Alex Cora clears air after Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy’s comments: ‘We’re an under .500 team’

BOSTON — Every week, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora appears on WEEI’s afternoon show while Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy and chief baseball officer Craig Breslow rotate on a weekly appearance for WEEI’s morning show.

This week, comments Kennedy made on “The Greg Hill Show” created a bit of a stir. On the Thursday morning WEEI show, Kennedy was asked if he thought the team has overperformed to this point, especially considering the Red Sox are a young team with several key players on the injured list and a pitching staff that’s been far better than expected. The Red Sox finished Thursday with a 28-29 record, thanks to a 5-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in which they didn’t record a hit until the seventh inning.

“It’s sort of been a tale of two seasons, really positive in many ways, and then really negative in others. … I think it’s a talented group, incredibly athletic, young,” Kennedy said. “We’ve seen sort of the glimpse of how we’re going to get back to the postseason with athletic play and young, homegrown guys that have come through our system and performances from a pitching staff that has just been sort of otherworldly.

“On the other hand, our bats have gone quiet at the wrong time, our defense has not been where it needs to be, and of course, we’ve suffered the loss of guys like Trevor (Story) and Triston (Casas) and Tyler O’Neill now going down. So, that’s not an excuse. It’s on us to stay healthy. That’s part of competing.

“We’re right at the .500 mark here, 56 games or whatever it is into the season. Got 100-plus games to go. So, we need to get hot. We need to continue to pitch the way we have and start getting guys on base and scoring more runs. But I don’t think we’ve overperformed. I think, if anything, we’ve underperformed just given the talent and the competitiveness in that clubhouse.”

There was some truth to the comments that the offense and defense have cost the Red Sox many games this season. But the elephant in the room lingered that Kennedy’s ownership group could very well have helped this club with a few more additions this winter, instead of reducing their payroll and failing to provide the roster with more help.

Perhaps realizing that, or even realizing that the comments sounded like criticism of Cora, Kennedy quickly pivoted.

“Can’t say enough about the staff, Alex Cora and Andrew Bailey and Jason Varitek and Andy Fox,” he said. “Everybody has kept everybody up. We’ve had a lot of blows. I mentioned the injuries that can really be debilitating, but there’s been kind of a next man up attitude and guys have stepped up, so we turn the calendar here to June and it’s time for us to get going.”

Cora could have been frustrated by the remarks as he’s tried to get the most out of a team that would have benefitted from more support from ownership this offseason. But in his session with the media prior to Friday night’s game, Cora cleared the air.

“I actually talked to Sam today,” Cora said. “We are who we are — under .500. We have expectations just like everybody else. We haven’t played well in certain aspects of the game, but there’s a lot of positives going on. I was joking with him, (the) 6 a.m. (show) is tough. You should do the 2:30 p.m. show and maybe he’ll say something else.

“But I talked to him, we’re good,” Cora added. “He said we underachieved and then over… He was all over the place. That’s Sam. First of all, there’s nothing going on between us. He’s my guy. He’s been great for the organization. And second, we’re a .500 team — an under-.500 team.”

With Cora on the topic of his relationship with Kennedy, the manager was asked if there had been any discussions about extending his contract recently. Cora relayed they’re not discussing contracts during the season.

“I think I said it earlier: Out of respect for the organization and the players, and the season, we’re not going to talk about contracts,” he said. “We’ll play it out and then whatever is decided is decided. From my end, like I said before, I can’t be selfish. I cannot be selfish in this situation. We finished last the last two years and we’re playing under .500 baseball. My situation will be taken care of in the future, whatever the organization decides — or whatever I decide to do. We both know we’re growing as a partnership, right? And it’s been really good, but at the same time, the future is the future.”

All season Cora has tiptoed around questions of whether he actually wants to return as manager, regardless of whether he’s offered a deal. Last winter, Cora was keenly aware of Craig Counsell’s five-year, $40 million deal with the Chicago Cubs, and it’s possible he wants to test the open market. He’s long discussed his love for the Red Sox organization and for them giving him a second chance after his suspension during the 2020 season. At the same time, he’s also talked about the grind of managing in Boston with an intense fanbase and media responsibilities.

When asked if he intended to explore the managerial market, Cora paused, choosing his words carefully.

“My intent is to manage today, and then keep helping this team to be better,” he said. “I think we have something good going on as far as developing players, and it’s a challenge right now, of course with all the injuries, but I feel really good where I’m at. I feel really good where I’m at in my personal life, which is the most important thing. I love the Red Sox, but the Cora-Feliciano team is my No. 1 team and we’re good where we’re at.”

In spring training, Cora talked candidly about how difficult the 2023 season was and that was part of why he tried to instill a culture change entering 2024. The Red Sox were off to a good start before injuries created havoc. He said he’s managing the highs and lows much better.

“Last year was a grind in every aspect and this year, it feels a lot different,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the healthy life and doing the things that I’m doing, which I think has contributed. Even today, I hopped out of the bed and ran here and I don’t have a car because I ran here. It’s been good and the group is really good. I think athleticism and a youthful group helps with that too. And I’m in a much better place than last year.”

Perhaps Kennedy’s comments would have gotten to Cora in the past, but Cora seems comfortable with the fact there’s only so much he can control. He’s been realistic, admitting the club needs to be better, but also optimistic in spite of the adversity the Red Sox have faced.

“We don’t like making excuses but it’s the reality of it. We don’t have our fourth hitter, our fifth hitter and our sixth hitter, and we lost our third hitter,” he said, referring to injuries to Casas, O’Neill, Story and Masataka Yoshida.

Story is out for the year. Casas continues to take grounders, but is not yet swinging a bat. Yoshida is scheduled to take batting practice on Saturday and O’Neill received a cortisone shot for his knee and hopes to return next week.

“Not too many teams can overcome that. We have done an OK job with it,” Cora said. “There’s certain games that the at-bats are very young. And then there’s other games that the bats are very athletic. And I think there’s a few things that we can do now with this group as far as like putting pressure on the opposition, and manufacturing runs. That’s what we have to do. But getting them back will be great. If we continue to pitch and play good defense, the offense we know is going to be better. Hopefully they come back sooner rather than later and we’ll give it a run.”

(Photo of Cora: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

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