Red Sox should add ‘replacing Alex Cora' to list of long-term concerns originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Alex Cora conducted his first press conference of spring training on Tuesday. I wouldn't bet he's around to reprise the performance next year.
The Red Sox may be floundering, but Cora is a man with options. Normally, a manager without an extension is called a lame duck. But in Cora's case, the more accurate ornithological metaphor might be "free as a bird."
Whatever their star power issues on the field, the Red Sox do not lack it in the dugout. Cora is one of the most highly respected managers in the game, and based on the massive $40 million contract the Cubs just gave Craig Counsell to abandon the Brewers, the World Series winner would be doing himself a disservice if he didn't use his leverage while he has the chance.
Cora declined to address his desire to remain with the Red Sox on Tuesday, but he spoke extensively about the challenges of managing in Boston, the toll the job took on him last year, and how just unconcerned he is about entering the final year of his contract.
Barring an unexpected run deep into October, it's easy to envision Cora hitting free agency next fall, where he will be a man in demand. If he does leave, we'll be able to look back at his opening comments for bread crumbs.
He reiterated that with young twins, he has no intention to manage for 10 years, and that family considerations will play a role in determining his next move. Cora is entering his sixth season in Boston, with two stints wrapped around a one-year suspension in 2020.
He mentioned reading a book by famed soccer manager Pep Guardiola, who noted that, "when you spend five or six years in a place, it can take a toll on you. I think I got hit last year with that."
Sticking to soccer, he said he could understand why Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp made the surprising decision to step away from his post after this season.
He detailed the physical and emotional impact of last season, when the Red Sox finished last for the third time in four years and Cora grew noticeably unhealthier, leading to strict dietary and workout changes that have him looking nearly as lean as when he played.
"Last year was a tough one on me. I've got to be honest," the 48-year-old Cora said. "The season took a toll on me. Mentally, physically, it was tough."
Cora decided in September to focus on healthy living, in part because he didn't want to look terrible while being inducted into the Puerto Rican Hall of Fame, and partly because his partner, Angelica, had begun training with her brother to run the Boston Marathon.
"I started being like that support guy," Cora said. "I was supporting them, but it became very competitive, she was actually kicking my ass while we were running, so I decided, 'OK, you're going to take it to that level? Well I'm going to take it to that level.'"
Cora looks fit and trim, but he knows how easily it can go south, especially in a market as tough as Boston.
"It's not easy, man," Cora said. "Dealing with the media, dealing with players, the front office, the pressure of winning is not easy. It should be fun, and sometimes it's not."
Left unmentioned is the stress of trying to take a subpar roster into battle in baseball's toughest division, and it's fair to wonder why Cora would want to endure what looks like a lengthy rebuild. Usually, the manager is trying to convince the team he's worth keeping, but in this case, it might be the other way around, especially with a new and unproven chief baseball officer, Craig Breslow, calling the shots.
That leaves Cora in a position of power. He remains indebted to the organization for the loyalty it showed him after his suspension, as well as the way it has treated his family dating back more than 15 years to his time as a player. But when given the chance to declare he wants to stay here beyond this season, he said, "I don't want to talk about that right now."
"I envision myself doing other stuff in the game, with the family, back home in Puerto Rico," Cora said. "But I don't want this season to be about me. It's about the Boston Red Sox and how we need to bounce back to be better to play in October.
"Obviously it's something that's going to come up through the season and I respect that, but I really don't want to talk too much about it, because this is where I am. I love it here. I appreciate everything this organization has done with me and my family."
If Cora sounds sanguine about his future, it's because he's in a good place. Should the Red Sox surprise us, he may decide to stay. And if they don't, he'll have no shortage of suitors.
As Bob Marley's three little birds sang, "Every little thing, is gonna be all right."