The Orioles had themselves quite a Thursday at the former Fenway South, not only winning their 100th game and the American League East title, but announcing the signing of a new 30-year lease that will quash the rumors they’re moving to Nashville for the time being.
The Red Sox? Well, they got celebrated on for the second night in a row. At least they’re bringing someone joy as these final days drizzle away.
In honor of the three more games before they’re mercifully deposited into the dustbin of history, here are three thoughts at least tangentially related to the squad that, no, Kenley Jansen, was not a “great team” at any point during this middling-at-best season.
Alex Cora’s assuredness
Last-place teams tend to have few sacred cows as they approach the offseason, even before throwing in the firing of their teambuilder. In addition to their pre-free agency players, the Sox have eight under contract for 2024: Chris Sale (See you Opening Day!), Trevor Story, Masataka Yoshida, Rafael Devers, Jansen, Chris Martin, Garrett Whitlock, and Rob Refsnyder.
They also have Alex Cora, whose contract ends after next season and who intends to be here for it.
“I’m good. I’ll be here,” the manager told reporters before Wednesday’s dreadful home finale at Fenway Park. “I’ll be here next year.”
It wasn’t a huge surprise, even when his bosses have recently been called “arguably the most reactionary in the sport.” Their affinity for Cora is no secret, Bloom bringing him back in the winter of 2020-21 at minimum a choice he was encouraged to make.
But we are talking about the steward of a fundamentally unsound team. One that has absolutely crumpled down the stretch, an AL-worst 10-24 since sweeping at Yankee Stadium from Aug. 18-20.
Have the Red Sox quit on Cora? I don’t think so. I think they just stink as currently constructed, and clearly ownership does as well. The Kyle Barraclough Game is the defining moment of the season: The manager, his team still with a puncher’s chance in the wild-card race, throwing up his hands because he had no more arms to which to go.
Bloom took the fall. But it’s still striking to think about the way Sam Kennedy spoke about bringing him someone to rethink all the team’s baseball operations while also locking in someone who’s clearly a big part of the puzzle here.
Cora was at the wheel of the greatest team in franchise history in 2018. He had the deadline-supplemented Sox within two games of the World Series in 2021. Outside of that?
His 2019 team dramatically underachieved as Cora spent the summer publicly assuring they’d figure it out. The same manager who this winter lamented the lack of fundamentals at the sport’s highest level just completed a third straight season with a below-average defensive team, and his 2023 squad is bottom six in taking the extra base.
Its most aggressive runner is, not surprisingly, Devers, whose five outs made at home are tied with Fernando Tatis Jr. for most in the majors.
Much like Joe Morgan 30 years ago, Cora’s likely gotten more out of a flawed roster than most would. But his tenure now reads three bad years out of five, and with one year left on his deal, his place in the organization is one more middling season away from feeling an awful lot different.
When Cora pulled Justin Turner from the home finale in the sixth inning, too few appeared to notice. The veteran received an ovation, though hardly one worthy of the season he put together.
“Throughout the season, he was the leader not only on the field, but off the field, what he did in the community,” Cora told reporters. “Let’s see what the future holds. I’m not saying he won’t be back, but it felt right.”
Turner, who made a base $8.3 million plus a reported extra $1 million in performance bonuses, has a $13.4 million player option for 2024. His deal also has a $6.7 million buyout, meaning the open market will almost certainly net him more money if that’s what he’s after.
Through Thursday’s game, his .274/.344/.455 line nets a season 14 percent better than league average — a step down from his nine years in Los Angeles, but that plus his veteran presence won’t have anybody regretting his signing. (Even if J.D. Martinez has 32 homers with the Dodgers.)
Turner’s 2.1 bWAR would be the fifth-best age-38 season in Red Sox history, behind Ted Williams (9.7, 1957), Bob Johnson (6.3, 1944), David Ortiz (2.6, 2014), and Mickey Vernon (2.4, 1956). More importantly, he’s potentially landed himself the DH slot on the All-One-Season Red Sox Team.
ALL-ONE-SEASON RED SOX LINEUP
1B: Nick Esasky, 1989 (3.9 bWAR)
2B: Luis Alicea, 1995 (2.3)
SS: Orlando Cabrera, 2004 (1.8)
3B: Adrian Beltre, 2010 (7.8)
LF: Jesse Burkett, 1905 (2.7)
CF: Tom Umphlett, 1953 (2.0)
RF: Hunter Renfroe, 2021 (2.4)
DH: Justin Turner, 2023 (2.1)
You could convince me Cody Ross 2012 is a better choice than Burkett even though Ross played much more right field. That you would even consider arguing about this alone pleases me.
I was among that sparse Fenway crowd on Wednesday, and while it’s not newsworthy that a person who covers the Red Sox attended a Red Sox game, I did so from the seats with my family.
Shout out to the (I presume) season ticket holder who was selling their eight-rows-off-the-field seats for in excess of an 80-percent discount. My 7-year-old got to ride the “T,” eat a bag of peanuts, douse himself in mini-helmet ice cream, and scream sing “Sweet Caroline.” He was gleeful even before a bat boy threw him a baseball on the way out.
I was struck by a lot of things watching a dreadful, Devers-less lineup get eaten alive by Tyler Glasnow and four relievers. The one that sticks with me? The number of Red Sox jerseys in those seats of players departed from the organization.
It’s not that I didn’t see any Devers or Verdugo ones, but I certainly didn’t see nearly as many as I did Bogaertses and J.D. Martinezes.
As above, this is not news. The Red Sox have gutted themselves nearly to the studs in the last five years, reorienting toward sustainability and thanking you for your patience. It is a huge ask, and the swelling gravity of it weighed enough on management last month to force a change.
Where that change leads, we do not yet know. But it’ll be quite a thing to see what the team on the field looks like come April 9, 2024, when the division champion Orioles arrive for the next game on the schedule at Fenway Park.
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