By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — On Monday afternoon, Red Sox manager Alex Cora was spared from having MLB’s hammer of justice come down upon him. But that relief won’t last long.

As the bench coach for the Houston Astros during their 2017 World Series season, Cora is connected to the sign-stealing scheme which resulted in the full-season suspensions of both Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. And in reading MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s nine-page ruling on the investigation into the Astros, it looks quite clear that Cora was not merely an innocent bystander.

In fact, Cora was one of the main drivers of the sign-stealing operation.

According to Manfred, members of the Astros staff in the replay review room watched a feed from a camera in center field to try to decode opposing team’s signs.

“Early in the [2017] season, Alex Cora, the Astros’ Bench Coach, began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information,” Manfred explained. “On at least some occasions, the employees in the replay review room communicated the sign sequence information by text message, which was received on the smart watch of a staff member on the bench, or in other cases on a cell phone stored nearby.”

Later that season, “Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout.”

At that point, a player near that monitor would bang a trash barrel with a bat to signal to the hitter at the plate when an off-speed pitch was coming.

READ: MLB’s Full Investigative Findings On The Houston Astros

Manfred’s ruling lists Cora as perhaps the mastermind of the whole scheme — at least as far as non-players are concerned.

“The attempt by the Astros’ replay review room staff to decode signs using the center field camera was originated and executed by lower-level baseball operations employees working in conjunction with Astros players and Cora,” Manfred wrote.

It’s also significant to note that Manfred detailed that Hinch did not approve of the scheme and did not participate in the scheme. In fact, Hinch twice damaged the monitor and also expressed regret for having not stopped the system.

Manfred seemed to indicate that he appreciated Hinch’s explanation … but the commissioner still hit Hinch with a season-long suspension.

“Hinch expressed much contrition both to me and my investigators for allowing the conduct to continue,” Manfred wrote. “Although I appreciate Hinch’s remorsefulness, I must hold him accountable for the conduct of his team, particularly since he had full knowledge of the conduct and chose to allow it to continue throughout the 2017 Postseason.”

In the case of Cora, Manfred did not speak quite so glowingly. Here’s the full section that Manfred wrote on Cora specifically:

Alex Cora (Bench Coach). Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct. I will withhold determining the appropriate level of discipline for Cora until after the DOI completes its investigation of the allegations that the Red Sox engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing in 2018 while Cora was the manager.

Manfred made no note of any contrition or explanation from Cora. And the fact that Cora was listed numerous times throughout Manfred’s ruling as a central figure in the Astros’ sign-stealing efforts does not bode well for the current Red Sox manager.

And that’s without even considering the new investigation launched by MLB in response to The Athletic’s story a week ago about the Red Sox’ use of the replay review room to decode signs during the 2018 regular season.

Considering Hinch got suspended for a full season, a suspension of the same length should probably be seen as the minimum for Cora. Manfred could easily decide to issue a stiffer punishment for Cora based solely on his hands-on involvement in the Astros’ scheme, and Manfred could decide that the allegations from the 2018 Red Sox season could warrant harsher than usual punishment, given Cora’s history.

To compare: Hinch was not actively involved in the process, claims he did not like the process, and expressed “much contrition” about the process. Cora was actively involved in the process, he was the manager of a team that attempted similar (yet less brazen) tactics a year later, and he was not given any credit by Manfred in this ruling for showing any regret.

Hinch got a suspension for a full year. Cora might be preparing for even more.

(UPDATE: Shortly after the initial news broke, Astros owner Jim Crane announced that both Hinch and Luhnow had been fired. That course of action portends even more doom for Cora’s status in Boston.)

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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