Boston Red Sox: If Roenicke is the new skipper, he won’t have it simple

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 7: Bench Coach Ron Roenicke of the Boston Red Sox reacts during the first inning of a game against the Houston Astros on September 7, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 7: Bench Coach Ron Roenicke of the Boston Red Sox reacts during the first inning of a game against the Houston Astros on September 7, 2018 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /
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Bench coach Ron Roenicke may become the next Boston Red Sox skipper. He’ll have Soxgate and the loss of Mookie Betts to begin a tough command.

The announcement won’t be formal until commissioner Rob Manfred wraps his investigation into their replay room reconnaissance ring, but the Boston Red Sox—if you take the word of the Boston Globe—have decided their new manager: Ron Roenicke. Globe writer Peter Abraham slipped the news forth on Twitter. Seemingly, it means among other things that the Red Sox think Roenicke will be an untainted hire.

Roenicke is a former Milwaukee Brewers manager (with three winning seasons in four full years on that bridge) who became now-deposed Alex Cora‘s bench coach. “That the Red Sox are planning to promote him,” writes MLB Trade Rumors‘s Steve Adams, “seemingly suggests that the organization doesn’t believe Roenicke played a significant role in the club’s 2018 transgressions and won’t face discipline from the league.”

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Whether Roenicke played no significant role in Soxgate nudges a question or two, of course, particularly the question of whether a coach who’s basically (and not so basically) a manager’s consigliere was either that clueless, that indifferent, or that much genuinely left out of the chain while who knows how many Red Sox partook of deciphering opposing signs and hustling them forth to men on base.

The Red Sox didn’t go quite as far as the Houston Astros, of course; they neither altered the feed delay of an existing center field camera nor installed a fresh, non-delayed camera furtively, to send stolen signs to a clubhouse monitor in front of which the decoder(s) would send them to their batters by banging the trash can slowly. And the Red Sox reconnaissance depended entirely upon having men on base to send the intelligence to their batters.

But Cora got whacked because he was both the co-mastermind of the Astro Intelligence Agency when he was their bench coach and because he either had his fingerprints all over the Red Sox reconnaissance operation or looked the other way when their spies went to work.

Manfred is well on record as saying he wants the Soxgate investigation finished before spring training begins. At this writing, it gives him five days including today before pitchers and catchers begin reporting to the camps. And, just as he did with Astrogate, Manfred gave Red Sox players immunity in return for telling everything they knew about the Red Sox reconnaissance ring. The final revelations promise to be just as interesting and disturbing to Red Sox Nation as those regarding the Asterisks have been to Astroworld.

If Roenicke really is the new Red Sox manager, he faces a job similar to what Dusty Baker now has on his hands in Houston: leading a team of affirmed cheaters away from the taint, back into harmoniously unpoisoned waters, and back into the championship hunt. The similarity ending only begins with Baker having been nowhere near the Astros organization but Roenicke having been at Cora’s side in Boston. There may or may not be suspicion dogging Roenicke for long enough.

If the Red Sox have their way further, Roenicke will begin without Mookie Betts and David Price, traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for young outfielder Alex Verdugo, while the Dodgers further sent starter/reliever Kenta Maeda to the Minnesota Twins for pitching prospect Brusdar Graderol in order to flip him to the Red Sox in the deal.

Except that the Red Sox may not have their way quite yet. Graderol’s medicals gave the Olde Town Team a shiver when they realized his history includes Tommy John surgery and missed time in 2019 due to a shoulder issue. These impasses usually get resolved with all hands not exactly losing their dinner over them before they are resolved. Usually, but not exclusively.

But even if Graderol turns up good to go and the deal stands, it won’t calm the noise around the deal from a Red Sox Nation more than a little miffed over what no one can figure out for dead last certain. Did the Red Sox’s somewhat sudden payroll inflation concerns cost them a bonafide superstar? Did a misreading between the team’s administration and that superstar turn into the Red Sox deciding they couldn’t afford or didn’t want Betts around anymore, or Betts deciding he just didn’t want to be around the Red Sox anymore?

The misreading turned into a sort-of mishap when it turned out Betts may have been offered Bryce Harper-like money to stay in Boston . . . but turned it down in the hope that his entry into the free agency market after the 2020 season lands him something more like Mike Trout money.

You might be hard-pressed to decide which will be the greater challenge, the Dodgers going all the way back to the Promised Land at last on one year of Betts, or Betts proving he’s worth Trout money before compiling more of a Trout-like resume than he already has. (Keep in mind that Betts won the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player award with no little help from Trout missing significant time on the injured list.)

Price has a contradictory legacy in Boston. One minute, you think of the pitcher who rediscovered his changeup, made himself the American League’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2018 with it, and used it like a weapon of mass destruction in the 2018 postseason, all the way to the Promised Land. The next, you think of the guy dogged by an injury here, an inconsistency there, a ridiculous feud with Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley over Dennis the Menace’s on-the-air critique of a different rehabbing Boston Red Sox pitcher, and in possible need of the proverbial change of scenery.

Moving to Dodger Stadium, the hive where pitchers tend to thrive just might be what the orthopedist ordered for Price, who pitched through an elbow cyst in 2019 with the numbers to show for that kind of misplaced stubbornness. If the issue is resolved as a few reports suggest, he gives the Dodgers an intriguing option described best by The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal:

"The Dodgers can manage Price carefully, using him for, say, 25 starts and 125 to 150 innings before turning him loose in October. Walker Buehler will be perhaps the only Dodgers starter to carry a full load. The team can slot everyone else — Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Julio Urías, May, et al. — in and out."

It’s a little tough to sympathize with a Red Sox administration bent on getting under the luxury tax threshold while fortifying the roster with not all that much while parting with one of the game’s genuinely great right fielders and a maybe-still-useful veteran former Cy Young Award winner. It’s just as tough to sympathize with a player who may have been offered the Milky Way but may have wanted the Delta Quadrant to stay in Fenway Park.

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Roenicke may not necessarily feel as though he’ll take the Boston Red Sox bridge with one lens missing from his horizon binoculars, but that doesn’t mean he won’t find guiding the ship a little more challenging than he thought. Especially if mere Soxgate suspicion, as opposed to actual Soxgate evidence, keeps whispering to or around him.