Inhabitants of the American League East basement for the second time in three seasons, the Red Sox have reached a Fenway Fork in the Road.
Do they remain on their current deliberate path, resolute that it will pay off in the long run? Or do they recalculate their route to contention and veer down a different path than the one chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has charted?
The choice is clear, and it may not be the one you think.
The Sox have to see Bloom Ball through at this point or they’ll only create a bigger mess. That might not be what restless and restive members of Red Sox Nation want to hear. The Sox can be rash and reactive coming off disappointing seasons. Some of that sensitivity to public sentiment paved the way for World Series wins, but it’s also led to organizational inconsistency and five last-place finishes since 2012.
You can’t hopscotch from ideology to ideology and then shout “sustainability” from the Green Monster. One day it’s don’t trust pitchers over 30. The next it’s handing David Price a $217 million, seven-year deal. The Sox shouldn’t make another screeching, sudden U-turn.
Three seasons in with a pair of last-place finishes but a burgeoning farm system, does Bloom still feel he has the same autonomy from ownership to execute his vision?
“The short answer is yes,” he told me Friday, a day after the Sox’ postmortem press conference. “I feel that when I started here there was a tone of alignment on the course we had to set.
“We knew we were in a difficult spot and there would be some tough choices to get the organization on better footing so we could accomplish our goal of bringing October baseball to our fans every year. We still are all aligned in that goal. Any time we don’t get to that point we all feel that. As far as what it takes to get there, I’ve felt fully supported in that.”
The affable and intelligent Bloom, who pieced together an ahead-of-schedule playoff club in 2021, is going to have to turn his profundity and prospect inventory into perennial contention. The payoff needs to come sooner rather than later.
“It really is all about winning at the end. I don’t have individual stats. I can’t have a good year unless the Red Sox have a good year,” Bloom said.
This is a pivotal offseason. It would be downright dysfunctional for principal owner John Henry and club chairman Tom Werner to entrust Bloom to make critical decisions on the futures of shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers, who’s entering the final year of his deal, and then abandon Bloom and his plan if the team sputters initially in 2023.
Otherwise, you’re better off blowing him out now.
Does ownership and upper management still have full confidence in Bloom?
“Yeah, for sure,” said Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy. “We have a ton of confidence in this group, and we’re really looking forward to the opportunities that we have this offseason to see what comes ahead. But we’re very confident in Chaim.”
Bloom is aware that his messaging in terms of balancing big-picture goals with present competitiveness hasn’t always struck his desired tone.
He can come off as a front office technocrat. His approach — string together good baseball decisions — is unwavering, but so is his desire to win right now, as he stated emphatically.
So, this 78-84 failure stung and put Bloom in the public crosshairs.
“I think Chaim receives a lot of criticism, but we all should. This is on all of us,” Kennedy told me.
“We are fully supportive of baseball operations and the plan. Look, we came into 2022 with a team that we thought was going to take us into October and hopefully deliver another World Series championship. We fell short of that. That’s on all of us.
“But this notion of balancing the near term with the long term is just organizational responsibility.”
Bloom was able to show off some of his wares and progress with pitching prospect Brayan Bello breaking through and the promotion of prized first base prospect Triston Casas. The Sox boast a farm system ranked just outside the top 10 in baseball.
But there were major missteps: trading Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley Jr. and prospects, relying on Bobby Dalbec at first base, failing to equip the roster with the necessary righthanded-hitting platoon outfielder until Tommy Pham arrived in August, and eschewing an opportunity to avoid the luxury tax.
Pham was added during a confusing and conflicted trade deadline that shipped out beloved catcher Christian Vázquez while trying to keep the faint glow of the candle of contention flickering at Fenway.
And Bloom’s underwhelming initial contract offer to Bogaerts before the season dispirited Baseball Bergeron, setting a bad tone for the season, one of disenchantment in the clubhouse.
I asked Bloom if he regretted the initial extension offer to Bogaerts or at least the way it was perceived or received.
“I don’t want to get into that only because I don’t like talking the details of any negotiation,” he said.
Boston Sports Journal’s Sean McAdam reported Red Sox ownership had engaged Bogaerts directly in the last week.
“Generally speaking, a decision like this is an organizational decision,” said Bloom. “I think ownership should be engaged and involved and ultimately have final say. It’s their organization.”
We have yet to hear from Henry or Werner. But Henry told colleague Alex Speier in July that the Sox were still in “building mode.” That bodes well for Bloom.
“A few big moves are not going to be able to make up for shortcomings in the foundation,” pointed out Bloom. “Those moves work best when they complement a really strong foundation. It really works best in harmony … I think when you look at the best of the Red Sox over the last 20 years it bears that out.”
The worst of the Red Sox over the last 20 years is reactive decisions to major disappointment. Bobby Valentine, anyone?
This was always going to be the question about importing Bloom from the Tampa Bay Rays in search of sustainability: Did Red Sox ownership possess the patience and the stomach to see it through or would they bail on it and Bloom at the first sign of rough waters and bad press?
Chaim needs more time.