ARLINGTON, Texas — If all goes according to plan, the Red Sox will return to the World Series sometime soon with a team exhibiting many of the same characteristics the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays have shown this season.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, after all, spent 15 years with the Rays before coming to the Sox a year ago.
But there’s more to be gained studying the Dodgers than the Rays.
The Red Sox have spent $1.07 billion in luxury-tax payroll over the last five seasons, a whopping 43 percent more than the Rays ($463.3 million) over the same period. They’re competitors on the field but not as businesses.
The Dodgers operate in the same financial stratosphere as the Red Sox and their president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, was hired away from the Rays in 2014.
Friedman took Tampa Bay’s model of roster building and strengthened it with a higher payroll. The Dodgers are in the World Series for the third time in four seasons as a result. That’s the kind of extended success the Sox hope to achieve under Bloom.
Before the Dodgers beat the Rays, 8-3, in Game 1 Friedman discussed what he set out to accomplish when he arrived in Los Angeles in 2014.
Incorporating analytics into roster building and in-game strategy was part of the recipe along with managing the long-term payroll with creative moves so they could afford to take on a player like Mookie Betts.
But that’s the product of something bigger.
“At the core of what we do, we’re involved with trying to provide the best environment and culture for people to thrive in. I don’t think that’s different than any business,” Friedman said.
"It was something that was really important to us when I was with the Rays and it’s something that’s really important to us now. I think when guys are more comfortable they perform better. That stems from having honest conversations with people and just a consistency of message and everyone being on the same page.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t disagree, but I think culture is incredibly important to organizational success and have believed in that for a long time.”
Consistency has escaped the Red Sox. Bloom is their third lead baseball executive since Theo Epstein left the organization in 2011. They’ve also run through four managers in that time and are searching for a fifth.
Of course, the Sox have won two championships in that time and the Dodgers are still searching for their first since 1988. But the Sox also have finished last four times. Their culture is often one of chaos.
“Anyone who does this for a living is trying to evolve and learn as we go. I’ve certainly learned a lot over the last six years,” Friedman said.
“Payrolls don’t decide the standings. We see evidence of that every year. Having a really deep and talented roster regardless of your payroll is the key to winning games.”
Asked what he valued in players, Friedman laughed.
“I need a little time to digest,” he said. “A lot of it really stems from really valuing guys who can do a lot of different things on a baseball field. Adding value on defense, on the bases, in the batters box. Pitchers who have multiple weapons and can execute pitches.”
We saw some of that in Bloom’s acquisition of players like Yairo Munoz and Jose Peraza, who both can play multiple positions. Peraza was a bust but also a product of working with limited payroll space at the time.
“We do a lot of digging on people’s makeup and trying to have a feel on how they’ll fit in,” Friedman said. “If they don’t, that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. It’s just that we won’t necessarily be able to get the most out of those players.”
There won’t be a better sense of how that will play out under Bloom until he remakes the current roster. The pandemic cut spring training in half and canceled the minor league season. His ability to evaluate players at all levels of the organization was hampered.
Ultimately it comes down to the Dodgers operating with a sense of purpose throughout the organization. Betts has pointedly commented on the team’s consistent commitment to success as something he appreciates.
“The overarching pillar is culture and environment — in our front office, in our clubhouse,” Friedman said. “It’s something that is extremely important to all of us. It’s a difficult thing to put your finger on and to quantify, but it’s one of those things that when you have it, you know it. And when you don’t, you know it, in the most glaring of ways.”