Chaim Bloom inherited one of the most challenging job descriptions in the major leagues and left the Red Sox in a far better long-term position than existed when he arrived nearly four years ago.
Bloom’s methodical, risk-averse approach to roster-building as chief baseball officer represented a potential impediment to the Red Sox emerging from the mire of mediocrity.
At a time when Bloom’s firing prompts a review of his track record, there’s truth to both characterizations.
The upper levels of the Red Sox’ minor league system were a desert with few shrubs when Bloom arrived. Four years later, the team has standout young big leaguers (Triston Casas, Brayan Bello, Jarren Duran), other potential long-term contributors on the roster (Wilyer Abreu, Ceddanne Rafaela, Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, Kutter Crawford), and a wave building in the upper levels (Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, Kyle Teel, Nick Yorke).
After years of relative restraint regarding long-term deals and with that growing base of young, inexpensive players, the Sox should have the financial mettle to take some big swings on the open market in coming winters — particularly if they reverse this year’s considerable drop in payroll.
But their indecisiveness and deliberateness in recent offseasons — and especially ahead of the past two trade deadlines — led to missed opportunities, raising questions about whether Bloom would be able to supplement the roster as the Sox try to transition from a building phase to one in which they have legitimate title aspirations.
Bloom’s strength was the development of a new generation of talent. He clung to the prospects who’d entered the system during Dave Dombrowski’s administration; made occasional trades to add to that base with players like Alex Verdugo and Connor Wong (from the impossible Mookie Betts situation he inherited), Josh Winckowski (Andrew Benintendi), and Abreu (Christian Vázquez); and benefited from strong drafts and international signing periods.
Moreover, over the last four years — and particularly the last two — the Sox instituted a far-reaching data- and analytics-driven modernization of the farm system.
That process was at times uncomfortable and led to occasional friction and the departures of several long-time members of the organization. But players such as Casas, Bello, and Crawford who entered the organization before Bloom’s arrival as well as those like Mayer and Anthony who arrived under him became better prospects while matriculating through the system.
So the Sox now have a group of young players that is a prerequisite to fielding good teams. But as this year’s race at the bottom of the American League East with the Yankees highlights, it’s also not yet a group good enough to propel the team into contention.
Given that the Sox will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons, it’s unsurprising that the ability to build a playoff-caliber roster came under scrutiny. The same thing took place in August 2015 when, despite an elite farm system, the Sox replaced Ben Cherington with Dombrowski while hurtling toward a third last-place finish (sandwiched around a championship) in four years.
The relative inactivity at the last two trade deadlines likely played into the decision to fire Bloom. Evaluators across the industry were surprised that the Sox didn’t part with J.D. Martinez as he approached free agency in 2022, a move that would have helped them get below the luxury-tax threshold.
According to a major league source, at the 2022 trade deadline, the Rangers were willing to take all but $14 million of Chris Sale’s remaining contract while also sending two prospects to Boston, but the talks died. WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford reported that an unspecified team was, in fact, willing to take on all of the remaining 2½ years of Sale’s contract, despite the fact that the lefthander had a broken pinkie.
This year, with the Sox 2½ games out of a wild-card spot, other teams remained unclear on whether they were looking to add reinforcements or willing to trade veterans.
Perhaps most notably, according to major league sources, the Sox were deep in talks with the Marlins on the day of the deadline about a deal that would have sent Justin Turner to Miami for Edward Cabrera — a 25-year-old righthanded starter with a potentially dominant fastball — and more.
The Sox also had deals on the table for James Paxton — multiple industry officials said they could have acquired major league-ready pitching, perhaps with the ceiling of a back-end starter, despite the injury risks involving the lefthander — and Kenley Jansen.
In declining such deals, industry officials believe, the Sox missed a major opportunity to put themselves in a much better spot for 2024 and beyond. That stance might have been understandable had they instead made moves to pursue a long-shot playoff push. But aside from the buy-low addition of infielder Luis Urías, the Sox stood pat.
That approach added to fairly widespread frustration among other clubs when it came to making trades with Bloom, who was viewed as a difficult trade partner who overvalued his own players.
That trait didn’t create an absolute impediment. The 2021 deal for Kyle Schwarber was excellent, and the 2022 deadline swap of Vázquez for Abreu and Enmanuel Valdez now looks strong.
Still, that style seemed to restrict the Sox’ activity at a time when they need to raise their ceiling through every available path, including trades and free agent signings. Though there’s plenty of truth to the notion that sometimes the best trades are those that aren’t made, it’s unquestionably the case that deal-making also can significantly shorten the path back to contention. And the infrequency with which the Sox used that lever under Bloom represents a surprise.
That said, several people across the industry viewed Bloom as a talented peer and believed he would only get better at deal-making with time. That time, however, was not made available to him by Sox owners.
Bloom’s replacement eventually will arrive as the beneficiary of the team’s talent base and payroll flexibility but also with eyes wide open that the term of a contract is no guarantee of tenure length.
“Win or go home,” one executive said of the job description for the head of baseball operations in Boston. “Sometimes win and go home.”