| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila explains manager search, offseason expectations
Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila speaks with reporters Friday, October 2, 2020, following his team’s season to share offseason expectations.
Alex Cora has taken responsibility for his role in the 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal that led to a World Series title, but he doesn’t want to be considered the mastermind.
A nine-page report from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred detailed that Cora, then the team’s bench coach, was at the forefront of creating the system to steal signs (along with his players, including Carlos Beltran). They used a monitor near the clubhouse to decode the signs and then banged on a trash can to relay messages to hitters.
Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila confirmed on Friday that Cora and former Astros manager A.J. Hinchwill be considered for the organization’s managerial vacancy. They were each handed a one-year MLB suspension, which expires after the 2020 World Series.
“Obviously, the cheating scandal is not a good thing,” Avila said. “They’re serving their suspensions. And once their suspensions are over, they’ll be free to pursue their careers. We have not eliminated anybody from our list at this point.”
Asked for further clarification, Avila said, “I have them on my list.”
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Manfred said the sign-stealing, trash-can-banging plot was “player-driven and player-executed,” and the staff members, besides Cora, had no involvement. However, Manfred said everyone within the franchise — including Hinch — could have done more to stop the illegal actions.
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Cora doesn’t want to be known as the scientist behind the scheme, but he was the only member of the coaching staff to endorse it.
“Out of this whole process, if there is one thing that I completely reject and disagree with is people within the Astros organization singling me out, particularly (former general manager) Jeff Luhnow, as if I were the sole mastermind,” Cora told ESPN’s Marly Rivera in June. “The commissioner’s report sort of explained, in its own way, what happened. But the (players) have spoken up and refuted any allegations that I was solely responsible.”
Why Cora makes sense
Similar to Hinch, making Cora the manager comes with an opportunity for a redemption story. And everyone loves a good comeback, right?
He will be 45 years old this October, meaning a lengthy stay, wherever he ends up, should be in the cards. The Red Sox inked him to a contract extension through the 2021 season, with a club option for 2022, but the scandal nixed those plans.
Cora is considered young in terms of his coaching experience, but he’s wise in baseball years. That gives the Tigers an advantage, especially once they begin to dip into the free-agent market for veteran players to mix with their prospects.
He knows how to flip the switch, communicating with players from different generations to meet their developmental needs. Cora showed this in 2018 when he led the Red Sox to a World Series title in his first year as the manager — becoming one of five rookie skippers to do so. He brought together younger players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi, combining them with J.D. Martinez, Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, and a slew of experienced starting pitchers.
That type of growth is the end goal in Detroit with youngsters such as Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Isaac Paredes, Daz Cameron and Willi Castro, as well as Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson.
Also, Cora is bilingual. That’s not a requirement, but it would help in his communication as international prospects, like Paredes, continue to rise.
Why Cora doesn’t make sense
Avila’s job title isn’t one of a babysitter.
Despite Cora’s contention that the sign-stealing scandal wasn’t a two-man job between him and Beltran, Manfred said he was much more involved than Hinch. For example, Hinch twice destroyed the monitor used to decode the signs.
“Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs,” Manfred wrote in his statement of findings. “Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct.”
If the Tigers were to hire Cora instead of Hinch, they’d need to place greater focus on making sure he doesn’t negatively influence his players. The Red Sox were investigated and found to have participated in a sign-stealing scandal in 2018 — when Cora was the manager — but replay operator J.T. Watkins took the discipline.
Cora did not receive further punishment.
If Avila is forced to watch his back, making sure Cora, the players and staff members don’t put the organization in a bad light, he will be wasting resources in accomplishing long-term goals. Because Cora was highly involved in one scandal and the clubhouse leader for another, that makes him a riskier choice than Hinch.
And keep the Red Sox in mind.
Cora might take his old job back. The Red Sox fired first-year manager Ron Roenicke last month before the final game of the team’s 24-36 season.
“I still don’t want to get into any detail on my thoughts on Alex,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters Sept. 27, dodging questions about Cora’s candidacy for the opening. “I don’t want to say anything about Alex that I haven’t said to Alex. Obviously, I haven’t spoken to Alex. There will be a time where I can get into more detail on Alex and his situation, my thoughts on it. That time isn’t now. I’m hoping everybody will respect that.”
Most people believe Cora will climb back to the top as a manager at baseball’s highest level. After all, he won the 2018 World Series in his first year as the Red Sox manager. And he has experience as a bench coach and played 14 years in the majors.
But the baggage is simply too much.
If given the choice between Hinch and Cora, the Tigers would be wise to steer clear and take the lesser of two cheaters.