Scott Lauber, ESPN Staff Writer 13d

Alex Cora's approach gives Red Sox something they need

BOSTON -- Cut through all the pomp and the pageantry, the photos and the flashbulbs, the presentation of the No. 28 jersey and the unfurling of the Puerto Rican flag, and here's what we know about Alex Cora as the next manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Nothing.

We don't know because we can't know. Cora spent one season as the Houston Astros' bench coach, picking up a World Series ring along the way. That, and two years as the manager of a winter-ball team back home in Puerto Rico, represents the extent of Cora's coaching career. He wowed president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and six other Red Sox officials in an Oct. 15 interview in New York and received sterling recommendations from Astros manager A.J. Hinch and others.

But when it comes to managing a bullpen or pinch-hitting in the ninth inning of a one-run game, we have no idea.

For now, none of that matters. And frankly, it's not why Cora is here either.

The Red Sox hired Cora two weeks ago to be their 47th manager -- and finally introduced him at Fenway Park on Monday, the first chance he was available following the Astros' parade through downtown Houston -- to cleanse the environment in the clubhouse. Under former manager John Farrell, the Sox won 93 games and a division title in back-to-back seasons. But they did so joylessly, with the constant expectation of winning in sports-crazed Boston often seeming to weigh them down.

"Sometimes an organization benefits from change," owner John Henry said Monday. "John had a tremendous tenure here -- back-to-back division championships is a really difficult thing. Sometimes you want change and not just because of your results, but there’s a time and a place for it. We thought this was really the right time."

Cora is here, then, to bring more of a personal touch. And say this for the 42-year-old former infielder: He projects positivity.

If you were looking for Cora to concede that his lack of managerial experience is a potential obstacle, sorry, not going to happen. There wasn't much point in lamenting the Red Sox's lack of power last season because, as Dombrowski said, the team is poised to surge back over the luxury-tax threshold this winter after getting below it last year, opening the door for a big free-agent signing (outfielder J.D. Martinez or first baseman Eric Hosmer) or maybe even a trade.

And if you were hoping Cora would acknowledge that managing and playing in Boston presents a challenge that doesn't exist in almost any other market, nope, he wasn't about to do that either.

"Boston, for a lot of people, is a challenge. For me, it’s not," said Cora, who joked that he's used to being second-guessed by neighbors in line at the bakery when he managed winter ball in his hometown. "I don’t think experience is going to be an obstacle for me. I think I’m prepared."

Indeed, there's a feeling within the game that Cora is as prepared as any first-time manager could possibly be. In 2005, after he got traded to the Red Sox midway through the season, Terry Francona told him, "Alex, you're going to be a big-league manager" -- and that was before he proved to have a midas touch in helping to rein in enigmatic Manny Ramirez. It's a statement Cora heard again before his playing career ended in 2011 and during a four-year tenure as an analyst on ESPN.

It only intensified this season when he became, in Hinch's words, "the best managerial prospect on the planet." But for as much as Cora can talk about his understanding of incorporating analytics into the game, his most desirable quality is the way he talks with and relates to players.

Farrell's inability to extinguish the flames of ace lefty David Price's humiliation of broadcaster Dennis Eckersley on the team plane in late June caused the situation to linger over the team for the rest of the season. But while it was one thing for Cora to pull aside Ramirez and talk sternly when they were teammates, it's seemingly another to be the manager who must smooth over Price's ongoing feud with the media and general unhappiness with playing in Boston.

If only Cora saw it that way. He believes a manager can benefit from having close bonds with players because it enables him to build trust and earn respect when tough decisions need to be made.

To wit: Cora noted his longstanding relationship with Carlos Beltran, the Astros' 40-year-old designated hitter. They played against each other in winter ball in Puerto Rico and were teammates with the New York Mets. Their families are close. But when Beltran was going to lose playing time this season because he was less productive than some other DH options, it was Cora who had to deliver the news.

"I had to be honest with him and we talked and we were still close," Cora said. "The whole thing about drawing the line, [players] understand that. But at the same time they're human beings, man, and you've got to talk to them, you've got to see how they feel. Too close to players? That doesn't exist."

The Beltran example might serve Cora well with Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. They were teammates with the Red Sox for two seasons and have remained friends. But Pedroia is 34 now and coming off serious knee surgery last month. He isn't likely to play until May, and there might be difficult conversations ahead about giving him periodic (and unwanted) rest or dropping him in the lineup.

Cora's biggest challenge, though, might be navigating the Price situation. Dombrowski can help in that area by bringing in a few high-character veteran players, as the Astros did last winter with Beltran and catcher Brian McCann. But when Cora said he reached out to Price before the World Series and had a brief phone conversation, that's only the beginning of what he hopes will be a more open line of communication between the manager and the pitcher.

In short, Cora told Price how much of a scare he gave the Astros in the American League Division Series -- "The way he threw the ball with conviction," Cora said, "I'll take that" -- and said he wanted to focus on "moving forward" rather than rehashing what happened last season.

"For me, it's unfair to talk about what happened last year. It's in the past. I'm here to move forward," Cora said. "This guy is very important for me. Whatever I can do to help him out, I'm going to be there for him. And at the same time, whatever I can do for him to be successful, I have to be there for him.

"The whole clubhouse thing, we'll be fine. You guys know how I dealt with Manny with all the situations. We tried to bring this thing together. We're going to be fine."

That's really why Cora is here, after all. The pitching changes and bullpen usage can come later.

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