It was a year ago Monday the Red Sox clinched a playoff spot with a dramatic victory against the Washington Nationals. A 447-foot home run by Rafael Devers in the ninth inning was the difference.
A raucous Wild Card Game victory against the Yankees at Fenway Park followed. Then came a playoff run that ended two victories shy of the World Series.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom dived into every celebration along the way. When the Sox beat his former team, the Rays, in the Division Series, he emerged from the clubhouse wearing team shorts, his hair soaked in champagne and beer.
“Winning here is so special,” Bloom said at the time. “What an incredible experience.”
A year later, the Sox have been in last place in the American League East since late July and Bloom’s ability to build a team is being questioned after once being praised.
Bloom recently sat for a one-on-one interview at Fenway Park. Here are his thoughts on the state of the team headed into what is sure to be an eventful offseason. Some answers were lightly edited for clarity.
A year ago I can’t imagine you thought the team would be where it is today.
“Especially in the AL East, you know it’s never going to be easy. You know that in this division, in the game of baseball, you can think you have things lined up one way and it doesn’t always work out the way you hoped.
“But none of us thought we’d be playing games that wouldn’t impact the standings.”
What in your mind was a reasonable expectation coming into this season?
“The way I viewed it, there are teams that make the postseason on different levels. But the way baseball works, if you can get in, you can win it. If you get in out of the AL East, you can definitely win it. This is the toughest division there is.
“We hoped and fully expected to be in the postseason.”
Is one offseason enough to fix all the issues this team seems to have?
“The short answer is yes. As far as the roster is concerned, there absolutely is going to be time. Every offseason is always pivotal. Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way when it’s happening, but you look back and it was. You should attack every offseason as it being the most important one you’ll have.
“We definitely have a lot of items on our list with the roster that we need to take care of this offseason. Hopefully we’ll find a way to tackle them all in a way that puts us back in the postseason next year.
“Not every problem is solved by writing a check or making a trade. A lot of it comes from within. Some from guys you’d expect and some from guys you wouldn’t expect.”
You exceeded the luxury-tax threshold and will finish in last place. How can that happen?
“We know how it happened and we knew when we made the decisions we did at the trade deadline [not to trade Nate Eovaldi or J.D. Martinez] that there was a possibility it could go this way.
“In hindsight, sitting here and looking at that, it’s obviously something we’d want to change. Like I said at the time, we felt fortunate to have the backing [from ownership] to be able to prioritize trying to accomplish both goals of staying in the race and improving the organization without prioritizing the luxury tax.”
Will Garrett Whitlock be a starter or a reliever next season?
“I’m not ready to break news on that front. I think we’re fortunate in him to have someone that wherever you put him he’s going to be able to impact the club.
“I will say I think that just because of the situation our bullpen was in and the situation he was in physically, I think there’s this perception he didn’t succeed as a starter. But when you really peel back the layers and look at what he did, it was pretty impressive. Especially having to [move into the rotation] on the fly.”
How do you approach building a better bullpen? Because there’s no one blueprint that always works.
“This is something, as you can imagine, that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this summer. We’re going to look at every option we have. Because of having the flexibility that we have financially, we may be able to use that in certain ways to help our bullpen.
“But I think in today’s game it’s not possible to have a really good bullpen all season long without having contributions from unexpected places and contributions from within.
“We’ve been able to do that on a smaller scale with Garrett and [John] Schreiber. We need to be able to do that more. That has to be some part of what we do with the bullpen. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about that.”
“Alex [Cora] and I have talked a lot about the situations we put them in and putting them in positions to succeed. How can help these guys maximize their ability and put them in a position to have success. That’s really what you have to do to have a really good and deep bullpen.”
How have you ridden the roller coaster from fans feeling positive about your job performance last year and now many being critical?
“It’s all part of the experience. Look, we haven’t played well this year. When that happens and you’re in the chair I’m in, you’re going to get criticized. It’s deserved. We haven’t played well.
“I will say this: I think I’ve gotten to know our fans better this year than in any of the years I’ve been here. Some of that is just the state of the world at this point. I’ve had a lot of interactions and I’ve really enjoyed our fans.
“I have great conversations with some of the folks that I talk to. They’re so passionate. They’re locked in. They care about this team. They understand what we’ve been trying to do the last few years. They’re in this with us. It’s on us to give them the results they deserve.”
Beyond the record this season, how do you feel about the long-term prospects of the organization?
“It’s hard to see when you’re staring at the record that we have right now. But I think we are on track to do what we set out to do. But we still have a lot of work left.
“In some areas we have accomplished and learned some things and we’re just scratching the surface of how good we can be. That excites me the most. There are some things going on in the organization that will make us even better moving forward.
“We’ve dramatically improved our farm system. We need to back it up with on-field success at the big-league level. But, broadly speaking, we have a lot of work left to do but are on track to get where we want to go.”
There’s a lot of attention on Xander [Bogaerts] and Raffy [Devers]. Two different situations but two important players. How much of the offseason hinges on them?
“Certainly the perception will be that. Emotionally we’re going to feel that for sure. Xander comes here every day, puts on the uniform, and does whatever he can to help us win. I understand the value of that.
“He’s a special person who has performed in Boston. You value players with that ability. Our relationship with him hasn’t changed. I think he appreciates what he has done here and his place on the team. We do as well.”
When you traded Mookie [Betts] in 2020 you said you wanted the organization to get to a point where it could retain a star player or trade for one. Are you there in terms of Devers?
“Situations are unique. But we are in a different situation than we were then. We had more players under longer-term commitments than we do now. I can’t say what will happen with Raffy right now. But we’re a different organization now and our young talent base is broader. I feel like we’ve made progress.
“But every player has a right to make choices. It has to be good for the player and the team. We’re in a position to make that deal, if we can.”
As somebody who was in this division before you came to the Sox, what has changed about your impression of Boston?
“It’s better than what I thought it was going to be. I appreciate it more now with it being home. I think it’s probably the best in-person baseball experience in the country. I haven’t been to enough places to say the world, but I put it up against anywhere. It’s special.
“The energy that is here, in good times and bad, is really unique. You think about it, there is not a single time during the game we prompt our fans to do anything. They do it on their own. That is so rare. It’s so energizing for players and such a competitive advantage for us.”
The idea of sustainable competitiveness is something the organization has been preaching for several years. Do you feel like that point is in vision?
“I do. The bar is obviously really high in our division to get to that point. You can be a pretty good team in our division and still finish last. I think that’s what has happened this year. We are where we are and it shows how much we have to raise our game to be in that position.”