Rafael Devers, front, benefited from his relationship with Alex Cora during Cora’s first stint as Red Sox manager. Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Alex Cora is back at work. His re-introduction as manager of the Red Sox went relatively smoothly last week, and now he is settling in to learn about the team he will lead onto the field in 2021. He may have managed this team recently, but he will find it’s a very different unit than the one he last spent time with in the dugout.

More than anything, his new team needs pitching. Starting pitching, relief pitching … all types of pitching. Whether you look at the game through old-school glasses (they had the third-highest ERA in the majors) or new-school analytics (they had the highest FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching – in either league) the Sox have a long way to go to get back on track.

Some of the help will come from within. Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta came on strong at the end of 2020. Connor Seabold (acquired along with Pivetta in a mid-season deal with Philadelphia last year) is on the horizon.

More will have to come via free agency. By all accounts there will be a bumper crop of talent available by the end of December, especially after teams non-tender some of their players further adding to the number of free agents available.

That’s where Cora can help the Sox. He has earned a reputation as a players’ manager, a field leader who brings the best out of individuals while creating an environment that players enjoy. It’s how he was able to get his players to buy into decisions back in 2018. We never heard players complain, even if they found themselves out of the lineup on a given day.

You didn’t hear much complaining in 2019, even as the defending champs struggled under Cora. Cora bonded with a wide spectrum of players. He connected with young up-and-coming players like Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi. He helped players in their prime like Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez as they emerged as stars. And he was able to get along with high-priced superstars like J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale and David Price.

Keeping harmony in a clubhouse might be one of the most important attributes of a Red Sox manager. Boston can be a cauldron of controversy, and the Sox must remain focused on playing baseball.

That has kept Boston from being high on the list of landing spots for many high-profile free agents. And it’s another reason the hiring of Cora will help the Sox become a contender sooner rather than later. When the game’s best players reach free agency, they are finally in a position to choose their work environment for the coming years. Playing for a manager loved by his players is a good place to start.

Does that mean superstars will take less money to come to Boston? Not likely. Take Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer. He will get offers at or above $100 million this offseason. He won’t come to Boston for cents on the dollar. Yet, if the Sox were to make a competitive offer, he might decide this is a good landing spot for him.

Only time will tell if Boston is on Bauer’s radar. We know Cora was keeping his eye on Bauer. When asked what he watched during his one-year suspension for his involvement in the Astros sign-stealing scandal of 2017 Cora mentioned one pitcher by name.

“I watched the Yankees a lot,” said Cora. “I watched the Rays…. I watched Cleveland a lot. I watched (Trevor) Bauer whenever he pitched. That was fun to watch.”

The signal has been sent. Cora likes Bauer. Chances are everyone else enjoyed watching the NL Cy Young Award winner.

Does Bauer like Boston? Do other free agents? That’s an important story this offseason. One that got a little lift when Cora returned as manager of the Sox.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.


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