The Red Sox will be watching the postseason from home for a second straight season and are headed for another last-place finish in the AL East. Certainly, that cannot continue to happen in Boston with their championship expectations, which is why Chaim Bloom was released from his duties as Chief Baseball Officer last week.
Bloom was a polarizing figure for the Red Sox fan base. On the surface, some saw the value of his strategy, while others expected him to be more determined to put star talent on the field no matter the cost. There were plenty of reactions to Bloom’s termination, but like any other individual a part of the baseball personnel, Bloom had some good, some bad, and it even got a little ugly.
After a few days of cooldown, it’s time to look at Bloom’s tenure and determine which transactions and decisions led to this moment for the Red Sox.
Full disclosure, I’m a long-time Red Sox fan. But I think I may have a different perspective than some fans who live in Boston because I watch every season from across the country. When anything happens in Red Sox Nation, player performance, front office moves, or any current event for the team, I feel there can be value from “an outsider” away from the fervorous nature that is Boston sports.
It is my hope that by chronologically outlining the objective facts of Bloom’s time in Boston, we can shine a light on whether he succeeded or failed as the leader of the Red Sox baseball operations for 4 seasons.
Where It All Started
Bloom was hired as the Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer in October of 2019 after a failed attempt at a back-to-back championship run. Dave Dombrowski’s 2018 team had dominated the competition the entire season en route to a championship. Then, the window seemed to be closing after the disappointing season, which was the team’s first missed postseason since 2015.
In March 2019, MiLB.com ranked the Red Sox 30th overall in prospect rankings, with players like Triston Casas as their 2018 late first-round pick and other current players such as Tanner Houck, Brayan Bello, and Jarren Duran working through the minors.
Unfortunately, outside of those existing players, a future look into Bobby Dalbec, Jay Groome, and Darwinzon Hernandez didn’t pan out well. So, other than the obvious need to revamp the farm, what were Bloom’s cited goals as the new leader of the baseball product?
Going into the 2020 season, the Red Sox Principal Owner, John Henry, indicated the team had a goal to stay under the $208M tax threshold so they could reset the tax penalty level. Bloom was tasked to make those adjustments so that the team could continue to compete with its current structure. The Red Sox’s previous personnel group had been part of exhaustive rumors of Mookie Betts‘ long-term extension and his arbitration process.
Unfortunately, due to this directive from ownership and the Dombrowski era contracts still being in tow, Bloom was forced to manage through a difficult off-season. Here’s a list of the major contracts and arbitration dollars with effective end dates:
That is a whopping $175M amongst active players and doesn’t even include Rusney Castillo’s roughly $14.3M due in 2020. Betts, who would eventually earn his 12-year $365M contract with the Dodgers, was an obvious issue with this “goal” to get under the tax.
The rest is history, the Betts and Price trade got them under the tax threshold, and they were set off into 2020 with a new direction and leadership.
2020-2021 Shortened Season and ALCS Team
In the Betts trade, the Red Sox received everyday-ready Alex Verdugo, along with prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong. But, to make a short story even shorter, the 2020 season was filled with additional drama for Bloom.
The team was already navigating through Alex Cora’s 2020 suspension from MLB and installed Ron Roenicke as interim manager, followed by what would become the shortened season. The Red Sox would end up going 24-36, last in the AL East.
However, after the 2020 season, the Red Sox were ready to start seeing what Bloom could accomplish with a cleaner slate to work from.
The prospect pool was beginning to improve, but still was ranked 24th in the preseason, according to MLB.com. Casas still led the way as the highest-ranked prospect, but Nick Yorke and Blaze Jordan entered as 2020 draftees and then drafted Marcelo Mayer in the 1st round of 2021. All three of those players are currently in the Red Sox’s Top 15 prospects and look to be part of their future.
But until then, Bloom showed his year-to-year strategy. Find relatively low-cost veterans on short team contracts with mid-floors and high ceilings. Here are the 2020 and 2021 acquisitions that had significant impacts on the 2021 season:
Overall, the 2021 Red Sox didn’t have to navigate many major injuries or inconsistencies to the day-to-day roster. The lineup remained consistent, and the starting pitching, while underwhelming, remained with Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez as veterans from the 2018 club, both starting over 30 games. Chris Sale only started 9 games that year, and the additions of Pivetta, Perez, and Richards in the last two offseasons helped stabilize the back of the rotation.
The batting order was also incredibly consistent, with 8 players playing in over 130 games, and then Bloom gave them some additional help with another left-handed batter with Kyle Schwarber for RHP prospect Aldo Ramirez.
The Red Sox ended the season 92-70, tied for 2nd in the division with the Yankees, and started an unsuspecting postseason run to the ALCS. After getting through the Yankees in the Wild Card game, they then dispatched the Rays after being shutout in Game 1, with 3 straight victories to earn an ALCS berth. The fun didn’t last much longer than that. The Red Sox held a 2-1 lead vs. the Astros but were then overmatched for 3 straight games, being outscored 23-3 and losing the series 4-2.
In what was a successful season by many standards, the Red Sox still were in the midst of rebuilding a young core. The veteran acquisitions by Bloom had performed as well as anyone expected, and they were key contributors in a year that saw them eliminating divisional rivals.
What may have been the most critical error, in my opinion, whether it was Bloom or ownership, was a reliance on this strategy to perpetuate the Red Sox into a new era of contention.
2022-2023 Missing the Same Magic
Now that there was proof of concept, the Red Sox went into 2022 and beyond with a new ideology under Bloom. The once bottom-of-the-barrel farm system was ranked 11th by the middle of 2022, and they continued to bridge the gap with short-term contracts.
Unfortunately, neither 2022 nor 2023 resulted in acceptable performances on the field. The magical 2021 season of a consistent roster was over, and the acquired talent, while still effective, wasn’t as productive as that exceptional year.
The last two years, the Red Sox had leaned into the same strategy, but instead of a postseason appearance, they are staring down last-place finishes in the division back-to-back seasons. Here are some roster changes that are similar to the 2021 strategy:
Not mentioned in the table was the free agent signing of Trevor Story, who was their major signing going into 2022 while continuing to stay under the tax threshold. In 2023, they did the same after Xander Bogaerts and Nathan Eovaldi left in free agency.
In their places, Bloom signed Rafael Devers and Masataka Yoshida to long-term contracts, and while they did receive solid performances in the past two years from Wacha, Turner, Jansen, and Martin, it wasn’t good enough to overcome the inconsistencies or lack of availability from others (especially Kluber, and Hernandez’s regression from 2021).
Although, even for the lack of on-field success relative to expectations, Bloom did continue to build the farm system and young core in recent years. Verdugo and Wong have been active contributors during their MLB experience, while Enmanuel Valdez and Wilyer Abreu saw playing time after being acquired in the 2022 trade deadline move for Christian Vasquez.
Kyle Teel (C) was their 1st round pick this year and is already ranked 4th for overall prospects, and joins a strong hitting core of Marcelo Mayer (INF), Roman Anthony (OF), Mikey Romero (INF), Nick Yorke (INF) and more, all of which drafted by Bloom.
Bloom’s Report Card
Based on the clear goals set out by ownership, I’ve decided what’s a review of Bloom’s time as CBO without a report card written by yours truly. I ordered in my opinion of priority:
MLB Product: C+
The MLB product was complicated for Bloom, and there’s a lot to summarize. He was dealt a tough hand after Dombrowski’s scorched farm system approach and the handling of Betts’ contract negotiations.
While this seems to be a major sticking point for some fans, I believe getting a literal replacement for Betts in the form of Verdugo is a great deal in hindsight, and Wong, who has filled in after the Vasquez trade, which provided even more MLB ready talent.
Along with implementing a coherent strategy to rebuild, Bloom was able to put together a slightly better-than-average team in the last 3 seasons in a tough division. Unfortunately for him, that is nowhere near expectations in Boston, which is having a championship-level roster or bust.
There were a few outstanding acquisitions relative to production to bridge the gap, but there were also just as many post-2021 disappointments to offset 2021’s overall success. The Red Sox will finish with at least two last-place seasons under Bloom, and they’re on their way to a third.
Regarding the major signings of Story, Devers, and Yoshida, there is still time to let those play out to make a more definitive judgment. Of these three signings, the Yoshida signing seemed like the only one that fit Bloom’s plan. Devers felt like it was owed to the fans after Betts and Bogaerts weren’t resigned, and Story seemed to be a “we have to sign someone” for 2022.
Although, Devers will have the opportunity and capability to be a 30 HR/100 RBI player for at least the next 5 years. Story has missed time with injuries and been poor at the plate, but will be an everyday middle infielder with great athleticism. And Yoshida has had as close to an as-expected season as possible, a great contact hitter, but has run out of steam after a great 1st half of the year. Time will tell on these contracts.
Stay Under the Tax Threshold: A
Well, why I think this shouldn’t be the second highest priority of Bloom’s, I believe it was. It may have even been the organization’s first priority internally. Bloom followed direction, and the Red Sox were under the tax all but one season (2022). Cut payroll, check. Now, the Red Sox are set up well to acquire talent next season, with plenty of rumors stirring.
They are currently 12th in team payroll, and whoever the new decision maker is, they will have plenty of pitching options to choose from. A strong 2023 free-agent class is coming, including Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Snell, and others.
Farm System: B+
While the Red Sox lack pitching prospects since Bello’s departure from that list and onto the major league roster, it is loaded with position players. In a few seasons, Bloom has overhauled the farm while also maintaining the existing talent in the system.
Players like Triston Casas, Kutter Crawford, and Brayan Bello were from the previous regime, and Bloom used existing trades to bolster AAA as best as possible. Josh Winckowski has been a consistent bullpen arm, Garrett Whitlock has had streaks of dominance, and previously mentioned Wong, Valdez, and Abreu have shown signs of promise.
While they may not be guaranteed everyday major league players for a championship-caliber team, I believe it was a great effort to retool the farm at all levels.
B’s don’t get degrees at Fenway Park. While there is plenty to be encouraged by heading into the future, directly attributed to Bloom’s plan, it wasn’t enough. 2021 is a clear outlier. The Chaim Bloom era had its flash-in-the-pan moments in 2021, but circumstances or not, Bloom was never going to see 2024 as CBO with another last-place season.
The final straw was the Red Sox’s inaction at the trade deadline. It was his last major error in the eyes of the fans, even if that direction seemingly came from above Bloom. According to quotes from President Sam Kennedy, they encouraged fans to get excited about players returning from injury rather than making a trade “just to make a trade”.
Regardless of who made the final decision, the trade deadline blunder would be Bloom’s last for the Red Sox.
While I believe Bloom wasn’t necessarily set to drive a championship wagon, he also missed the mark during a few critical moments. The luck of 2021, the misses of 2022 and 2023, and the trade deadline were all scenarios that made it feel like the Red Sox were never really in it, but they never had a full restart either.
Bloom navigated a half-n-half of expectations, and I give him a lot of credit for that alone. Bloom wasn’t given the keys to a traditional spending machine but also managed to keep the team in a competitive zone. I think many fan bases would be excited to get someone with his track record for turning around a difficult situation on multiple levels.
The Red Sox are preparing for a big offseason. They have to chase down the Orioles, Rays, Astros, and other contenders to get back atop the American League. It’s a huge hill to climb as it stands today, but whether or not it led to championship results, Chaim Bloom completed his assignment as Red Sox CBO.
Bloom has set up the Red Sox to make a splash in free agency, have a backlog of great talent for promotion or trades, and perpetuate a winning culture with a new core. Now, who will earn the opportunity to pick off where Bloom left off?