I like Joe Sheehan as a national baseball writer. He writes thoughtfully about the big picture issues facing the game, things like the CBA and postseason structure. He understands that ownership and the commissioner’s office frequently act against the best interests of baseball and he eloquently calls them out on it. And, though he is not a Red Sox fan, he gave voice to a significant portion (though by no means a majority) of the fanbase today when he tweeted this:
No longer employing Chaim Bloom while continuing to employ Chris Sale is a total failure to understand your own business.— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) September 14, 2023
John Henry hired Bloom to do a job and didn’t have the character to stand by Bloom as he did it. He caved to the media. Embarrassing.
You can quibble with the specifics of this tweet if you want (particularly in light of Jared Carrabis’s report today that Bloom had a deal in place to offload Chris Sale at this year’s trade deadline, but backed out because he didn’t think the prospect return was sufficient), but there are a lot of people who agree with the general gist of the statement, that being that Chaim Bloom is being scapegoated by John Henry and the Red Sox ownership.
The idea that Bloom is a scapegoat is based on the underlying premise that Henry brought him to Boston specifically to guide the Red Sox through a painful rebuild — that he was hired in 2019 and tasked with restocking a farm system believed by most to be barren, to free the Red Sox of costly, long-term payroll commitments, and to build a foundation for more sustainable success in the future. Like I said: a rebuild.
If you believe this to be the case, then it follows that John Henry, in firing Bloom, has betrayed him. After all, it would be hard to argue that Bloom hasn’t done exactly what Henry asked of him. Payroll is down. The Major League team features a budding core of cost-controlled players in Rafael Devers, Triston Casas, and Brayan Bello. The only longterm deal left on the payroll is the one recently given to Devers, who should still be relatively close to his prime as the contract reaches its end, meaning the contract carries less risk. And the fruits of Bloom’s farm system are only just starting to ripen, with Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and Kyle Teel playing together in AA Portland.
Moreover, Henry would have had every reason to foresee that the MLB team would go through a period of mediocrity during this rebuild, and that fan interest and attendance would decline commensurately. Firing Bloom now, just as the hard part of the rebuild is nearing its completion, would be nothing but a PR move, and a viperous one at that.
Unfortunately, we will never know the truth about what Henry expected of Bloom. John Henry has decided that he does not need to address the unwashed masses who pad his wallet anymore. That’s Sam Kennedy’s job now, and it’s clear that Kennedy is being paid to talk a lot and say a little.
Given the vacuum of information, it isn’t surprising that many fans have constructed this scapegoat narrative. Moreover, Bloom’s actions sure did make it look like the Sox were in a rebuild. He continually prioritized the farm system at the expense of the Major League roster. He traded the man who started in right field for the 2021 ALCS team and provided middle of the order power and replaced with him a player who had graded out as the single worst hitter in baseball the year before. He simply chose not to address the gaping middle infield hole left by Xander Bogaerts’ departure at all (remember, even before Trevor Story’s already injured arm completely busted while preparing to play short this past offseason, Bloom had already decided that he wasn’t going to add a second baseman to replace Story). And, in his four plus years in charge of the Red Sox, he has not signed a single significant free agent pitcher. So, yes, it’s easy to believe that Bloom was engaged in a rebuild, because that’s what a rebuild looks like.
But here’s the problem I have with this narrative: who ever said anything about a rebuild?
The 2019 Red Sox organization that Bloom took over had some significant issues that needed to be addressed. The Chris Sale contract had already blown up; the position player core wasn’t locked up long-term; and there was very little talent in the upper minors. But no member of the Red Sox brass — not Henry, not Cora, not Bloom himself — has ever so much as uttered the word rebuild. And really, why would John Henry have even contemplated such a thing, just one year removed from a 108-win season, with a team led by three potential future Hall-of-Famers who were all no older than 27? Hell, this is how the job that Bloom assumed was described contemporaneously:
Bloom will jump into an organization that already has a built-out, modern front office infrastructure. No doubt he’ll tweak the organization to suit his preferences, but this isn’t a fixer-upper situation. That’s also the case on the roster, which features the sort of talent that … well, the kind that won a World Series just one year ago.
So, what if Chaim Bloom wasn’t fired because John Henry needed a scapegoat for his poorly received rebuild? What if Bloom was fired because it was never supposed to be a rebuild in the first place?
Throughout Bloom’s tenure, Henry and Kennedy have insisted that they intend to compete for championships year in and year out. I do not always take them at their word, but here’s the thing about this particular contention: Chaim Bloom has said the same thing.
I keep going back statements Bloom made this past offseason, summarized here in a Tweet by MassLive’s Chris Cotillo:
Chaim Bloom just got into specifics about Boston’s off-season plan. He repeatedly said Red Sox want to add 7, 8 or 9 players to build a contender in 2023. That includes another reliever, another starter and position players.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) December 5, 2022
That certainly doesn’t sound like someone in year four a rebuild, someone who doesn’t really intend to compete for a championships yet. It sounds more like someone who successfully built an ALCS team out of undervalued veterans and spare pars before and believed he could do it again.
So, then, how’d he do? Well, Bloom did, in fact, end up bringing in eight new players to the Major League roster this past offseason. His bullpen acquisitions were particularly outstanding, with Kenley Jansen providing a steady arm in the ninth inning and Chris Martin being one of the single most valuable relievers in baseball. The Justin Turner signing has worked out beautifully. And while the Masatka Yoshida signing has not, I still have faith that he’ll be a productive player.
But, in measuring the outcomes versus the goal, Chaim Bloom failed this offseason. There is no way to contend that he didn’t. He did not resign Xander Bogaerts (which was, by his own repeated admission, his top priority), which directly led to Red Sox middle infielders making up one of the single worst position groups in all of Major League Baseball. His attempt at fixing a pitching staff that had the seventh-worst ERA in baseball in 2022 consisted of adding just a single starter: 37-year-old Corey Kluber, who put up an ERA+ below 90 in Tampa last year and was, predictably, a disaster this year. And, of course, he utterly failed to build a contender. He was aiming for 2021. He built 2022 instead, again.
Now, is the team on an upward trajectory? Unquestionably. Casas is a future star. Bello is already a solid mid-rotation starter who could turn into an ace. Guys like Kutter Crawford, Josh Winckowski, Connor Wong, Wilyer Abreu, and Ceddanne Rafaela represent low-cost depth at worst and, in Rafaela’s case, star power at best. And while most of the prospects in the system will fail to turn into productive Major Leaguers, because that’s what prospects do, some of them will hit, and they all represent real capital regardless.
As rebuilds go, that’s not bad. But John Henry didn’t want a rebuild. John Henry brought in Chaim Bloom under the direction to build a consistent winner and to do so for less money than the Red Sox had been spending in the past. In that sense, Bloom may have been given an impossible job. But I think Henry truly believed Bloom could do it, and it I think Bloom believed he could, too. After all, he insisted that he could, over and over again. He may have been set up to fail, but, ultimately, he failed by his own standards.