FORT MYERS — Sights, sounds and other observations from two weeks of covering the Red Sox in spring training, beginning with: Alex Cora is the right man at the right time to be managing this team.
While it’s hard to form an opinion on Cora’s ability to make key in-game decisions based on a couple of spring training games and the daily grunting and groaning of batting practice, rundown drills and pitcher’ fielding practice, there’s a calmness about the guy his players are going to find refreshing.
On Thursday morning, a couple of hours before the Sox’ annual twin bill against Northeastern University and Boston College, Cora was hanging around in the clubhouse in a way that suggested his days as a utility infielder. Seated backwards on a chair, leaning forward with his chin resting on his arms, Cora gabbed with second baseman Dustin Pedroia and shortstop Xander Bogaerts in an easy, carefree manner.
I’m comfortable stating that no real information or insights were exchanged during the conversation. It was more a case of three guys shooting the spring training breeze. And while I’m not here to beat up former Sox manager John Farrell, we can agree he lost the clubhouse last season. Cora, on the other hand, is all new and shiny and can kick back with the boys.
Nobody needs to remind Cora he’s no longer a player. He’s a manager now, which means there’s a wall — figuratively as well as literally — between him and his players. But it’s a see-through wall, and that’s going to help.
• For the second straight spring Hanley Ramirez has David Ortiz’ old locker in the home clubhouse at JetBlue Park. And as we saw last year, he has adopted a lot of Big Papi’s act, from being an oversized clubhouse presence to going way, way out of his way to interact with Sox fans young and old.
Also to Ramirez’s credit, he chose diplomacy the other day when a crowd of reporters showed up at his locker for reaction to the news that Boston had agreed to a five-year, $110 deal with slugging DH/outfielder J.D. Martinez.
“It’s a good bat and at least 40 homers, and we’re trying to win this (expletive),” he said.
But keep an eye on this. The expectation is that Ramirez will lose a ton of playing time once Martinez is in uniform, and Big Hanley needs 497 plate appearances this season for his $22 million vesting option to kick in for 2019. Ramirez insists we media types care more about his vesting option than he does, but that could change when the regular season starts and he’s not getting plate time.
• And speaking of J.D. Martinez, his unveiling as the newest member of the Red Sox went from being an eagerly-anticipated event to a long, drawn-out affair that became easy to mock.
Sealing the deal on a player of this magnitude isn’t as easy as affixing signatures to a piece of paper. Lots of due diligence is required, which means medical records being shuttled back and forth. But it exposes the danger of players and their agents — in this case Martinez and Scott Boras — leaking information before the team has everything in place for the announcement.
Had the J.D. Martinez presser been held on Wednesday, it would have been a celebration. Instead, there was this: Prior to the Sox’ Grapefruit League opener against the Minnesota Twins Friday afternoon at JetBlue Park, I was approached by several Sox’ fans whose questions were along the lines of, “So are they going to get this guy or what?”
• I believe the Red Sox have botched their handling of Blake Swihart. He came to the big leagues as a catcher, lost nearly a full season after injuring himself in the outfield, and now, supposedly, is being groomed for some kind of utility role. He’s out of options and will probably be lost if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, but that doesn’t mean the Sox should be moving him all over the field this spring — especially if he starts getting reps in the infield. He was originally a shortstop growing up in New Mexico and then moved behind the plate, and it’s been seven years since the Sox selected him in the first round of the 2011 amateur draft.
It’s obvious Swihart wants to have a role on the 2018 Red Sox. But he must be getting tired of saying some variation of “whatever I can do to help” to every reporter that shows up at his locker.
• I’m betting on big turnarounds for David Price and Rick Porcello. They’re healthy, they’re smart and they take care of themselves. Given the way the 2017 season ended, it’s easy to forget how nasty Price looked in those two relief outings against the Houston Astros in the Division Series. As for Porcello, he won’t win the Cy Young Award, as he did in 2016, but he’ll be much better than last year, when he went 11-17 and gave up a league-high 38 homers.
• I pulled Cora aside Thursday morning and quizzed the new manager about my obsession with Bogaerts sliding headfirst into first base, a bad habit that has the potential to bring about a lengthy stay on the disabled list one of these days.
“I’m not a fan of it, but I did it,” Cora admitted. “If anybody has an idea how to tell him to stop doing it, please tell me. Because as someone who did it, it’s a hard habit to break. I kept doing it my whole career.”
Cora did note that he saw Boagerts slide head-first into first last year and noted that “it wasn’t pretty. We’ll talk, but, again, it’s a habit, and a hard one.”
Cora relayed a story from his playing days and suffering a thumb injury on a slide into second base.
“I go to a doctor and he compares the thumbs and he says, ‘Wait a minute, is this the bad one?’” Cora said. “I had injured the right thumb, but the left thumb was just as bad. I had injured it the night before — sliding into first. It just happens, man.”
Source : http://www.bostonherald.com/sports/columnists/steve_buckley/2018/02/buckley_so_far_alex_cora_looks_like_a_good_fit_with_red_sox