When the investigation into the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing operations concluded, Houston was hit hard, losing draft picks, dollars, and their general manager and manager. Jay Jaffe went over the penalties for FanGraphs, but Jeff Luhnow, AJ Hinch, and Brandon Taubman weren’t the only people mentioned in the report. New Mets manager Carlos Beltrán was identified as having substantial role in the so-called “banging scheme,” though given that he was a player at the time, he will not face suspension; whether the Mets will retain him as manager is still unclear. And Alex Cora’s name was littered throughout, with the former Astros bench coach identified as having played a prominent role in the team’s cheating scheme. While discipline wasn’t meted out to Cora in the Commissioner’s Monday memo, as he is also the subject of an investigation into more cheating while with Boston in 2018, a suspension is inevitable, and hoping to move forward quickly, the Red Sox and Cora, using language so euphemistic as to almost defy accuracy, “mutually agreed to part ways.”
As soon as the Astros investigation’s findings came out, Cora was as good as gone. From the Red Sox release:
“Today we met to discuss the Commissioner’s report related to the Houston Astros investigation. Given the findings and the Commissioner’s ruling, we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward and we mutually agreed to part ways.”
As for those findings and that report, Cora’s name is mentioned five times in the Rules Violation section:
Early in the season, Alex Cora, the Astros’ Bench Coach, began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information.
Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout.
Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay review room, had no involvement in the banging scheme.
Rather, the 2017 scheme in which players banged on a trash can was, with the exception of Cora, player-driven and player-executed. The attempt by the Astros’ replay review room staff to decode signs using the center field camera was originated and executed by lower-level baseball operations employees working in conjunction with Astros players and Cora.
Cora then receives a full paragraph near the end of the report under the section on culpability:
Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct. I will withhold determining the appropriate level of discipline for Cora until after the DOI completes its investigation of the allegations that the Red Sox engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing in 2018 while Cora was the manager.
We don’t yet know the length of the suspension Cora will receive, but something akin to Hinch’s season-long ban seems to be the bare minimum. Given Cora’s involvement in the scheme in Houston and the possibility of more violations during his time in Boston, multiple years and even placement on the permanently ineligible list are likely on the table, depending on his level of cooperation with the league’s investigation. Cora isn’t someone who got caught up in the scheme or simply refused to stop someone’s else’s wrongdoing. Based on the report, it seems this wouldn’t have been possible without his involvement and direction. Cora has a good reputation, both as a player and a manager, and his work to bring aid and attention to the devastation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria is to be commended, but a reputation and other good acts aren’t enough to overcome the blatant disregard he exhibited for the rules.
For the Red Sox, the situation is a bit hazier. We don’t yet know the severity of the violations in Boston, but Cora and former general manager Dave Dombrowski are both already out of the organization. The Houston report made mention of low-level employees, but ultimately held the senior on-field and front office personnel culpable for what happened. Given Cora’s involvement in Houston and the likelihood of violations in Boston, the Red Sox seem likely to try to pin as much of the blame as possible on Cora in an attempt to deflect further penalties from an organization that has already been fined for this type of behavior and previously ran afoul of the Commissioner with respect to international signings.
We don’t know if any other members of the coaching staff will be named or how that might effect the search for a new manager. Current bench coach Ron Roenicke has managerial experience and took the Brewers to within a couple games of the 2011 World Series in his first season after Ken Macha was let go following a disappointing 2010 campaign. Roenicke hung around .500 the next three seasons before a 7-18 start to the 2015 season led to him being replaced by current Brewers manager Craig Counsell. Current Red Sox general manager Chaim Bloom didn’t hire Cora or Roenicke, or most of the rest of the current major league staff for that matter. While an overhaul will certainly be difficult at this late date in the offseason — and is therefore perhaps unlikely — it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Bloom conduct his own search and hire the person he wants for the job as opposed to the person who can most easily slide into the role amidst unusual circumstances. Ken Rosenthal has reported that Matt Quantaro, the Rays bench coach, is unlikely to be the next manager, as former Rays’ employees have generally not taken staff with them to their next team. An overhaul of the coaching staff could prove difficult, but it would also prevent a lot of questions from following the club as it starts the year.
Meanwhile, MLB still has questions of its own to answer. The focus thus far has been on the Astros and the Red Sox because those are the teams that reports have publicly identified as having engaged in violations of baseball’s written rules. We only know of the Astros’ scheme because Mike Fiers went on the record with The Athletic, and the trail of that scheme led to Cora and Boston. Before the penalties came down, Jay Jaffe wrote about how baseball’s failure to see this issue coming in some ways mirrored the league’s past missteps with respect to steroids and PEDs. The investigatory phase has the potential to draw more parallels. The Mitchell Report, investigating PED users, did not name all steroid users; it simply identified those connected with federal HGH raids, leaked BALCO testimony, or persons whose plea bargains required them to provide names to investigators. Right now, MLB has been alerted to electronic sign-stealing primarily through the work of others before commencing investigations into those allegations themselves. We don’t know if there is more to find, and we don’t know how MLB can or will root out other incidents, or even if it wants to. The league’s decision not to suspend players, and thus avoid lengthy appeals, suggests it is keen to move on.
MLB has sent a strong signal in the form of punishments meant to deter others from engaging in this type of cheating. But we don’t yet know how MLB plans to actively prevent this behavior in the future, nor do we have a concrete sense of how far-reaching this type of behavior has been. Alex Cora’s removal is the latest domino to fall in Houston’s scandal. There will certainly be more in the coming weeks, but much like the steroid era, we may not ever get the complete truth about what happened and who was involved.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.