The Red Sox are going in a different direction. But after embracing the pipeline approach, what other direction is there?
Out of nowhere Thursday afternoon, the Boston Red Sox fired Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom in the midst of another mediocre season on the field. Hired in October 2019, Bloom oversaw just shy of four seasons but only brought playoff baseball to Fenway Park in 2021. The ownership group and fan base expect an annual contender, and that has simply not been the case this decade.
Team President and CEO Sam Kennedy explained that “[w]e all know where we are in the standings. It’s a painful reality that fans feel as deeply as we do. Our fans deserve a winning, competitive team that consistently plays postseason baseball…We’re aiming for World Series championships. That’s it.”
During Bloom’s first year in 2020, the Red Sox had their worst season since 1965, finishing last in the AL East and near the bottom in the AL. They rebounded to make a surprise run to the ALCS in 2021 but have middle-of-the-pack records the past two seasons. Ironically, with a record around .500, the Red Sox are playing a bit above expectations after winning 78 games in 2022.
Chaim Bloom joined the organization with the stated purpose of creating a sustainable pipeline of success. The pipeline is certainly in place, but the success has not exactly followed.
Mixed Bag of Transactions
Beyond team-wide results, Bloom made a bevy of moves over the years with varied results. He opened his tenure with the controversial trade of OF Mookie Betts in order to dump SP David Price’s contract to drop below the Competitive Balance Tax threshold. It is important to remember that avoiding the tax was a preference–not a mandate–from ownership. The return doesn’t look so bad, as OF Alex Verdugo and C Connor Wong are solid players, but SS Jeter Downs now plays elsewhere. More importantly, Betts is a perennial MVP candidate, and the Sox have not replaced that production.
Throughout the 2021 season, Bloom made a number of savvy moves. The Red Sox turned Rule 5 pick Garrett Whitlock into an elite reliever. He bought low on OF Enrique Hernandez, who played elite centerfield defense and improved at the plate. In a similar vein, Bloom bet on a rebound from OF Hunter Renfroe, which did happen. The Sox got RP Adam Ottavino for basically nothing from the New York Yankees. The signings of SPs Martin Perez and Garrett Richards only resulted in replacement level production, though. At the deadline, Bloom acquired OF Kyle Schwarber, which led to the best half season of his career.
But the following offseason, Bloom effectively outsmarted himself. He traded Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers to acquire two mid-level prospects and hopes for a bounce back from OF Jackie Bradley Jr. The deal seemed odd at the time, and it looks worse now as Renfroe had a great ’22 season while Bradley continued to hit poorly, and neither prospect has made an impact. The biggest move was paying up for 2B/SS Trevor Story, and the jury is still out on that one. Bloom had a few nice finds as well, as SP Michael Wacha, RP John Schreiber, and OF Rob Refsnyder provided ample surplus value.
The other inflection point came at last year’s deadline, as Bloom decided to simultaneously buy and sell despite slim playoff odds. In a vacuum, the deals look decent now, but the consequences are poor. All in all, the Sox gave up very little to add a couple Major Leaguers and a few prospects. Getting OF Wilyer Abreu and 2B Enmanuel Valdez for C Christian Vazquez looks like a coup. But by toeing the line instead of firmly selling, the Sox unnecessarily stayed above the threshold. During a down season, staying below the tier is paramount since there are penalties attached. The draft pick compensation for losing SS Xander Bogaerts dropped two rounds, and that was preventable.
The State of the Team in 2023
To compete in 2023, Bloom resigned Hernandez to be an everyday player despite offensive decline, which continued. Bogaerts chose to sign out west, and the Red Sox never would have offered him 11 years anyways. OF Adam Duvall has been great when he plays, but he has only been healthy around half the time. Most significantly, OF Masataka Yoshida vindicated Bloom’s faith in him, though the Sox probably could have signed him for less. Signings of RPs Kenley Jansen and RP Chris Martin look good, and DH Justin Turner has turned in another great season. Meanwhile, RP Corey Kluber quickly lost his spot in the rotation, and SP James Paxton has been fine but injured.
To Chaim Bloom’s credit, he has turned the farm system around. The Red Sox moved on from Dave Dombrowski because he emptied the cupboard to win a World Series. Bloom has refilled it and even seen prospects successfully graduate. SP Brayan Bello, 1B Triston Casas, OF Ceddanne Rafaela, and Abreu have each blossomed into good big leaguers this season. Boston entered the season with the 5th-ranked system on FanGraphs, and they are up to third in the live rankings. Bloom and Farm Director Brian Abraham have invested heavily in high school position players in the draft, and those picks are hitting in the minors. This July, C Kyle Teel fell into their lap, and he is already in AA.
Where Do the Red Sox Go Next?
There are two front office approaches to building a winner, and the Red Sox have now tried both. It is hard to imagine they go for broke to win one title again. Bloom aimed to sustain success, and ownership is admitting that didn’t work by firing him. If they try that strategy again, that implies they think Bloom’s moves fell short of the ultimate goal, rather than his approach.
John Henry hired Bloom away from the Tampa Bay Rays to bring smaller-market smarts to a larger market, just as the Los Angeles Dodgers did with Andrew Friedman. The Sox could now look to the Dodgers or another very analytical large-market team for someone with experience of winning in a demanding city. Kennedy said the Red Sox will take their time finding their next PBO but wouldn’t specify what kind of candidate they are looking for.
This is an unceremonious end for Bloom, who is well respected in the industry and won’t see his vision realized. Regardless of what his successor does, many of the pieces for a winner are already in place. Most of Bloom’s mistakes have little to do with the ’23 Red Sox. Betts would still be a huge help, but the book is basically closed on Bradley and Renfroe, and the weaker compensation pick does not matter yet.
I would have given Bloom one more season to put it all together. Despite his faults in player acquisition, he has also made many nice under-the-radar moves. The Red Sox are in a better position now than they were when he came to Boston, which is all that an executive can really control. But wins are what count in professional sports, and Bloom has not brought enough of those along with him.