There is a laundry list of clichés regarding Alex Cora’s return to Boston to manage the Red Sox. “The prodigal son returns” and “you can go home again” are just two that fit. My pick is the old Chinese proverb, “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.”
Cora added his own old chestnut to the list when he was reintroduced as Boston’s skipper on November 10: “I don’t want people to treat this like it’s a great comeback story.”
Indeed, the only comeback so far is Cora coming back to manage the Red Sox. And according to 2021 MLB futures, it won’t have a fairytale ending. Boston can be found around 50/1 to win the World Series, putting the Red Sox behind everyone in the AL East except the Baltimore Orioles.
From the Penthouse to the Outhouse in Two Years
It was a fairytale ending when Cora arrived before the 2018 season and guided Boston to a club-record 108 regular season wins and fourth World Series title in 15 seasons. Expectations were again high in 2019, but the team fell off to an 84-78 record, good enough for only a third-place finish in the division.
Before all of the punishments handed down by MLB for the 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, another season on the outside of the playoffs looking in was forecast. Bookmaker set the win total at 83½ about the time the team reached Spring Training, sans Cora who by then had been fired. Baseball eventually handed him a 1-year suspension for his part as one of the main figures in the Astros’ scandal as the bench coach during their 2017 World Series run.
Had Boston lived up to that win total and played close to .520 baseball in 2020, the Red Sox would have made the playoffs. Instead, they won just 24 games (.400) and bottomed out in the cellar of the AL East.
Pitching at Top of Boston’s Offseason List
Looking back, the bar was probably set too high for Boston in 2020, and those 83+ wins were expecting too much during a normal, 162-game season. After all, the team had dealt away two of its biggest stars in Mookie Betts and David Price, and there were plenty of other questions when the club got to Fort Myers in February.
Looking forward, it’s probably too much to ask the Red Sox to compete for the playoffs – much less a division title – in 2021. In addition to Price’s trade, they also had neither Chris Sale nor Eduardo Rodriguez during the shortened 2020 campaign, and never could find a lock-down closer. As a result, Boston ranked 28th in the majors with a 5.58 ERA, though that worked out well for bettors playing ‘over’ the MLB odds with 15 winning tickets in the final 20 games.
Rodriguez should be back early in 2021, if not at the start, after having surgery to fix his heart condition. Sale probably is looking at late-April, early-May to return following elbow surgery. The team could still use another starter, though the Red Sox are unlikely players in the Trevor Bauer Sweepstakes. There are plenty of arms available on the market to fill the void at the back of the bullpen.
Could Springer and Cora Reunite in Beantown?
A few bats also didn’t help matters by getting off to slow starts in 2020. Rafael Devers was hitting below .200 as late as August 17th, but eventually came around to knock 11 homers and drive in 43. Alex Verdugo, the primary return in the deal that sent Betts and Price to LA, also started slow before getting things together. And JD Martinez, well, he never did get it going.
As a team, Boston did okay on the offensive end with a .265 batting average (1st in AL), .775 OPS (3rd) and 4.87 runs per game (5th). Still, the lineup really missed Betts as the driving force, and there are some who believe the Red Sox could make a play for free agent George Springer to fill Betts’ void, both offensively and defensively.
Springer certainly comes with baggage from his part in the Astros’ mess; then again, so does Cora whose return to the top step of the Beantown dugout could help insulate Springer from the press a bit. A native of nearby New Britain, CT, Springer might entertain a bit of a hometown discount if the free agent market is really as bad as projected this winter.
It makes for an interesting offseason in Boston, and equally interesting will be how top betting sites view the Red Sox come the beginning of Spring Training ‘21. They could surprise us all and at least hang in the playoff race for a while, but third in the AL East is likely their best hope. In the words of Cora himself, don’t expect “a great comeback.”