Detroit Tigers Manager Candidate: Alex Cora

Alex Cora is officially suspended from baseball until the end of the World Series, but he could be the next Detroit Tigers manager.

From the moment Ron Gardenhire stepped down, Detroit Tigers fans focused on A.J. Hinch or Alex Cora as their next manager. Yes, Cora comes with a lot of baggage, but he also owns something all teams want from a potential manager: championship rings.

So let’s figure out who Alex Cora is, and see if he’s a good fit to be the next Detroit Tigers manager.

Alex Cora the Player

Jose Alexander Cora was born and raised in Caguas, Puerto Rico, and he comes from a baseball family. Alex was just 11 years old when older brother Joey made his MLB debut for the San Diego Padres. Joey would go on to play 1,119 games for four different teams and produce a solid 7.9 bWAR over parts of 11 seasons.

Alex Cora was drafted by the Pirates in the 12th round in 1993 but, like his older brother, opted for college instead. While Joey went to Vanderbilt, Alex headed to Miami (FL) where he started at shortstop and made the 1996 College World Series Final. That same summer Alex was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 3rd round.

Cora was always known more for his glove than his bat, and he made his big-league debut in June of 1998 despite an OPS south of .700 in the minor leagues. He was L.A.’s starting shortstop for most of the early 2000s, but the Dodgers let him test free agency, and he was signed by Cleveland in 2005.

Cleveland then traded him to the Boston Red Sox that July, which essentially meant the end of Cora’s days as a regular. He stuck around Boston for three more years and won a World Series in 2007, but after short stints with the Mets, Rangers, and Nationals, and attempts to catch on in spring training with the Cardinals and Tigers, his playing career was over.

Alex Cora saw action in 1,273 games over 14 seasons, but his 7.0 bWAR wasn’t quite as high as his brother’s. He actually made his MLB debut against Joey, serving as a pinch hitter in what would be Joey’s final game against the Dodgers. It was the only time they squared off in the big leagues as players.

Alex Cora the Manager

After a year away from the game Alex Cora took a job at ESPN, working as a studio analyst for Baseball Tonight and as a Spanish-language announcer for ESPN Deportes. He also served as the general manager for Puerto Rico’s 2017 World Baseball Classic, helping to build a team that went 7-1, losing only to the United States in the final.

Cora then joined Hinch and the Houston Astros as bench coach for the 2017 season, picking up his second World Series ring in the process. The following season the Red Sox hired Cora, and in his rookie year as manager he led Boston to its best record in franchise history and yet another World Series title.

The Red Sox were expected to make another run at the title in 2019, but the team’s pitching fell on hard times, with Rick Porcello posting a 5.52 ERA and David Price and Chris Sale both producing ERA’s north of 4 as they struggled through injuries. Boston had a particularly tough time with Tampa (7-12) and the hated Yankees (5-14) and finished 84-78, 19 games out of first place.

No one seemed to blame Alex Cora for the rough season, though, with the axe instead falling on General Manager Dave Dombrowski, who was fired in September. Cora was eventually fired, but for his actions with the Astros, not the Red Sox.

Alex Cora the Cheater

The baseball world was turned on its head in November 2019 when former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic that Houston had installed a camera in center field to steal signs. This revelation kicked off an MLB investigation that resulted in a report in January (yes, that was this year).

The report concluded that while the coaches and staff certainly must have known about the scheme, most had no real involvement. Nevertheless, Houston’s General Manager Jeffrey Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were both fired.

Alex Cora was one coach who was involved, and the report was particularly damning for him:

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.

The Red Sox fired Cora shortly after the report was released, and in April he was suspended by Major League Baseball through the 2020 postseason. A separate investigation into cheating allegations by Boston during their 2018 season seemed to put Cora in more peril, but Commissioner Rob Manfred found no evidence Cora was involved:

I do not find that then-Manager Alex Cora, the Red Sox coaching staff, the Red Sox front office, or most of the players on the 2018 Red Sox knew or should have known that Watkins was utilizing in-game video to update the information that he had learned from his pregame analysis.

Is Alex Cora a Fit for the Detroit Tigers?

Well, that is an awful lot of baggage. It would certainly be easier to justify the hiring of Hinch and his sins of omission than Cora and his active participation in the sign-stealing scandal. Some Detroit Tigers fans would undoubtedly be upset if their team hired someone branded as a cheater, so the team would likely have a bit of public relations work to do.

But Alex Cora will have served his suspension, and Al Avila has already stated he’ll be considered for the manager job. From a pure baseball standpoint, it’s hard to argue against Cora. He’s young, bright, bilingual, and he has plenty of championship experience already. He’s only been a coach on extremely talented teams, true, but it’s generally harder to manage with high expectations.

Whether Cora would be receptive to overtures from the Detroit Tigers is unknown. The Chicago White Sox job certainly seems a bit more attractive, and the prevailing wisdom at the moment seems to be that Cora will simply return to his role as manager of the Red Sox.

Alex Cora would be a home-run hire for the Detroit Tigers, but they had better be prepared to make a good pitch.