First of two parts. Coming Tuesday: A closer look at the possible candidates.
What, beyond the obvious, can the Red Sox’ search for a new head — or heads — of baseball operations accomplish?
Certainly, the primary goal is to find the right leader to help the Red Sox see a drastic improvement in results. Yet, if done effectively, the search for Chaim Bloom’s replacement also should provide the team with a rare opportunity to conduct an internal review that clarifies the needs of the organization and, in turn, what is needed from a new person in charge.
How well are the Red Sox operating? Are they ahead of, behind, or in the middle of 30 teams in every aspect of a baseball organization — not just the major league roster, but also in player development, pro and amateur domestic and international scouting, analytics, sport science, and medical operations? Where are they deficient?
Are they sufficiently nimble to adapt in an industry where the dimensions of a baseball operations department seem to change annually? Most importantly, what is needed for them to emerge as a legitimate title aspirant on a year-over-year basis?
Those questions are worth parsing carefully, with a wide array of voices who have expertise in the different areas of a baseball operations department — both with the Sox and other clubs. It is likely with that notion in mind that Sox president/CEO Sam Kennedy outlined plans for a “robust” search process two weeks ago.
More than a month after Bloom was fired, few specifics are known about the Sox’ efforts to replace him. Based on conversations with numerous industry sources, as well as prior reporting from the Globe and other media, here are the basic known elements:
▪ Assistant general manager Eddie Romero has interviewed for the position.
▪ Additional internal candidates have interviewed. They have yet to be identified.
▪ There are external candidates who have agreed to interview; it’s not known if they’ve already done so.
▪ There is widespread industry chatter about top potential candidates — particularly those who are currently the No. 1 or No. 2 officials in their organizations — who have declined to interview for a number of reasons, among them: the short shelf life of the last three Red Sox baseball ops heads, who were fired despite what is perceived as success in performing their jobs well; the rigidity of the inherited infrastructure, with a manager and senior leadership team in place; or an unwillingness to uproot families.
▪ While no external candidates have been identified, there are individuals who had been identified as potential targets who are not expected to pursue the position. Those include Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen and assistant GM Amiel Sawdaye (both former Red Sox front office members who recently signed extensions in Arizona); Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey; MLB vice president of baseball operations and former Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill (per USA Today); and Rays senior adviser of baseball operations and former Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels (per Audacy).
That’s not a lot of information about the Sox’ first full search process since 2005, when they looked for a replacement for former and future GM Theo Epstein during his temporary departure.
It’s been so long since the current ownership group (with Larry Lucchino as president/CEO) conducted a search with multiple candidates that it’s fair to question whether there can be lessons from those pursuits. Nonetheless, it’s worth recalling that the process that led to Epstein’s appointment in 2002 and reappointment in the 2005-06 offseason moved at a crawl.
The Red Sox navigated their 2002 search slowly in hopes that Oakland’s Billy Beane would get permission to become a candidate. When that finally happened in November, Beane briefly agreed to become Red Sox GM, only to change his mind. In late November, Epstein — who hadn’t been a candidate while the team conducted first-round interviews while waiting on Beane — was appointed, hit the ground running, and oversaw a remarkable offseason that included the signing of David Ortiz.
In 2005, with a number of top executives leery of interviewing for the Sox job after Epstein had left after just three years, the team went through the GM and Winter Meetings without a lead executive. They still managed to make a couple of massive deals — a blockbuster with the Marlins for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, as well as another sending Edgar Renteria to Atlanta for Andy Marte, who was later flipped to Cleveland for Coco Crisp (moves that proved huge in the 2007 title run).
In December, the team temporarily appointed Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer as co-GMs while (in the words of Lucchino) “leaving a light on” for Epstein, who returned in January.
The lesson? It’s difficult but acceptable to go through a significant chunk of the offseason without a lead executive. The Sox have a playbook for navigating choppy waters with an interim, multi-headed leadership team — not an ideal scenario, but a functional one that can be worthwhile in order to conduct not only a search but also, perhaps more importantly, an honest self-evaluation of the way the organization functions.
Given the limited information about whom the Sox have and have not formally interviewed or requested permission to interview, it makes sense to approach the subject in a different light: Whom does it make sense for Kennedy — as the person in charge of the search — to meet with as part of a truly robust process, not just as candidates for the one or two positions atop the Red Sox baseball operations department but also for insight about what the team needs?