Red Sox Manager Alex Cora was rehired in November less than a year after the Red Sox let him go because of his role in the Houston Astros cheating scandal. He was told by Chaim Bloom that he would have a hand in shaping the roster, and that appears to be the case. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

All the Red Sox transactions this winter will officially go on the books as being made by Chaim Bloom, but there’s someone else who should get some credit.

Alex Cora knows a thing or two about building a roster. And his fingerprints are all over Boston’s most recent acquisitions.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Cora has an affinity for identifying talent and enjoying the puzzle-piece process of plugging the right players into the right roles on the right team.

When Cora was re-hired to be the manager last fall, Bloom wasn’t shy about saying that Cora wouldn’t just be a manager on the field, but would also have influence on the team’s roster construction, which has been crystal clear in the team’s moves leading into 2021.

Cora has some experience as a general manager, when he put together Team Puerto Rico in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. That squad finished with a tournament-high five players on the All-World team and made it to the finals before losing to the United States.

One of the members of that Puerto Rican team was Kiké Hernandez, the utility man coming off a World Series win with the Dodgers who signed a two-year, $14-million deal with the Red Sox.

Hernandez said Cora was one of the main reasons he signed, a common theme among the new additions.

Current Dodgers and former Red Sox players Mookie Betts, David Price and Joe Kelly “all preach about Alex and what he brings to the table as a manager and how good of a communicator he is,” Hernandez said.

Marwin Gonzalez has yet to officially sign with the Red Sox, as his one-year, $3 million deal is still pending a physical, but he’s another one who is reuniting with Cora after the two were together on the 2017 Astros.

Shortly after Cora was hired to be the Red Sox manager in 2018, he talked about Gonzalez’s impact on the 2017 Astros. Of course, his comments look different now, knowing the detailed sign-stealing that occurred on that Houston team, but they can’t be disregarded completely.

One of Cora’s most frequent beliefs was that Gonzalez was the MVP on that World Series-winning Astros team. Gonzalez made at least a dozen starts at five positions (including every infield position and left field) while hitting .303 with 23 homers.

Cora has called him a “super-utility player,” while saying, “the way the game is going, obviously players like him are very important.”

When the Twins signed him and had success in 2019, Cora credited Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz, noting that “they brought an attitude to that team.”

With the Red Sox signing both Hernandez and Gonzalez, Cora will get two quality offensive players who can play any of seven positions in the field. Having a deep roster full of versatile players has long been Cora’s preference. A utility man himself, he believes in the value of moving players around. It provides flexibility in building a lineup. And because Cora tends to know his own players better than most managers, he can change his lineup often, depending on the opposing pitchers’ strengths and weaknesses.

The only sure-fire starters on this team are J.D. Martinez at designated hitter, Alex Verdugo in the outfield (perhaps center, but the Sox are still on the hunt for another center fielder), Rafael Devers at third, Xander Bogaerts at short and Christian Vazquez at catcher.

Otherwise, first base, second base and two outfield spots are up for grabs. Chances are, Cora won’t name starters at any of those positions. Why should he? He’s got a handful of quality big leaguers now that he can mix and match depending on matchups.

Gonzalez, Hernandez, Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec are all likely to make the team and could move around the diamond to Cora’s liking. Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe are exclusively outfielders and could form a nice platoon in left field.

Christian Arroyo, Jonathan Arauz and Hudson Potts could also challenge for a bench spot, as well as prospects Jarren Duran, Jeter Downs and Triston Casas, though none of them are considered finished products and are likely to start the year in the minors.

The bottom line is that Cora will have options, which is what he prefers. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him try 130 different lineups during a 162-game season, just as he did in 2018 (134 unique lineups) and 2019 (135 unique lineups).

Here’s how an Opening Day lineup against a right-handed pitcher might look: 1. Verdugo, CF; 2. Bogaerts, SS; 3. Martinez, DH; 4. Devers, 3B; 5. Cordero, LF; 6. Vazquez, C; 7. Dalbec, 1B; 8. Gonzalez, RF; 9. Hernandez, 2B.

Chavis, Renfroe and Kevin Plawecki, plus one yet-to-be-acquired center fielder, are good bets to make up the bench, assuming everyone is healthy. Even with 26-man rosters, most teams will use the maximum-allowed 13 pitchers, leaving a four-man bench on American League teams.

Cora doesn’t need more than four on the bench, especially when 13 of his 14 players have experience at multiple positions. Just like the manager prefers.


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