Chaim Bloom has been chief baseball officer of the Red Sox for a little more than seven months. But he has already dealt with what would normally be several years’ worth of challenges.
Manager Alex Cora left the organization in January after Major League Baseball identified him as playing a leading role in helping the 2017 Houston Astros illegally steal signs.
Bloom traded Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers three weeks later, fulfilling ownership’s stated goal to cut payroll.
Chris Sale woke up with a sore elbow a month later, which eventually led to his having Tommy John surgery. Just as the Red Sox were absorbing that blow, the game was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bloom then returned to his home in St. Petersburg, Fla., to shelter in place with his wife, Aliza, and their two young sons.
“It’s fair to say we had to put some things on pause,” Bloom said during a recent conversation. “A lot of things got turned upside down and now we have very different priorities. The big picture, what we were going to work on this year and focus on, we had to learn to think about differently.”
With no games to prepare for and all transactions temporarily frozen, Bloom focused on making sure the Sox players were being monitored at the height of the pandemic. He used the rest of the time for staff development or kicking around ideas.
“We had to be accountable and responsible for the whereabouts of all our people to some degree,” Bloom said. “It was a lot of work and something we had to take seriously.”
Bloom comes from a player development background and was excited to dig into that aspect of his job. Like any executive new to an organization, he planned to spend a significant amount of time getting to know the staff and players in person during spring training.
Simply watching minor league games on the backfields at Fenway South would have been productive. But those games never happened.
Bloom also wanted to visit all four of the team’s minor league affiliates for a few days this season to build on those relationships. Now those trips won’t happen, at least not this year.
“That’s something I really miss,” Bloom said. “I was excited to do that, it’s a passion of mine to be involved with the minor league side. There are a lot of guys I haven’t gotten to know yet and we’re already in June. It’s a long way to go before I feel comfortable.”
The Sox also missed an opportunity to improve their roster with trades or waiver claims before Opening Day.
“It’s certainly hard to rate players when you’re not able to see them play,” Bloom said. “You hope you can take advantage of the processes you have in place, but that became much different once the games ended.”
Like many of us, Bloom is hoping an agreement will be struck to start the season. He “absolutely” supports the idea that it’s important to have some kind of 2020 season.
“Safety is the first priority; we have to make sure everybody is safe,” Bloom said. “Once we can do that, it becomes easier. I think it would be more meaningful than ever to have games.”
Could a shorter season benefit the Sox given that fewer games will mean less exposure for a shaky starting rotation?
“I personally think that contemplating what a different season will look like will create problems for us,” Bloom said. “The game tends to be humbling. The virus reminds us that we should be careful to think we know everything.”
The larger question, how much baseball will change after the pandemic, has been a topic of some conversation. But it’s still too much of an unknown.
“It’s a great game and it has always come through challenges and threats,” Bloom said. “It’s been successful way longer than I’ve been alive, and I’m confident that will still be the case.”
Some MLB executives have said they’ve been more productive than usual working from home without the distraction of co-workers dropping into their office.
Bloom laughed when asked if that applied to him.
“Personally, I have not,” he said. “My sons have seen to that. But I get to see them all day and that time has been great.
“I’ve been able to connect with everybody with various devices and that has been positive. But it’s about people at the end of the day and I personally value that culture of spending time together. Sometimes the best ideas come from hanging out in the office. Shutdown life is different. You have to find a way.”
General manager Brian O’Halloran said Bloom has been “purposeful” with how he has addressed the obstacles.
“Collaboration has been difficult for anybody in a leadership position with everybody working from home,” O’Halloran said. “He had a head start with a full offseason and at least some of spring training. But there was still a lot that you’d prefer to get done in person. I think he’s handled it great and that’s been the case since his first day with us. He and I have stared at each over Zoom a lot the last few months.”
Bloom and much of the staff have been focused on the amateur draft in recent weeks. He’s also finally carved out the time to move his family to Massachusetts.
It isn’t yet certain when Bloom will be able to return to Fenway Park on a full-time basis. But that will be a welcome milestone after what has been an eventful tenure without a game being played.
LURE OF TRADITION
Red Sox have a sales pitch
The new-look amateur draft starts Wednesday with the first 37 picks. That encompasses the first round and eight supplemental first-round selections.
The remaining 123 picks — Rounds 2-5 — will be made Thursday. The Red Sox have only four picks after losing their second-rounder for the 2018 sign-stealing infraction.
What will be a huge pool of undrafted free agents will be limited to a $20,000 bonus, meaning teams will need an effective sales pitch to land additional players.
That process won’t start until 9 a.m. on June 14 and promises to be frenzied given the legitimate talent that will be available at a cut-rate price.
“A couple of different variables are baked in,” Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni said. “How good are they? How much do we value them? How willing are they to sign for $20,000 after the draft, and how likely is it that they pick the Red Sox?
“Trying to properly game-plan that is challenging.”
Geography will come into play for some players, which doesn’t help the Sox given the low number of prospects in New England compared with California, Florida, and Texas.
The Sox will rely more on intangibles.
“The history, the tradition, how we develop players, the family culture we have,” Toboni said when I asked him what would be the foundation of the team’s sales pitch. “Our facilities and the amount of money we put into strength and conditioning and technology and getting our players better. The Red Sox brand carries weight itself.”
A $20,000 bonus is unlikely to sway a prized recruit away from a major-conference college program. But there will be talented high school and college players eager to leave academia behind and get their professional careers started, even if there won’t be any minor league games to play until next season.
“We’re trying to prepare for all those different scenarios,” Toboni said,
The Sox don’t have a set number of free agents they want to sign.
Several mock drafts put the Sox in position to take high school outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong of the famed Harvard-Westlake program in California or Oregon high school righthander Mick Abel with their first pick, No. 17.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Dozens of athletes across a wide spectrum of sports spoke out against racism and police brutality in the days following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
But the core group of Red Sox major league players stayed on the sidelines aside from posting a black box for Blackout Tuesday on their Instagram accounts.
The only players returning from last season who offered a comment were Matt Barnes and Jackie Bradley Jr.
“I understand that I’ll never understand. However, I stand,” Barnes wrote on Instagram.
“We will continue to rise!!” Bradley wrote on Twitter.
Two newcomers, Collin McHugh and Kevin Pillar, had more to offer.
“The most effective way to make changes is with ourselves, the people around us, and the people we encounter,” Pillar wrote on Twitter. “Change from the top will not change individual acts of evil or violence. Teaching our youth, our neighbors, or enemies that we are all human beings is where we need to start.”
McHugh retweeted several statements from other major leaguers and wrote, “I feel for George Floyd. He should be alive. I don’t want pity; I want change.”
McHugh also marched in a protest in Atlanta on Wednesday and posted to Instagram that he was concerned for his safety at first but found the experience enlightening.
“You might feel like it won’t accomplish anything, but neither will sitting it out,” he wrote.
One former Red Sox player, Mookie Betts, was particularly eloquent.
“Over the last few days I have sat in disbelief yet again, how a black man can be killed because of the color of his skin,” he wrote on Instagram. “As I continue to process the recent events, I am reminded that our fight is not over. We must not get comfortable when the protesting is over, but remain dedicated to our mission: EQUALITY FOR ALL!
“I AM MORE THAN AN ATHLETE …
“I AM A BLACK MAN, A FATHER,
“A SON, A BROTHER, & A FRIEND.”
It was a reminder that when the Sox traded Betts, they didn’t just give up their best player. They also lost a team leader and their moral center.
▪ The Red Sox have had a group of eight players working out at JetBlue Park since the facility reopened last week. Because they are rehabilitating injuries, Chris Sale and Alex Verdugo are allowed in the clubhouse and trainer’s room. The other six — Bradley, Michael Chavis, Tzu-Wei Lin, Nick Longhi, Chris Mazza, and Jose Peraza — have to stay outside and maintain social distancing.
All are 40-man roster players. Mazza, a righthander, was claimed off waivers from the Mets in December. Longhi, a first baseman and outfielder, is a minor leaguer who was invited to major league spring training.
▪ McHugh is well into a throwing program as he recovers from an elbow injury and will be pitching off the mound soon.
▪ The Sox have not yet decided if preseason workouts would be held in Boston or Fort Myers. Fenway Park has limitations, but the improved facilities for visiting teams under the third base stands — the clubhouse, trainer’s room, and weight room are all recently renovated — helps.
The Sox could require use of another field of two in the area for drills or live batting practice. At a time when baseball needs some good will, seeing big leaguers working out at one of the local colleges would be a good thing.
A deal the Rays keep winning
The 2018 trade deadline proved to be a turning point for the Rays and Pirates. Just not in the same direction.
The Rays, well out of contention, traded righthander Chris Archer to the Pirates for righthander Tyler Glasnow, outfielder Austin Meadows, and righthander Shane Baz, a former first-round pick.
The Pirates were seven games out of first place but only 3½ behind for the second wild card. They went for it.
Archer was as reliable as a starter could be at that point, having led the majors in starts (150) since 2014. But the Pirates missed the playoffs, going 5-5 in the games Archer started. He had a 4.30 ERA and four of his losses came against teams the Pirates were fighting for a wild-card spot.
Archer was 3-9 with a 5.19 ERA last season and missed 10 starts because of a shoulder injury. He had thoracic outlet surgery Tuesday and won’t pitch this season.
The Pirates hold an $11 million option on Archer for next season they’re sure to pass on. Archer was 6-12 with a 4.92 ERA for the Pirates for approximately $14 million, depending what happens this season.
The Rays went on to finish 90-72 in 2018 and were 96-66 last season before losing a five-game Division Series against the Astros. Meadows had a .922 OPS with 33 home runs and 89 RBIs last season.
Glasnow has a 2.94 ERA in 23 starts for the Rays. He missed 21 starts last season because of an arm injury but pitched very well in September.
Baz had a 2.99 ERA in 17 starts in Single A and is one of Tampa Bay’s top five prospects. At worst, he’s a reliable reliever down the road.
Glasnow and Meadows cost the Rays $1.1 million last season and that could bump to $1.5 million this season.
The Rays added three young, talented, and inexpensive players, cut payroll, and traded a pitcher before he broke down. That’s winning a trade every way you can.
Some positive baseball news: Lindsey Duquette, the daughter of former Mets general manager Jim Duquette, is headed off to college eight years after receiving a kidney from her father. Lindsey was born with FSGS, a nephrotic syndrome. Jim Duquette, who now works for MLB Network Radio, is from Dalton. His brother, Pat, is the men’s basketball coach at UMass Lowell. Dan Duquette is their cousin … MLB should be very concerned that the NBA will find summer basketball to its liking and permanently move games to July and August beyond this season. The NBA is fast paced, the owners work in conjunction with the Players Association for the betterment of the sport, and star players have national profiles thanks to effective marketing and their willingness to engage the public. In other words, all the things baseball consistently fails at … Happy birthday to Heathcliff Slocumb, who is 54. The closer had a 5.79 ERA in 1997 when the Red Sox traded him to the Mariners for two prospects, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. You may be familiar with how they turned out. Jeff Pierce is 51. The righthander was claimed off waivers from the White Sox during spring training in 1994 and was 0-3 with a 6.60 ERA in 12 relief appearances for the Red Sox. That was the extent of his major league career.