It’s very easy to defend the Red Sox decision to let Xander Bogaerts walk if you want to. Even I — a person so upset about all of this that I just recorded a podcast that opens with freaking Taps — can do it. Watch:
- Xander Bogaerts is on the wrong side of 30 and already clearly in decline. His slugging percentage has dropped four years in a row.
- $280 million over 11 years?? Are you &%*(%)^^$% kidding me??
- Xander Bogaerts is already a below-average defensive short stop, and likely won’t be playable at the position at all in a season or two. His statistical improvement on defense this season was largely the result of positional shifting, which will be against the rules next year.
- Are you a &^%$ with a @#$%^ in your %^&*???? $280 million for 11 years!!
- If the Red Sox are going to sign a big-money shortstop, they might as well sign Carlos Correa, who is two years younger than Xander and has a better glove.
- 11 years is (*&^$%^&*(%## insane! You’d have to be a %**($$@@$( who (*&%$##$ their *^&@%*^$ to think that’s a good idea!
- The two smartest teams in baseball, the Dodgers and Astros, whom the Red Sox are trying to emulate, would never give such a big deal to a 30-year-old. We’ve already seen the Astros let George Springer, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Carlos Correa walk. The Dodgers have let Cory Seager, Trea Turner, Manny Machado, Max Scherzer, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Yu Darvish walk. Smart teams just don’t give out these massive deals.
- (*&^$#$&*(#% $280 million, for &#@&^%@# 11 &%$@ years!!!
Likewise, you can defend the trade of Mookie Betts and the failure to extend Rafael Devers on similar grounds. In each of these cases, the big-money contracts already earned by Betts and Bogaerts — and the one that’s likely to be earned by Devers — will one day be considered (by some people, anyway) to be bad value contracts for the team that gives them out, and no team can maintain sustainable success by making a habit of giving out bad value contracts.
This, more or less, has been Chaim Bloom’s entire team-building philosophy since Day One. He searches out distressed assets and players who, for one reason or another, are likely to outperform the strict dollar amount of their contacts. He signs a star infielder coming off his worse season. He trades for a AAAA player with elite plate discipline. He turns a career-year by a one-dimensional outfielder into an opportunity to buy prospects.
He’s pretty good at this! But, as I’ve often repeated, you don’t win a trophy by assembling the team that spends the least amount of money per WAR. You win a trophy by, simply, assembling a great team. You win a trophy by assembling talent.
In that respect, let’s examine Chaim Bloom’s tenure and figure out how he’s done at assembling organizational talent.
There’s no cut-and-dry way to do this. Talent is hard to measure, and numerous factors go into every personnel decision. But let’s start with some basic measuring sticks: fWAR for established Major Leaguers, and Soxprospects.com projections for prospects. Here’s a table reflecting (1) the players on the 2019 Red Sox who, per their three-year fWAR average, were classified as solid starters or above according to FanGraph’s definitions; and (2) minor leaguers in the Red Sox system who were classified as at least 5’s on Soxprospects.com’s projections (5 being the cut-off for an average regular):
And here’s what the Red Sox look like today (I used the two-year fWAR averages for this one, to account for the shortened 2020 season):
So. . yeah. That’s, uhh, not great.
Admittedly, this is an imprecise method and there are a number of caveats that should be considered here. For one thing, Chris Sale does not appear on the second table at all, as he’s produced just 1 total fWAR over the last two seasons. But we all know about his injury history, and it’s reasonable to assume that, while he’s highly unlikely to regain his superstar form at this point in is career, he’s probably at least in the Good Player category, if healthy (similar caveats apply to Garrett Whitlock). Further, the Soxprospects’ projections lean conservative. After the success he showed last September, Bello should probably be considered at least a Good Player, with a ceiling of an All-Star, and Mayer and Casas have All-Star ceilings as well (though it also should be said that, though he wasn’t projected as a 5 at the time, and, thus, isn’t listed on the 2019 table, Bello was already in the Red Sox organization in 2019). And the biggest caveat of all, of course, is that the offseason is not yet over. If the Red Sox add Kodai Senga and Carlos Correa (lolz) then the second table suddenly looks a lot better.
But one thing is pretty clear: from top-to-bottom, there is a lot less talent in the Red Sox organization today than there was on the day that Chaim Bloom took over.
Red Sox ownership and Chaim Bloom seem determined to never again give out a “bad contract,” whatever that may mean. They seem determined to find value, to build on the margins, to win every transaction. They are good at this. And it’s easy, then, to defend every particular transaction Bloom has made — including the decision to let Xander walk.
But at this point, as an overarching strategy, it is a total failure. The drive to never overspend has left the organization filled with smartly-acquired players, but almost no elite talent to speak of.
Every day, the 2018 World Series title slips further into the past. Unfortunately, the Red Sox don’t appear to be any closer to the next one.