One of the big reasons why Alex Cora is reportedly close to a deal with the Indians is because he would fill a couple roles. I don’t think he’s going to be signed as a starter, but mostly as a utility guy. If the reports are correct, he’ll be getting a two-year deal, which is excessive for the type of role that he’ll be playing, but I’ll cross that bridge when he actually signs. What I am going to speculate on is how exactly he’ll be used.
First of all, let’s examine Cora’s strengths; after all, the best managers use their players’ strengths. Cora is first and foremost a defensive player. He “broke out” offensively this season, posting a .266 EQA with the Dodgers. Now that may have been helped by the fact that Jose Hernandez was platooning with him, but regardless he did hit .264/.364/.380, well above his career averages. He’s not going to be the full-time starter at shortstop or second base unless several things happen, all of which are bad for the Indians. That being said, he could reprise his role somewhat as a platoon player and be a productive player. He can spell both Jhonny Peralta and Ronnie Belliard against a tough right-hander, or enter the game as a defensive upgrade over either. He posted a FRAR of 29 and 28 in 2003 and 2004, so think of him as John McDonald with more offense.
So how would this work on the field? Assuming that Peralta is starting at short, and Juan Gonzalez has his back under control, the postion players look like this, with their primary backups in parentheses:
C Victor Martinez (Josh Bard)
1B Ben Broussard (Travis Hafner/Jose Hernandez)
2B Ronnie Belliard (Alex Cora)
SS Jhonny Peralta (Alex Cora/Jose Hernandez)
3B Aaron Boone (Jose Hernandez/Casey Blake)
LF Casey Blake (Ryan Ludwick/Jose Hernandez)
CF Coco Crisp (Ryan Ludwick)
RF Juan Gonzalez (Ryan Ludwick/Jose Hernandez)
DH Travis Hafner
Now these are my guesses, but Eric Wedge may certainly see things differently. It all really hinges on what roles Hernandez and Cora play. If Wedge decides to make Hernandez this year’s Lou Merloni (platoon with Broussard), then Cora would fill in at the other infield positions. Maybe Hernandez is the backup at third instead of Blake, or maybe he’s Peralta’s primary backup. Perhaps the Indians will use Cora similarly to when he was a Dodger, platooning him with Belliard. I see Cora fitting into a more offense/defense type of platoon, where he might be brought in at second or short with a lead late in a game. Hernadez is more of an offensive asset, his role should be as a pinch-hitter who can also play every infield position.
Whenever I hear an interview with Wedge, he reiterates the need to keep the starters fresh; it was pretty obvious that a lot of the regulars simply wore down last season because the bench wasn’t that good. Adding Hernandez and Cora to the mix should make resting Peralta, Belliard, or Boone a lot more palatable.