (Rafael Devers), maybe two if you count Bogaerts.

The Red Sox, for all intents and purposes, are not good. Technically, they are, with a few key additions, average.

Which brings us to the new-old manager, Cora.

There were reasons to want to Red Sox to go elsewhere in their search for a skipper. Cora’s 2019 was as bad as his 2018 season was special.

Cora’s arrogance in treating his second season as Part II of his first season was a huge mistake and so un-Belichickian. The Red Sox weren’t ready for the 2019 -- see 6-13 start versus 17-2 in 2018 -- and the luck, most of which was good the year before, was all bad.

But you know what? Before Bill Belichick became “Bill Belichick,” he had his Cleveland Browns experience. He did too much and didn’t have public relations on his side.

He got better.

Cora will probably be better. More to the point, Cora had better be better.

But this second Cora act might take some time, which isn’t going to be easily acceptable in New England, after back-to-back disappointments at Fenway Park.

Red Sox fans aren’t into long-term rebuilds with short-term ticket bills among the highest in the game – Red Sox were No. 1 in average ticket price in 2019 at $167.

Red Sox president of baseball ops, Chaim Bloom, allegedly made this decision to bring back Cora.

That is important because Bloom’s work in Tampa Bay, over 15 years, was extraordinary.

Bloom is into – to put it simply – pitching and percentages, both of which were elite under his watch as Vice President with the Rays.

That means the Red Sox successes going forward will have less to do about Cora’s pleasant personality and more about his timely placement of talent.

Again, changing “culture” takes time. Developing homegrown talent takes time.

Cora needs to balance that line, inspire a few players like Devers and Alex Verdugo to upgrade their roles as a young talent to team leaders.

And, as a team, get better.

Cora’s job description as manager of the Boston Red Sox is different now. This isn’t solely about winning. This is about building a winner.

This Red Sox gig is going to be a tougher one.

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@gloucestertimes.com.

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