When Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch were fired yesterday, someone asked me what it all means for the Astros. My gut reaction was “not that much, at least in the short term.” Losing your manager and GM is not great and the loss of the draft picks will be a big blow down the line, but in the short term the team is still stocked, with Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke going 1-2 in the rotation, Alex Bregman, José Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer in the lineup and a farm system still pretty loaded with talent. They may not win 107 games again, and the rise of the Astros may be over, but they’re not likely to fall too far too fast.
The situation with the Red Sox strikes me a bit differently, though. And with Alex Cora getting fired this evening, I’m wondering if, perhaps, we may see some major changes for Boston, and if we see them quickly.
As Bill noted earlier, the Red Sox are at least trying to shrink payroll. They’ve equivocated on that at various times this offseason, first saying that they wanted to get below the Competitive Balance Tax threshold and that doing so while keeping both Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez would be difficult. They backtracked on that more recently, saying that winning, not getting under that threshold, was the priority. Still, it’s hard to separate the stated goals from the P.R. considerations. One gets the strong feeling that, yes, the Sox’ front office would love to cut payroll below $208 million if they can, but that doing it without trading Mookie Betts would be close to impossible. And, of course, trading Betts would be a huge blow to fan morale, would likely lead to a big backlash, and might sink the Sox, competitively speaking.
But . . . maybe Alex Cora getting tossed aside changes that calculus? Maybe the team’s top brass — including new Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, who has no connection whatsoever to that which happened in Boston before this winter and who has more leeway right now to build the team the way he wants to than he will ever have going forward — sees this crisis as an opportunity? Maybe they decide to cast Cora’s dismissal and whatever other penalties Major League Baseball visits upon them when the investigation is over as the straw that broke this iteration of the Red Sox’ back and decide to tear it up and start over?
Normally I’d consider this idea as rather far-fetched. And, heck, I don’t even know how much I actually believe what I’m speculating about here as I speculate about it. But the Red Sox have always done things a little differently when it comes to scandal and downturns and I can see them doing something unexpected.
This is the team who, after just falling a single game short of the postseason in 2011, waved goodbye to the manager and general manager who delivered them their first World Series title in 86 years, threw them and most of the starting rotation under the bus in the press as they did so, and then went in a completely different and rather crazy direction by hiring Bobby Valentine.
This is a team who, a year and a half after winning their next World Series, pushed out their general manager who put that club together by hiring Dave Dombrowski and then fired him less than a year after he helped deliver a World Series win.
This is a team who, in grand Red Sox tradition, saw members of the front office anonymously quoted in stories in the local press after all of these moves saying that, really, all the bad stuff was the fault of the guys who were shipped off. It’s just what they do there as a means of deflecting blame from the brass and creating scapegoats for what, in reality, were either brass decisions or situations in which there is plenty of blame to go around.
So tell me, would you be shocked if, in the coming days, there was a story in the Globe or the Herald or at WEEI or someplace in which some anonymous Sox front office person said that they were, frankly, blindsided by what Cora had done and that it disrupted all the plans the organization had? Before you answer, remember that much of the front office is new and thus has totally clean hands from the 2017-18 period and can say such things with at lease plausible deniability.
Would it shock you if, before spring training, Mookie Betts and his $27 million 2020 deal were traded to a contender for a couple of prospects? Before you answer, remember, some folks in the Boston press corps are already priming the fans for that.
Would it shock you if the Sox dumped David Price and enough of his salary to ensure that the club came in under a $208 million payroll in 2020? Before you answer, note that, just today, he was quoted saying some things about how the Red Sox could, if they wanted to, spend more money than they are, and that’s not really on-brand with what the front office would like to have out there at the moment.
Finally, would it shock you if, when all that was done, another anonymous front office employee was quoted as saying, “really, we did not want to do this, but what happened with Cora left us no choice but to start over. We have faith in Chaim that it will be a short, not a long rebuild.” Before you answer, remember that Cora wouldn’t even be the first or second recent World Series-winning manager about whom the Red Sox would say such things.
I’m not saying that’s going to happen. Or that it’s even likely. I’m just saying that, if it does, it wouldn’t shock me.