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As Alex Cora and Red Sox part ways, impact of Astros’ sign-stealing scheme spreads

Alex Cora, who was the Houston Astros’ bench coach in 2017, won the World Series as manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2018. (David J. Phillip/AP)

In Monday’s nine-page investigative report by Major League Baseball into electronic sign-stealing by the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros, which has tainted that title and led to major penalties for the organization and its former brain trust, only one person was called out by name as an “active participant” in the scheme — a person who happened to be, as of Monday, the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

But by Tuesday evening, Alex Cora held that title no longer. The Red Sox dismissed their popular, congenial manager — a news release from the team said the sides “mutually agreed to part ways” — for his role in the scheme with the 2017 Astros, for whom Cora served as bench coach, as well as an alleged similar scheme perpetrated by Cora’s 2018 Red Sox squad. That team, like the 2017 Astros, also won the World Series.

“We agreed today that parting ways was the best thing for the organization,” Cora said in Boston’s statement. “I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward.” Cora thanked the organization for the “best years of my life," but he did not apologize.

“Given the findings of the Commissioner’s ruling," the team said, “we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward.”

Cora, whose ascension to Boston’s managing job in November 2017 was due in no small part to his success with the Astros that season, was named 11 times in Monday’s report issued by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred. Cora, according to Manfred, “was involved in developing” the scheme — in which Astros personnel used a center field camera and a video monitor to steal opposing catchers’ signs, then transmit them to hitters, primarily by banging on a trash can — and actively “participated” in it.

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And so, Cora, 44, met the same fate as his bosses with the 2017 Astros, former manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, who were suspended for one year each by Manfred on Monday, then subsequently fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. The Astros were also fined $5 million and forfeited their top two draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

Luhnow, in a statement released through a Houston law firm Monday, placed blame for the scandal on Cora, saying, “[T]he video decoding of signs originated and was executed with lower-level employees working with the bench coach.”

Although Manfred did not discipline Cora directly, it was understood that a heavy penalty would be coming once MLB completes its investigation of Boston’s actions in 2018. That penalty — which, given Cora’s possible involvement in both schemes, is expected to exceed the one-year suspensions given to Hinch and Luhnow — is still pending in the coming weeks, though the Red Sox preemptively took their own action.

In some ways, Cora’s downfall was even swifter and more stunning than those of Hinch and Luhnow. In a little more than two years, he has gone from a rising star manager who led the Red Sox to 108 regular season wins and a World Series title in his rookie season on the bench to the caretaker of an 84-78 underachiever in 2019 that prompted a firm change in direction for the Red Sox, and now to a disgraced and unemployed symbol of one of the biggest cheating scandals in the game’s history.

Svrluga: The Astros were disgraceful, but MLB should have seen this coming

Despite finding the Astros’ scheme was almost entirely “player-driven,” Manfred did not penalize any of those players, saying such discipline would be “difficult and impractical,” in part because many of those players now play for other teams.

That includes former Astros designated hitter Carlos Beltrán, who retired after the 2017 season and was named the manager of the New York Mets this winter. Beltrán was the only player from the 2017 Astros cited by name in the report, which said he “discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter.” He will not be disciplined by MLB for his role.

Boswell: Cheating ruins everything about sports. The Astros got what they deserved.

Had MLB’s investigation been limited to the 2017 Astros, Cora may have been able to avoid serious punishment as well, with the Red Sox making the argument that, if players were not penalized in part because some had moved to other teams, Cora, having moved to the Red Sox, should be treated the same way. The 2020 Red Sox, in other words, should not be penalized for something perpetrated by the 2017 Astros.

But the existence of the 2018 Red Sox scheme, especially if Cora is discovered to have been actively involved, makes it easier for Manfred to justify a penalty for Cora at least as stiff as the one imposed on Hinch and Luhnow, if not more so. (Dave Dombrowski, the general manager of the 2018 Red Sox, was fired by the team this past September and is not currently working in the game.)

Meanwhile, the Red Sox appear very much like a franchise in transition. Having already hired a new GM, Chaim Bloom, and begun executing a plan to trim payroll, they, like the Astros, suddenly find themselves without a manager at an unusually late point in the offseason.

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in less than a month.

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