FORT MYERS, Fla. — The first order of business this spring for Alex Cora was getting to know his players as more than just players.

“You are human beings and if you only concentrate on baseball, it becomes a grind and it becomes a long season,” the new manager of the Boston Red Sox said. “You have to connect with them, learn about their families and learn about them off the field and that makes it a more fulfilling experience.”

That communication has already started to loosen up a clubhouse that had become purely businesslike under former manager John Farrell.

“It’s casual conversation and it’s not always about baseball,” Boston pitcher David Price said. “We have a good relationship already and I think that stems from talking more than just baseball.”

Cora’s positive clubhouse presence – plus a being dependable glove up the middle – that helped him stay in the big leagues for 14 years. Cora batted .243 over 1,273 games for five clubs. He had 35 career home runs, 140 doubles and 286 RBI. Cora was the utility infielder for Boston during the 2007 championship season, in which he batted .246 in 83 games.

Cora served as bench coach last season for Houston under AJ Hinch. He says the lessons he learned as the Houston staff led the team to its first World Series title were helpful as he becomes a manager for the first time at age 42.

“I learn from the guys that I talk to, what kind of players they are, what gets them going and where they are at mentally,” Cora said.

Cora inherits a talented young roster and a rotation full of Cy Young potential that has failed to parlay American League East titles into pennants. He doesn’t expect the new approach to dealing with players to fully take hold right away but he is setting groundwork for better communication.

“As a player … I went through those processes and it’s always ‘let’s see how he acts or see what they bring to the table,'” Cora said. “But I’m comfortable with the situation and comfortable with the group.”

Athletics: Catcher Bruce Maxwell says he no longer will kneel for the national anthem as he did last season as a rookie, when he became the first major leaguer to do so following the lead of many NFL players.

He spoke Tuesday as the A’s pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in the desert and opted to also put out a statement to keep his thoughts concise and clear.

CUBS: Yu Darvish and Chicago have finalized their $126 million, six-year contract, by far the largest deal in a slow-moving free agent market.

The agreement announced Tuesday topped outfielder Lorenzo Cain’s $80 million, five-year deal with Milwaukee.

MARLINS: Derek Jeter is heading to his first spring training since his final season with the New York Yankees in 2014.

Now the CEO of in Miami, Jeter says the franchise is on a path to long-term success following an offseason fire sale that purged four starters, including slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

The trades netted mostly prospects, making the immediate outlook bleak for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2003.

GREG BOURIS  has resigned as director of communications for the MLB Players Association after 19 years.

ORIOLES: Baltimore and pitcher Kevin Gausman agreed to a $5.6 million, one-year deal, avoiding an arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

ASTROS: Collin McHugh became the second Houston pitcher to go to salary arbitration, asking for a raise from $3.85 million to $5 million. Houston argued for a $4.55 million salary.

Players lead 7-6 with decisions pending for McHugh and pitchers Marcus Stroman, Jake Odorizzi and Trevor Bauer. Six more hearings are scheduled, and 22 decisions would be the most since players won 14 of 24 cases in 1990.

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