Only once in the 15 years Chaim Bloom worked for the Tampa Bay Rays did the team’s payroll top $100 million. That was in 2017 and the Rays finished 80-82.
Tampa Bay promptly started cutting again and returned to the playoffs last season after winning 96 games.
Now, as chief baseball officer of the Red Sox, Bloom is charged with pruning the payroll below $208 million to reset the luxury-tax penalties the team has paid the last two seasons.
It’s the kind of problem most teams would roll their eyes about, cutting the highest payroll in the game to the second or third highest. But for the Red Sox, it’s a signal that significant change is coming.
The check is due.
“Understanding that some people could see that as a concern, I look at it as taking a longer view,” Bloom said.
The scope of that perspective will start to take shape Monday when the General Managers Meetings get started in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The meetings will come only 16 days after Bloom joined the Red Sox. He’s used that time to get better acquainted with his new co-workers, call many of the players to introduce himself — yes, Mookie Betts was one of them — and go back and forth to Florida to visit his wife and two sons.
This week will present an opportunity to get a better sense of what the Sox could accomplish in the trade market and talk face to face with agents.
With Tampa Bay, Bloom answered to general manager Erik Neander. Now he’s the man in charge. Red Sox ownership spoke at length about collaboration when Bloom was hired, but ultimately he’s now responsible for baseball operations and will get the credit or blame for how the Sox play.
“It’s still the same game,” Bloom said. “It’s different in that it’s a new organization and there are a lot of new experiences here. But you’re still trying to accomplish the same thing.”
Bloom sees filling needs on the roster while cutting the payroll as running on the same tracks. One goal does not prohibit the other.
“With any situation, you’re trying to check as many boxes as you typically can. There’s a trade off with every move you might consider at this stage of the offseason,” he said. “You have to look at the big picture and assess all the options we are in a position to consider.”
The Sox drifted away from that kind of decision-making in recent years.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski waited less than three weeks after the World Series last year to sign Steve Pearce for $6.25 million. Then, two weeks later, the Sox agreed with Nate Eovaldi on a four-year, $68 million extension.
Pearce got injured in spring training and hit .180 over 29 games last season. Eovaldi was 2-1 with a 5.99 ERA and made only 12 starts.
The Sox then signed Chris Sale to a five-year, $145 million extension a few days before the season started. Sale, who missed five starts with a shoulder injury in 2018, missed seven starts with an elbow injury last season. His status for next season is largely uncertain.
Paying for past performance is unavoidable in baseball’s economic structure, but the Sox were a little too eager at times. Bloom’s goal is to make better decisions by improving how the Sox make decisions in the first place.
“I’m starting at the ground floor and you want to look at everything, all the possibilities,” he said. “Conversations with teams are starting to pick up and you want to be active on as many fronts as possible.”
The Sox have only a few roster needs, primarily a No. 5 starter, a backup catcher, and bullpen depth. They also need to determine how best Michael Chavis fits on the roster, as a second baseman, first baseman, or utility player.
However it works out, Bloom said the expectation is to contend for a championship.
“There no sense in limiting what any team can accomplish, especially given the history of this organization,” he said. “You never want to concede anything. There’s a ton of talent here.”
As for Betts, Bloom said he enjoyed their initial conversation and wants to build on that. He’s not one to stay distant from the players.
“I believe in relationships and being as transparent as possible,” Bloom said. “That’s part of our job. I’d love to have a strong relationship with him and every other player. You want that communication.”
Bloom said he welcomed J.D. Martinez returning for next season, even at a cost of $23.75 million. To what degree that could lead to other moves isn’t yet certain.
“We have a lot to talk about,” Bloom said. “This process is just getting started.”