Red Sox baseball boss Chaim Bloom returned a phone call Tuesday, which was pretty nice of him considering that I’ve been driving a pipe through his ball club since he got the job 20 months ago.
You might remember: Tampa Bay by the Charles. The Boston Devil Rays. The worst Sox deal (Mookie Betts to the Dodgers) since Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. The joke of “payroll flexibility.” The worst outfield in Red Sox history. Fangraphs’s idiotic projection of 89 wins. “Sneaky good” mockery. Sox bound for irrelevance. Sox are Fool’s Gold.
So here we are at the midpoint of the 2021 baseball season, and the Sox are in first place, own the second-best record in baseball, and are on pace to win 98-100 games.
I invited Chaim to take a victory lap around my giant head.
“I don’t take victory laps,” he said with a chuckle. “This game is too hard for that, and the bar in this town is a lot higher than this.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet, but winning beats the heck out of losing, and to be where we are right now, and to have gotten there the way we have gotten there — in front of a full Fenway again — is a great feeling.”
It’s a full turnaround from one year ago when the Sox finished last, playing a dismal 60-game season in an empty ballpark, while guys like me hooted on the front office for the salary-dump deal that sent Mookie to the Dodgers, where he immediately won a World Series.
What was the summer of 2020 like for Bloom?
“In a lot of ways, it was miserable,” he said. “Losing stinks, and knowing what this team feels like when it’s rocking and rolling and how far off we were from that was hard. We knew we were going to have to do some hard things to get back to where we wanted to be, but that doesn’t make it fun to go through it.”
The 2021 Sox are getting a lot of production from guys Bloom found in the winter bin. Guys like Hunter Renfroe, Garrett Whitlock, Adam Ottavino, Nick Pivetta (acquired in late August), and Kiké Hernández.
“You know you’re not going to nail every single decision,” said Bloom. “There are going to be mistakes along the way that you learn from. It’s not always a fun process while it’s happening. But it was a good feeling that we were in it together.
“As much as there can be a lot of noise around the organization, the folks that have been here a long time have each other’s backs.”
Here’s Bloom on some of his hits:
Renfroe: “He’s played great, and what you’re seeing on both sides of the ball is what we were hoping for. He’s shown that talent in the past. We felt that 2020 just wasn’t his year and he didn’t get a lot of time to show it last year, but it was a small sample.”
Pivetta: “The ingredients were there for him to be a successful major league starter. We believed that really strongly. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out in a certain place. It’s just not clicking. For as much as we try to look under the hood for stuff and mechanics, these guys are people.”
Whitlock: “We did not expect this much from him. We liked him, and there’s a lot of good work that went into that, but he’s been better than we had a right to expect, especially knowing he was coming off surgery.”
The Sox got both Whitlock and Ottavino from the Yankees. Does Bloom tease Yankees general manager Brian Cashman about this?
“Cash isn’t afraid to throw some zingers, including at himself,” said Bloom. “He has a good sense of humor that way, and I think you have to in this game. You can’t ever think you have this thing figured out, because we all have things on our transcript we regret.
“So I’m certainly not going to be out there zinging other people, because I know there’s going to be plenty of fodder to throw right back at me.”
The Sox embarrassed the Yankees in two series sweeps this year, and Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote that the Yankees should think about trading Aaron Judge, based on the Sox model of dealing Betts for payroll flexibility and prospects (Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong, Jeter Downs).
Stunning. I never thought I’d live to see the day when anybody would use the white flag/salary dump of Betts as a model for team-building.
“I respect the hell out of Joel,” Bloom said, chuckling again. “But we’re not trying to do anything in order to be the model. We’re just trying to do what’s right for the organization and try to have that consistent championship team every year so we can keep Fenway like it was this past weekend against the Yankees. That’s how it should be all the time.
“Hopefully other teams around the league consider it worthy of emulation, but we’re just trying to do right by the organization and right by our fans.”
What are the greatest needs for the second half?
“We need to be open-minded and continue to add talent,” said Bloom. “Because of the flexibility and versatility we have, there are a lot of ways we can get better. That can be through a mix of guys who are here for a shorter term or guys that can be part of this core going forward.
“We’ve got to look at all of it, and we’re going to be doing that over the course of the next month.”
Bloom is all about getting better without sacrificing the future.
“That’s our goal,” he said. “We need to keep that North Star in mind, which is that our fans deserve a true championship contender every year, and if we want that, we have to act like it. We have to build in a way that’s working toward that goal, and it’s a tough tightrope to walk when we’re in the hunt.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s something we are up to.’’
So are you “all-in” with this team?
“It depends on what you mean,” said Bloom. “I view it as we’re always all-in. And there are tradeoffs. Sometimes there are ways you can boost the short term that do sacrifice the long term, and to me that actually wouldn’t be all-in on our bigger goal.”
OK. But it has to be tempting to Go Big when your team is in first place at midseason and the division is up for grabs.
“It’s hard to do,” said Bloom. “Sometimes you find moves that help you now and down the road. Those are the ones you look for. But it’s about the bigger goal of playing consistent championship baseball. We’re all-in on that goal, and 2021 is part of that.
“We’ve got to look for opportunities to support this group and to pursue a championship now while maintaining our focus on every year that comes after this one.”
Bloom knows the Sox have plenty of holes, but he’s trying to get away from the last decade of alternating worst-to-first/first-to-worst seasons. He’s not going “all-in” on this year’s team if it means trading the next Jeff Bagwell for the next Larry Andersen. And that’s certainly a good thing.