HOUSTON -- The decision to return to the field and put on a big league uniform for the first time since he retired as a player five years ago wasn't one that Alex Cora took lightly. He had found a nice job as a baseball analyst on ESPN and ESPN Deportes that afforded him time to spend with his daughter, as well as serve as general manager of the Criollos de Caguas in his hometown in Puerto Rico.
Cora had long been considered big league coaching material, and he interviewed for managerial openings with the Rangers, Padres and D-backs in recent years, but the right opportunity never came. Deciding the time was right, Cora jumped at the chance to join manager A.J. Hinch's staff as the new bench coach of the Astros in a move that was announced by the club on Tuesday.
"I'm thankful for the Astros organization for giving me a chance to be part of it," Cora said. "I'm very grateful to be with a team -- just watching the last few years -- that is very athletic, very good. They were short on certain areas the last few years, but I feel that we can accomplish a lot of big things, and that's one of the reasons I'm here. I always said if I get back onto the field, it has to be an impactful job and something that will challenge me. This is a challenging job, and I feel we have a real good chance to win it all."
Cora, 41, who retired from playing in 2011, suited up for six Major League clubs during his 14 seasons as a player. He replaces Trey Hillman, who was hired by SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization earlier this month.
As GM of the Puerto Rican national team, Cora is in the process of putting together the roster for next spring's World Baseball Classic -- a roster that's expected to include shortstop Carlos Correa, with whom Cora worked on defense last offseason.
"[Cora's] just really talented and has a chance to impact our whole team," Hinch said. "He's got a great baseball intellect, he's got great baseball feel, he does a lot of things well that we need to help take us to the next level. His overall mind is what I was attracted to most, and the fact he could help us impact a very broad roster makes him the ideal candidate."
Hinch added that Cora's infield expertise and baserunning knowledge will be key.
"As a bench coach, he's going to be able to impact a lot of different things," Hinch said. "I'll talk to him about running Spring Training and some of the bench-coach duties that are pretty customary, but I want to custom-fit this job for his strengths and allow him to touch the areas where he can [have] the most impact."
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said the Astros interviewed Cora for a coaching position under former manager Bo Porter a few years ago. Luhnow, who knows Cora from his days playing with the Cardinals, said he's ready for the opportunity.
"I think it's going to be a good chance for him to get into uniform and help A.J. with a young club that has a chance to win," Luhnow said. "It's a great fit for us. He knows a lot of our players, he's comfortable with the staff, and I think it's just going to be a good addition with what we already have."
Luhnow said that if Puerto Rico advances deep in the World Baseball Classic, Cora would be allowed to join the team, but his primary responsibilities are with the Astros.
"My main goal two days ago was the [Classic], but now I've got to pay attention to everything the Houston Astros want me to do," Cora said. "I have a lot of learning to do and stuff I have to digest, but I'm fully committed."