Can’t have a team of the decade without a bench, right? Ever since Nomar left midway through 2004, the shortstop position has been a revolving door. Second base was inconsistent between Marty Barrett and Dustin Pedroia. And last year, even the backup infield position was in flux, something that continues to this day.
It seems rather strange, then, to know that for four years we knew who our backup middle infielder was, and we liked him. He was good.
He was Alex Cora.
Cora spent five years being the de facto starter on the Los Angeles Dodgers before signing with the Cleveland Indians in 2005 at age 29 to be a bench player. However, Cora didn’t find the situation to his liking and eventually was traded to Boston on July 7 for Boston’s own disgruntled backup infielder, Ramon Vazquez. Thus began a run of quiet effectiveness.
Cora actually played pretty often for a bench player. In half a year with the club in ’05, Cora racked up 104 at-bats (serving in the same role he did in Cleveland — go figure). In the next two years, Cora would top 200 at-bats.
In 2007, as Dustin Pedroia struggled out of the gate, Cora began to draw more playing time and many felt he should be installed as the starting second baseman. Fortunately, Terry Francona did no such thing. (Fire Brand archive: The Second Base Situation, 5/3/07.) Cora’s OPS in April of that year was 1.027 — it wouldn’t top .692 on a month-by-month basis the remainder of the year.
Perhaps the game that put Cora on everyone’s map was April 29 of 2007 against the New York Yankees. I know it’s the game I remember him most for. That’s when Cora racked up two runs and three RBI on two hits, cranking a triple and a home run.
Defensively, Cora wasn’t great, but he didn’t come across as bad, either. When I watched him, I thought he was merely “good” … and isn’t that what you want out of your bench players? For them to be good at something?
In Cora’s Boston tenure, he hit .252/.321/.350 with 11 triples — five that fateful year of 2007. After 2008, the Red Sox decided not to bring Cora back, feeling his offense and defense had eroded past the point they could carry him.
In 2009, Cora served with the New York Mets and despite a trip to the disabled list, grabbed 271 at-bats, the most since 2004 with the Dodgers.
Part of my reasoning in making the Team of the Decade follow a traditional 25-man roster outlay is to give one last nod to these players that weren’t stars, but contributed very well in the roles abscribed to him. Alex Cora is easily the best backup middle infielder the team had from 2000-9, and we would be remiss not to acknowledge him.