Winter Meetings interview with Alex Cora

December 12th, 2017

Q. What have you thought of your first Winter Meetings as a manager, what's it been like?
ALEX CORA: On a personal standpoint it's been great, I was able to see my brother after like nine months, able to catch up with him. But the whole experience has been great. This is my first one. Not even as a media person that I came here. So to see everything that is going on is cool. Sitting in the room talking about players and learning about the organization and the way people think is eye opening in a good way. So, so far so good.
Q. How confident are you that Dave will be able to get something done, whether it's here or later in the off-season, just to --
ALEX CORA: I think the plan is to get better. Even before we got here I think we can be able to do it. In the conversations, the most important thing is to put this team in a position to win a World Series. I think Dave is going to be able to do that.
Q. You guys had some meetings with the coaching staff right?
Q. What were you sort of hoping or what did you get down there from them?
ALEX CORA: First of all, to have everybody in the same room I think is very important. We do all these texting and trying to introduce each other via text, so I think it was very important to hang out together, be around each other and I think also for the organization to let them know where we are at, what they think about players, and what the expectations are for our group. I think they were very productive, it gave everybody the green light to hop on planes and meet guys and talk to players. So I think it was very productive week.
Q. Do you expect that every player who is coming from camp will have somebody go see them or not necessarily?
ALEX CORA: Not necessarily, but at least somebody will talk to them, well from my end I have to talk to everybody. Been able to do it little by little with everything that is happening with the organization, with work, and obviously back home, it's been. But I think by the time we, February 14th, we'll probably will contact everybody and talk to them and know what we expect from them and just get to know them a little bit.
Q. Have you personally visited any of the players at this point?
ALEX CORA: Not yet. I plan on doing it next week. As you guys know, everything that is going on in Puerto Rico, it's kind of like put an obstacle on the whole thing. Going to Boston, Houston, the World Series, everything that happened and going home, I still got a family got to take care of them and the people that are in need back home. So that's part of what I have to do.
Being home last week for a week, that was good and now things slow down and now I can go back to business.
Q. What do you like about Tim, a guy who can get a little more offense out of your team this year?
ALEX CORA: Watching Tim work during the World Series, he's a guy that -- that was a good offensive team and I know Turner ward had a lot to do it, but Tim too talking to the players. You guys heard me about being aggressive and sometimes people take that the wrong way. It's not that you're going to go out there and just swing at everything, try to get hits. We're not chasing hits, we're looking for good pitches in the strike zone and try to do damage with them. He preaches that, too. We saw it throughout the playoffs and through the World Series. The first pitch of the World Series that they saw it was a home run, it was a pitch right down the middle and Taylor put a good swing on it. That's what we're trying to do. We did it in Houston.
I think that I mentioned both before in an era that we live in I know it's okay to grind out at-bats, but sometimes grinding out an at-bat is the first pitch of the at-bat and put a good swing on it.
Q. The last few years there's only been one Latino manager in baseball. This year there will be you and Dave Martinez. Just given the makeup of the players in baseball, more Latinos, what is it that now you'll be one of three after being so few? And is this kind of needed, there needs to be more Latino managers?
ALEX CORA: I talked to Evan two years ago, last year about it and I understand where I'm at. I know there's only three at the Big League level, but at the same time I think I've been vocal about it, everybody knows, when you start to see the capable candidates through the process, it's going to be more and more, I think. At the end of the day, man, it's only 30 jobs. It's not because I have one, I feel this way now. I felt this before.
The process, the interview process, it's not an easy one and I'm a big believer that you cannot make somebody interview somebody just because you have to do it. If you start looking around not only with the managers, we got three now, we got a bench coach in Houston, a bench coach in Tampa, there's a lot of capable guys around the league. It's just a matter that organizations feel that you're capable of it, and this organization felt that way, like others, and I'm proud to be in this position.
I understand what it represents, but like I said before, I don't see it as something that we have to put in headlines and all that. It's what we expect to do, that's why I wanted to be a Big League manager and here I am.
Q. You said you were going to start meeting in person with some players. Any particular players or do you have in mind a number that you would like to personally see?
ALEX CORA: I think it's more like a recruiting process. My area kind of really is Florida, that's the easiest way to stay close to home. There's a lot of guys, we got a few guys in Arizona, all that, so some guys will go over there, some coaches will go there and it's not that somebody's more important than the other one, it's just it's more convenient for us. So I think mine is going to be the south and Florida.
Q. The U?
ALEX CORA: Maybe (Laughing.) Some guys in Miami.
Q. You got a rude welcome to the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry with the Stanton trade.
ALEX CORA: With Boonie? (Laughter.) With Boonie? That wasn't rude.
Q. Where were you, what was your reaction when you heard about the Stanton trade?
ALEX CORA: I was at home. Saw the rumors on Friday night going to bed. I prayed. I got up in the morning and saw it, but when I really realized about the rivalry, and I played in it, I understand how it is. I went to Yadi's events on Saturday, he had an event for his foundation, and all of a sudden this group of reporters from back home, you can see them coming at me and the first thing is, "I ain't talking about Stanton."
So I know. I mean, he's a good player, we all know that they got better, but it doesn't change what we are trying to accomplish. We had our goals, we have our goals for this team for the off-season, and to be ready to win a World Series next year and not because they did what they did, it's going to change what we're going to try to accomplish.
Q. Both the Red Sox and Yankees made the playoffs for most organizations that would be a great season. Both changed managers, you and Boone came in. Teams that had success what does it say about the expectations at the end of the day in those two cities?
ALEX CORA: They want to be like the Astros. It's the way the game is going, I think in a sense. For some reason they decided to do it, the Yankees and the Red Sox. I've been saying the whole time that they're both great teams, but if the organization felt that they needed to change something for the best, that's why we are here.
I have a lot of respect for John and the people that were around here the last few years. 93 wins is, it's great at this level. They made a decision, we both got interviewed, now we are here and we're looking forward to it.
But the expectations are way high and we know it, both of us. Boonie played in New York, I played in Boston and we understand what's at stake. So it's a challenging situation, obviously, but I think if you would have asked us going into your first season as a manager, what would you like? It's the opportunity to win a World Series. Not everybody can say that, and we both are in the same seat. So we're welcoming the challenge and for how much I like Boonie, I hopefully he finishes second.
Q. The last year the catching duties have been divided evenly, are you open to that or are you leaning more towards more conventional?
ALEX CORA: I'm open to put the best lineup out there on a daily basis. I saw it throughout the playoff with Sandy and Christian. I think Sandy played Game 1, had a great game. Christian played Game 2, had a great game. And then they had to make a decision.
So we're in good hands. Both of them they have their strength defensively, they're very good and on a daily basis we're going to put our lineup, best lineup out there.
Q. With Hanley going into the last year of a guaranteed deal but with a vesting option based on plate appearances. Can that be awkward for a manager and have you thought about how you might handle that and playing time, where your decision on a lineup card might determine whether he comes back or makes money or something?
ALEX CORA: Yeah, I mean, we all know what his situation is. About him, the last impression I have of him were really good at-bats in October and he was motivated. He's a guy, when healthy and with motivation, he can be dangerous. I've been in contact with him we have been talking about it, and I'm looking forward to seeing his at-bats. There was something about him in October in that playoff series that that line drive he hit up the middle off Devenski, that was the Hanley of old. He was in the middle part of the field, not trying to do too much, in a spot that it was a big spot that probably you were thinking he's trying to hit a grand slam, and he stayed up the middle on a 3-1 count and hit a bullet up the middle.
So I want to see that guy again. We saw it in Miami. We saw it with the Dodgers. We saw flashes in Boston. So I think he's going to be okay and his performance is going to make me put that guy out in the middle of the lineup.
Q. You and Aaron both have recent media experience and in today's world with so much media and everything, how much do you think that will help both of you being first time managers?
ALEX CORA: You know how we talk about paying your dues? There's a saying in the industry that you have to pay your dues to get to the Big Leagues. Maybe that's -- we pay our dues through the media. People think that that's an easy job, it's just get behind that desk and put that tie on and just talk baseball. It doesn't work that way, man. The way I see it, that prepares us for this. It's kind of like scouting reports. You got to know players.
Actually, you know more about teams when you're working on TV than actually as a coach. There were certain times this year that you get locked in as a bench coach, you get locked in and in our case the AL West, that all of a sudden you go to Chicago and it's a brand new team, a lot of young guys and you have no idea. Not that you don't have an idea but you don't have a feel of those players. When you were working in our case on BBTN, it seems like we knew everything. You had to be prepared. You only have an hour to let the people know what you know about the game, how you feel about certain situations and let them know so I think that prepared us for this.
It's not about being in front of you guys, I think that all around, deal with players, deal with scouting reports, obviously deal with media, the front office, I think it was a good school for us.
Q. How is Dustin doing, and how do you envision filling his position until he's ready?
ALEX CORA: He's doing great. I think he's going in his stage in his rehab that he's feeling really good about himself. Obviously, as you know, his goal is to be in the lineup as soon as possible. You know what I mean about that.
I told him, the first thing I told Dustin, we need a healthy , the guy that played at the end, although he was pushing it, and he was playing hard, he was still putting good at-bats. We got away with some pitches right down the middle because he wasn't able to generate with his legs. So when healthy, we know what he can do and we need him healthy. He's working towards it.
Q. How do you plan to fill the second base until he is ready?
ALEX CORA: We haven't got into details about it. There's some internal candidates that we feel that they're capable of helping us out. So obviously all depends on the timetable, but looking forward to see some of these guys play. When we play the Red Sox this year, he was the second baseman so I wasn't able to see the other guys play. So I think Spring Training is going to help me out to see what we got. Obviously we'll make a decision in March.
Q. You said last week that you envisioned maybe Mookie being your get better and the leadoff spot?
ALEX CORA: Hopefully better, right?
Q. And obviously you want to add another player or two over the winter and a big bat for the middle of the lineup. Have you made any other determinations about where you envision guys filling in, in the order?
ALEX CORA: One thing I'm a big believer, I've been consistent with it, putting pressure from pitch 1 is very important at this level. And I saw it firsthand this year. Having George on top of the lineup, people don't realize, George only had 10 extra base hits after the All-Star break and people thought that he was still like that 30-homer guy that we had in the first half. But it's the pressure. You put a guy like Mookie, that with one swing he can hit one off the wall or over the wall, it's 1-0 us or a man on second and no outs. I think that's important. He can do a lot of stuff also running the bases and I'm looking forward to it.
I think that that gives you that edge, that the guy on the mound has to execute from the first pitch. You can't ease in. Like Dallas in Game 1 of the World Series yeah, let me throw that fastball four-seamer right down the middle to get loose and Taylor almost hit it out of Dodger Stadium. So that's what I'm looking for.
Andrew's a good hitter too. I would like him to see where we're at in Spring Training to hit behind Mookie and see how that couple goes about it. If we can create instant offense and then we go after that, we'll see what happens the rest of the off-season, how healthy we are and then we decide that. But I think those two guys on the top of the lineup they can do some damage.
Q. How much importance do you place on the left/right balance as much as you can?
ALEX CORA: I hate to go back to what happened this season but it was a cool way, a cool offense. It was a fun offense at one point we tried to put Josh in the two spot and Marwin in the fifth one, and then at the end we went with all those righties one through five. George, Alex, Jose, Carlos and Yuli and we ran with it.
So I think that it's just like on the mound, if you can get lefties and righties, it doesn't matter if you can throw with the right one or left one. I don't believe in that. I think you put the best lineup possible, regardless of which hand you hit and you go from there.
Q. Are you helping recruiting guys free agents, like are you calling people?
ALEX CORA: Can't talk about that yet. But like you guys heard, we talked and we're in a spot right now that we know what we're looking for and if they ask me to fly somewhere or that, yeah, I'll go. You guys were talking about the Otani thing, I was very close to hopping on a plane to L.A. to be part of the process.
So that's part of what I do. I'm quote, unquote the leader of this team, and I guarantee you there's some players that we would like to hear from me, but until they ask me.
Q. How about phone conversations? Have you had any with perspective free agents?
ALEX CORA: I had a few.
Q. You've mentioned Bogaerts as a someone who you're hoping will have a little bit better year next year or make some improvements. Based on what you saw late in the season and then just what you've seen from a distance in past years, where do you sort of see the biggest areas that he can improve in?
ALEX CORA: Defensively. I think he put himself in a few spots last year that he wasn't able to move his feet and use his hands. This guy's a good player. Offensively, the last thing -- he hit that ball to right-center off Charlie Morton, I think it was, for a homer. That's not easy to do. I mean, I think Charlie Morton, with all due respect to JV and some of those guys, stuff-wise, he had the best stuff in October. For Xander to stay back and drive that ball to right-center, that's a positive now. At that time I could care less, I was upset. I remember that swing and he can do that. He can do that. Just make sure he puts himself in a position to do that and I think he can do that.
But going back to the question I think defensively he can be a lot better. I think we can help him. He can position himself differently. I think he'll make the routine play more consistently.
Q. How do you feel about the closer role? Kimbrel is someone who was generally in the 9th. Would you be open to using him in a higher-leverage spot earlier in the game?
ALEX CORA: There's going to be certain games that, yeah, I'm going to be -- I managed I think two games in the Big Leagues and I brought in Giles in the 8th. And people get caught up in the whole high leverage and bringing him in earlier because the game calls upon you to do that, but you can't do that every day either. We're going to recognize situations in games that it's not that they're more important than the other one, but there's going to be certain situations that -- and we talked, we'll talk to him. I think that's the most important thing. We'll show him. So I'm open-minded and I think we got capable arms to get three outs in the 7th, three outs in the 8th, three outs in the 9th. And the way I see it we have it patch up 27 outs. The way you do it, it's up to me, obviously, and Dana and the coaching staff, but I think there's going to be certain situations that you're going to see him probably earlier than what people expect. So if he has a song in the 9th inning, we'll get it in the queue up there and they will play the music in the 8th.
Q. You've been waiting for a long time to have a team and go into Spring Training and get ready for a season. What's the biggest thing you kind of want to impart in Spring Training to kind of give them the message there?
ALEX CORA: Yeah, I mean, as a player and obviously I wasn't as talented as most of these guys, I pay attention to details. There's a lot of ways out there that you can take advantage. And it's going to help you out to win games. Base-running-wise, hitting-wise, pitching-wise and in Spring Training we're going to talk about that. It's a little bit different in Fort Myers because of the schedule and how far the cities are, so it's going to be a challenge for me to be on top of that, but I think that I surrounded myself with guys that they look at the game the same way, so I think the message is going to be there. Either turning double plays or driving the ball to left-center or scoring from first, we're going to be good at it.
I think in the last year we went to Arizona and I had the opportunity to talk to Mike Hazen and I asked him about the Dodgers and Dave Roberts and what he said, I was like, man, when they I manage, I would like the GM or the president on another team to talk about my team that way. He said, with the Dodgers they don't beat themselves, you have to be perfect to beat them. And I was like why? Because they're sharp defensively, pitching-wise, running the bases, all that. So hopefully people can talk about our team that way throughout the season. That's what I'm looking for.
Q. What are you looking for in the development of Devers this year?
ALEX CORA: There's a guy that he's going to contribute offensively, he's going to drive the ball out of the ballpark. He's going to put in at-bats. He has the ability to get the head of the bat to the ball, and that's impressive. It seems like he enjoys playing the game. For how little I saw him play, he wasn't intimidated. He wasn't intimidated by us at that point.
Defensively, we're going to help him out I think he has good feet, good instincts, good reactions, because watching him on tape, from last year, I think it's just the speed of the game. The speed of the game in Triple-A, Double-A is not the same as in the Big Leagues. And I think that caught him by surprise, but he's a good one.
I'll go back to the ALDS, I have to do it, Altuve surprised everybody bunting against Sale, after Altuve hit two homers or whatever he did, and he made a great play coming in and throwing him out. I was like, whoa, there's something there. Looking forward to working with him.
Q. What was going through your mind when (inaudible)?
ALEX CORA: I can't say it here. But that place was going nuts. Looking forward to that. Like that place was loud. It felt alive. He can run, too.
Q. Do you see yourself doing hands-on instruction with guys?
ALEX CORA: Yeah, yeah. I know there's a lot of stuff that goes on. That's something A.J. will tell me, like as a manager, it's a little bit different, but I will make sure my schedule fits. I like to be around. I like to hit grounders. Not a good BP thrower, so somebody will have to pick me up, but just being around and talking to them and telling how I see certain plays or certain situations, I think that's going to help them out.
Q. A lot of managers have their bench coach run Spring Training. I don't know if you did for A.J. but will you have Ron do it here?
ALEX CORA: Yeah, he'll be in charge. This guy, he was part of the good Dodger days before this great run they have had. He was one of those guys that got my attention and changed the way I saw the game. I mentioned Sandy, Sr., Ron did the same thing and he's a good instructor. He's going to help us out.
Q. Do you feel like the teaching aspects, do you think there's more of that or you need to do more of that maybe because some of these kids are coming up so young and so quick?
ALEX CORA: Yeah, that's something I learned this year, you have to be -- you have to talk to them and then you have to teach them. You got to grab them aside and the videos and show them. When they see the visual, they feel comfortable and they can go out there and do it. So with everything that we have, the tools, that's very important. But you have to sit with them, you have to explain to them and show them structure, this is how you do things. Look at this, look at that, and then go do it out on the field.
So hands on you have to. You have to.
Q. There was a report that the Astros might have picked up something about during the World Series. Just curious about your reaction to that?
ALEX CORA: If they did, good for them.
Q. You sure you had nothing to do with it?
ALEX CORA: If they did, good for them.
Q. You don't have a great poker face there.
ALEX CORA: I read it this morning. I don't know. I don't know. The Astros were good. They were good.
Q. Since you got hired, did you spend most of your time in Puerto Rico?
ALEX CORA: On a plane, actually. I was home finally for more than seven days last week. So I've been saying that -- actually I saw Boonie today and I felt like the veteran, it was like have you been able to slow this down yet? That's the question that I had for like three weeks. To go home and sit with the family and see the kids and my daughter and everything kind of like, finally, like, whew, like, you know, it was crazy from mid-September all the way to a week ago.
Glad to go home, and something that on a personal note kind of like you drive around, you eat, you go to your family and to have strangers to come up to you and tell you how proud we are, I was like -- usually your parents, close ones, they tell you how proud they are, but strangers, that was something. So this is a big deal back home, it is. I'm glad that I can bring joy to the island. We're moving towards the right direction. We're going to be fine. But things like this are kind of like this, it's cool for them.
Q. Is your family sort of okay?
ALEX CORA: Yeah, we're good. Yeah, we're good. Yeah, we're good, man. My mom, she was in Houston for like a month. Couldn't wait to get back home. Got home and she had power and water. My family, my sister, so everybody's safe. It's just it's kind of normal now. People are working and not making excuses, so we're in a good spot.