Words such as “challenging” and “daunting” almost invariably accompany the description of Chaim Bloom’s first opportunity to lead a baseball operations department. The new chief baseball officer of the Red Sox faces several potentially unsavory responsibilities, possibly including hacking roughly 20 percent from the team’s payroll — a task that could force the team to contemplate trading franchise icon Mookie Betts.
Bloom confronts a tightrope in his new position, yet he describes the task not as imposing but instead energizing. In doing so, he speaks from experience. As much as the Red Sox face roadblocks in their attempt to regain their footing after a 2019 fall from championship grace, they hardly compare to those that the 36-year-old confronted 14 years ago in a position of little distinction yet enormous possibility.
In December 2004, Bloom — who was nearing the end of an internship with the Padres — met at the winter meetings for an interview with the assistant to baseball development for the Devil Rays. The Devil Rays, in their seventh year, had just completed their least awful season, a 70-91 campaign that finally elevated them from last in the American League East to fourth place.
But for Bloom, the record was less meaningful than the opportunity. The Rays represented the opening of a door. He just didn’t realize during his interview with Andrew Friedman how wide or how quickly the portal was about to open.
“I was looking to work with any major league club that would ask me,” said Bloom. “I don’t think I realized the full extent of [what an internship with the Rays would entail] at the time, but it became clear very quickly that this was an organization that was starting to undergo some major transition, and because of that, there were going to be a lot of opportunities.”
Bloom’s entry-level position was not going to be defined narrowly. He was joining an organization with the smallest front office in the game, one about to endure a dramatic restructuring that Bloom didn’t merely get to witness but that he helped shape.
“I think it was probably the most advanced internship that anyone has had in this game,” said Friedman, who emerged after the 2005 season as the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations and is now the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.
Friedman had read Bloom’s articles on Baseball Prospectus, and in the interview, recognized the Yale alum as someone with “a hunger to make this his vocation.” The curiosity and intelligence exhibited by Bloom represented what Friedman viewed as an ideal addition to an organization on the threshold of major change.
The 2005 season was to be the last under Vincent Naimoli as the managing general partner of the ownership group. A transition to Stu Sternberg as the principal owner was slated to occur after that season, with Friedman preparing for a role not just as a leader in baseball operations but in reshaping the department completely.
And so, when Friedman tabbed Bloom as an intern for the 2005 season, it wasn’t for a copies-and-coffee role. Instead, when Bloom arrived in Tampa Bay in February, Friedman engaged him in discussions about how to redesign a baseball operations department from the ground up — a role that continued with Bloom’s hiring to the full-time role of baseball operations assistant in October.
“He and I were meeting off site and talking through the vision for the department,” said Friedman. “He was in on the ground floor of that. We subsequently hired a lot of other people who were instrumental in helping us achieve the success that we did, but Chaim was Employee 1 on that.”
Given the particulars of Tampa Bay’s organization, the position came with almost unrivaled access to the inner workings of a baseball organization for someone of Bloom’s age (21 at the start of his internship, 22 when he started full time) and relative inexperience. The front office was, in the words of Gerry Hunsicker (who became Rays senior VP of baseball operations in November 2005), “bare bones.”
The Rays had neither an international scouting nor pro scouting department. They had limited staff running other departments, from player development to amateur scouting and even major league operations. Most of Bloom’s work came in player development and the farm system, but a willing, intelligent listener and eager volunteer for work had a chance to experience more in the first few months of his tenure than many young executives gain in years.
“From Day One, I was able to dip into just about all aspects of baseball operations because we did not have a lot of people and there was a lot of work to be done,” said Bloom. “I always felt like I had a voice and my opinion was valued, that I had a chance to contribute. At the same time, I recognized that there was stuff I didn’t know and I had a ton to learn.”
That view endeared Bloom to virtually everyone in the front office — particularly Mitch Lukevics, the farm director. Lukevics had a long history in the game as a player (he was teammates with Tony La Russa in the White Sox farm system in 1975 and was eventually released by Dave Dombrowski in 1980) and in player development. He was director of minor league operations for the Yankees in the early 1990s, as New York built the powerhouse that fueled their dynasty of the late ’90s.
In Bloom, Lukevics found an eager student whom he wanted to help in any way possible, and one with a disarming demeanor and baseball intelligence that rendered irrelevant any skepticism that might be directed towards a Yale grad with a degree in Classics. In Lukevics, Bloom found a mentor.
“A lot of who I am as a baseball person, I think I owe to him — not only baseball philosophy but the values,” said Bloom. “I was fortunate to end up working closely with him.”
Lukevics describes Bloom as a “surrogate son” — one who quickly came of age while working in the Rays organization. Lukevics was impressed by Bloom’s innate ability to communicate with equal ease with in-uniform baseball lifers and those who came from a more quantitative perspective.
He communicated with all sides of the organization and sought differing perspectives, helping to blend the best of traditional methods with innovation. In so doing, even early in his Rays career, Bloom became a critical voice — a “ringleader of collaboration,” in the words of Lukevics — in a culture that demanded creativity and novel methods to overcome resource disadvantages in the AL East and emerge as a regular contender starting in 2008.
“We created a think-tank mentality. In some ways, we were all leaning on each other and trying to learn from each other to come up with the best possible solutions,” said Hunsicker. “It was obvious that he was a bright young man with a very creative mind and fit very well into the Rays culture of thinking outside the box.”
Even as the front office staff grew, and even as the team transitioned from doormat to contender, the spirit of innovation and collaboration remained central tenets of how the Rays operated. Bloom was both a reflection and agent of that culture.
He was the person entrusted with contributing to and then distilling the conversations between Friedman, Lukevics, Hunsicker, former manager Joe Maddon, and others about the organization’s player development principles and then translating them into written form for the “Rays Way,” the team’s player development manual. That was merely one instance among many of how Bloom, by his mid-20s, had helped define how the Rays operated.
“His fingerprints were all over what we ultimately set up and how we grew and evolved,” said Friedman.
Friedman made sure to expose Bloom as well as Erik Neander, now the Rays’ GM, to every aspect of the game — including involvement in advance scouting reports that distilled data and analytics for game-planning purposes to ensure a precise feel for the game at field level. By the time Friedman left to run the Dodgers after the 2014 season, Bloom, at age 31, had already done nearly everything possible inside of an organization.
“I joked with both him and Erik about my leaving, how it was almost necessary for them to continue to be able to grow and develop, and that both were vital in the success that the Rays had, and both were going to go on and be really successful GMs,” said Friedman. “It was just a matter of when, not if.”
Now, the “when” has arrived. After interviews in recent years to head the baseball operations departments of the Phillies, Twins, Mets, and Giants, Bloom has his shot with the Red Sox.
Those who saw his growth with the Rays believe that he’ll galvanize the same sort of collaborative and creative culture that put Tampa Bay on the cutting edge. Though he has never had the title of the head of a baseball operations department, his résumé with the Rays is such that the Sox didn’t need to interview anyone else once they talked to Bloom.
“Obviously I’m biased, but I think he was the most talented executive in the game without that title,” said Friedman.
A future as a GM has been evident since Bloom’s earliest days as an intern, when he emerged as a difference-maker long before most have a voice in an organization. The experience of participating in the transformation of a franchise informs how Bloom views the sense of possibility with his current opportunity.
“That early mind-set of being really curious, being willing to take a fresh look at what’s being done, I think that became part of my DNA. I think the training from Day One, being able to contemplate a wide variety of areas throughout baseball ops rather than focused on one thing is really helpful for a job like this,” said Bloom. “We ended up working together [in Tampa Bay], being able to do some things that when we started we probably couldn’t have imagined. That’s pretty inspiring in any situation. We have a chance to do something [with the Red Sox] we can’t even contemplate right now.”
With Bloom at the helm, those who know him best likewise see a sense of possibility for the organization.
“I said, ‘Dammit, anywhere else but the freaking Red Sox!’ But I love him like a son,” chuckled Lukevics. “I was with the Yankees with [Derek] Jeter. You knew he was going to be a good player, but you didn’t know he’d go on to become a Hall of Fame player. With Chaim, same thing . . . You knew he was going to be good [as an intern], but you didn’t know how good. This is no surprise. This is not like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it.’ It’s no surprise.
“If anyone can handle it, it’s Chaim. He’s ready.”