Less than three months into his new job as head of a baseball operations department, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom faces a task with few precedents in major league history.
The departure of Alex Cora as manager of the Red Sox on Tuesday night put Bloom in the unusual position of starting a managerial search just 10 weeks away from the start of the 2020 season. The rarity of such an undertaking is striking.
This century, only one manager — Frank Robinson — has been hired in either January or February. The Montreal Expos were sold to Major League Baseball just before the 2002 season, and Robinson was hired out of the Commissioner’s Office in February 2002. Weeks later, the Red Sox hired Grady Little (who had been Cleveland’s bench coach) after the sale of the franchise to the group led by current owners John Henry and Tom Werner became official.
Now, the Sox must begin a search when incoming managers are typically finalizing plans for their first spring trainings.
So where will the Red Sox find their man?
“The short answer is we don’t know yet,” Bloom admitted at Wednesday’s news conference at Fenway Park. “Obviously this just happened. First and foremost, we wanted to make sure we were handling the situation with Alex correctly, and we’re going to turn our attention to figuring out who our next manager is going to be and then what that means for the rest of the staff.”
The timing of the Red Sox search is atypical — truck day at Fenway Park is Feb. 3, with pitchers and catchers expected to report to Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 11 — and the job will come with some distinctive elements, including dealing with the fallout from the sign-stealing scandal that cost Cora his job.
“There are going to be unique things that stem from this situation,” Bloom said. “But the traits and abilities that allow someone to successfully steer a group through a situation like that, I think, is something you’d always look for in a manager.”
Bloom said the Sox are still formulating a search plan and hadn’t spoken with other teams about potential interview requests. Then there’s the question of naming an interim manager for the 2020 season or searching for a long-term candidate. Either way, assembling a list of candidates — internal or external — will face myriad challenges..
While the Sox said the sole reason to part ways with Cora was the nine-page MLB report on his role in sign stealing with the 2017 Astros, the 2018 Red Sox under Cora’s watch are currently being investigated for similar practices. If members of Cora’s coaching staff are implicated in the report, that would add another level of complications in the team’s search.
Even so, Bloom said that he expects the Sox to explore candidates from inside the organization.
“I have a lot of regard for our coaches,” Bloom said. “It’s an impressive group. No reason to think that a number of them wouldn’t deserve consideration for this.”
Bench coach Ron Roenicke — by virtue of managing the Milwaukee Brewers from 2011-15 (posting a 342-331 record with one playoff appearance) — is an obvious candidate, presuming that he’s not found to be part of any wrongdoing in 2018. While Bloom acknowledged that he’s “newer to building a relationship with him than a lot of the folks that I work with,” he also noted that Roenicke, 63, is held “in very high regard” by members of the Sox front office.
Neither Bloom nor Sox president/CEO Sam Kennedy would talk specifically about baseball operations special assistant Jason Varitek as a candidate, but Kennedy did allow that Varitek is “beloved” as both a former player and current contributor to the front office.
“Our hope and desire has been for him to take on more and more of a role as he develops the next stage of his career,” Kennedy said.
As for external candidates, it remains to be seen if other organizations will accommodate interview requests by the Red Sox at this late stage of the offseason. Cleveland did so for the Sox with Little in 2002, but this is relatively uncharted territory.
“We would assume that the same unwritten rules apply; if there’s an opportunity for a promotion, if there’s an opportunity for a baseball executive to lead an on-field staff and a group of players, that our expectation would be that permission would be granted,” Bloom said.
Bloom wouldn’t comment on whether the Tampa Bay Rays — his former employer — would prohibit him from interviewing any of their coaches for a job (bench coach Matt Quatraro would seem to be an obvious candidate), though he did acknowledge that it’s not uncommon for teams to prohibit employees who change organizations from bringing anyone else with them.
Both Kennedy and Bloom outlined some of the traits they value in managers, including bilingualism (Bloom), prior experience with the Red Sox (Kennedy), and most importantly the ability to help players tap into the fullest extent of their talents. After all, the Red Sox remain intent on contending in 2020, and will need a new manager who can help players bounce back from last year’s collective underachievement.
“Ultimately a big part of a manager’s job, as well as our entire coaching staff, is to put our players in a position to succeed,” Bloom said “There’s a lot of aspects to that. There’s a tactical aspect. There’s a leadership aspect. There’s a chemistry aspect, setting a tone and setting an atmosphere, helping players be their best selves. That’s going to be one of the biggest things on our minds. We have a really talented group of players.”
But how many candidates who possess such characteristics will the Red Sox be able to identify? That question will hover over a most unusual search process.