When the Red Sox hired Chaim Bloom, Rays senior adviser Mitch Lukevics — one of Bloom’s most important mentors in baseball, and someone who describes Bloom as a surrogate son — offered a word of caution.
“I told Chaim, ‘You’re going to be a dartboard now. Be ready,’ ” Lukevics recalled after Bloom’s hiring. “If anyone can handle it, it’s Chaim.”
As the Red Sox weigh the question of Mookie Betts’s future, it’s worth remembering: The Red Sox shared the conviction of Lukevics on that exact front. Part of the reason the Red Sox hired Bloom was because of their belief that he could stare down potentially daunting possibilities without fearing them.
Bloom has lived through deals of franchise players with the Rays. He was part of Andrew Friedman’s inner circle when Tampa Bay traded James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals for Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi, and again when the Rays dealt David Price to the Tigers at the 2014 trade deadline for two big league-ready players (lefthander Drew Smyly and infielder Nick Franklin) as well as then-low-minors prospect Willy Adames (now Tampa Bay’s starting shortstop).
As VP of baseball operations, Bloom worked alongside GM Erik Neander in trading third baseman Evan Longoria to the Giants for veteran outfielder Denard Span and three prospects, none of whom now looks like an impact player. He also worked with Neander in a potentially franchise-changing trade of Chris Archer to Pittsburgh for outfielder Austin Meadows and righthander Tyler Glasnow.
The Rays — again, the organization where Bloom not only grew up but with whom he always had one of the most prominent voices in baseball operations — have long been willing to trade virtually everybody on their roster. They were undeterred by the risk of a deal not panning out, and even when they did make deals that failed to deliver the expected return, that didn’t diminish their appetite to return to the trade market.
There were instances during Bloom’s long tenure with the Rays in which Tampa Bay also held on to its best players — Carl Crawford, for instance, stayed until he reached free agency — but the new Red Sox head of baseball operations comes from a culture in which every spot on a roster was viewed as changeable.
Trades were a central component of roster-building in Tampa Bay; the majority of Rays lineup members on most days in 2019 had been acquired via trade. Even with a very different payroll and resources in Boston, the Red Sox seem likely to embrace trades as a more frequent mode of roster building in the years to come.
Bloom explained the appeal of using trades for roster construction last month at the winter meetings.
“Trades sometimes provide just more possibilities because there are obviously 29 other clubs. People see the world differently. Everybody sees players a little differently,” said Bloom. “On top of that, the differences in what teams are trying to accomplish, you try to turn that into something that can help your club.
“From an emotional standpoint it can be very difficult, especially when you spend time around guys and get to know them — you become really attached to them. You also recognize that you have a responsibility to do what’s best for your organization. That’s what our jobs are,” he added. “You just want to make sure that you are prioritizing what’s best for the organization or how to achieve the objectives that you have, and if you determine something is or might be, you want to vet it very carefully, vet it very closely, because these decisions are difficult. But at the end of the day, you can’t be afraid to do something that you think is best.”
As Red Sox chief baseball officer, that conviction will require willingness by Bloom to serve as a dartboard at times, and to explain wildly unpopular decisions. If it’s not with Betts this winter — and it’s worth noting that as of mid-January, Bloom said that it was his “expectation” that Betts would be a Red Sox on Opening Day — perhaps it will be at the trade deadline or with another player at another time.
Such moves, of course, are a rite of passage for GMs. Theo Epstein made the Nomar Garciaparra deal in 2004. Ben Cherington helped navigate the Red Sox through and beyond the Dodgers deal in 2012. Dave Dombrowski went all-in for Chris Sale after the 2016 season. All three of those moves contributed to Red Sox championships.
Bloom was hired because the Red Sox viewed him as the option best suited to approach such possibilities both systematically and boldly, to make difficult decisions that ultimately help fuel future title ambitions. That doesn’t mean that Bloom will trade Betts — but he was hired because the Red Sox saw him as unafraid to do so if a deal would be in the organization’s best long-term interests.
If a Betts trade ever does occur, it will be shocking, simply because of who he is, what he’s accomplished, and how difficult it is to imagine the Red Sox furthering their title ambitions — particularly in 2020 — without him. But it should not come as surprising, given that Bloom’s hiring came with a license to deal.