This morning I got ready for work and walked outside. I was greeted by crisp autumn air, a welcome respite from what has been an oppressively hot and rainy summer. Autumn is my favorite season for its layered complexity. The transition from summer to autumn is a time when the green trees begin to change color on their slow march towards decay. It’s also the time when the seeds that were planted in the spring are now ready to bear fruit and be harvested.
One cannot have a bountiful harvest without diligently tending to your seedlings in the spring and early summer, and by paying attention to their needs throughout the season. In this way, the planting and the harvest are an apt metaphor for the planning and execution of a baseball season. Chaim Bloom failed to plant his seeds carefully during the winter and spring, did not meet their needs during the season, and now he will fail to bear the fruit of October baseball. As this autumn comes into view, the leaves are not the only thing facing death and decay, so too is Bloom’s tenure as Chief Baseball Officer of the Boston Red Sox.
At this season’s mid-point I advocated for Bloom’s firing because I had seen enough during his three and a half years on the job. Bloom’s deliberate, yet indecisive approach always left the roster light, filled with holes, and on the fringes of relevancy. He favored building his cache of prospects, finding value in damaged goods, and short term contracts. He had an obsession with seeking out value in all of its forms. He gave out just three long-term contracts under his tenure to Trevor Story, Rafael Devers, and Masataka Yoshida. Significant questions still persist about the wisdom of these transactions. Story is unlikely to end up looking wise, while the other two are more likely to be strong signings, though Yoshida’s second half performance raises questions.
Bloom’s quest for value clouded his vision so much that he could only see parts rather than the whole. Fans who love this team saw the whole picture and it was not a pretty sight. During Bloom’s tenure, the greatest right fielder in team history, Mookie Betts, was sold to the Dodgers for parts. Later, the Red Sox all-time leader in games played at the shortstop position, Xander Bogaerts, was insulted by the team with a $90 million dollar offer when he was willing to negotiate, and later left for a contract worth three times as much in San Diego. Two beloved cornerstones and World Series champions were gone and the team had little to show for it.
Bloom appeared to live in constant fear of making the difficult decision. This presented itself in so many ways, but our first sense of it was during the Betts trade. In the process of making his first major trade with the team, he renegotiated the deal opting, for Jeter Downs and Connor Wong rather than Brusdar Graterol due to a fear of the latter’s medicals. This indecisiveness and hedging was shown again when he opted to sign Story and his banged up elbow rather than negotiate fairly and in good faith with Bogaerts.
Nowhere did his indecisiveness show itself more than in the way that he handled the past two trade deadlines. The 2022 deadline will be remembered for shipping out Christian Vazquez in what has turned out to be a good baseball trade; but he also failed to get his team under the luxury tax that year. This failure impacted the Red Sox draft pick compensation and the team still skittered towards a last place finish. This year, faced with the decision to add and make a push for the playoffs or trade assets like James Paxton, Chris Sale, Alex Verdugo, Nick Pivetta, or Justin Turner, he chose to do nothing at all. The team is currently tied with the Yankees for last place and none of the players listed above are likely to be part of the next great Red Sox team. Yet another missed opportunity due to a fear of being wrong.
There is a narrative out there that says the next great Red Sox team will be built on the core that Bloom has worked so diligently to put in place. I believe this narrative misses the point. Much of the young MLB core that is here right now is a core that was not put in place by Bloom. Players like Triston Casas, Jarren Duran, Ceddanne Rafaela, Tanner Houck, and Bryan Bello. These guys were drafted or signed under prior regimes and while Bloom certainly deserves some credit for helping bring them along, the stroke of genius is not all his.
Two of the best prospects in the Red Sox system are Marcelo Mayer and Kyle Teel. These players were only available to the Red Sox due to finishing in last place in their division and, in the case of Mayer, being one of the worst teams in baseball. If you pick that high you are supposed to end up with a high-end talent. There were some great finds under the Bloom tenure, like the signing of Miguel Bleis and the use of the second round compensatory pick received for Eduardo Rodriguez on Roman Anthony.
But I’m hesitant to give him too much credit for building the minor league system. Drafting and signing international free agents is a complex process with a lot people involved. Any head of baseball operations has many more fingerprints on the construction of the major league team than they do the building of the system. There are layers upon layers of scouts, crosscheckers, farm directors, and many more who have a far more direct role in these processes than does the Chief Baseball Officer. Credit where credit is due: under his tenure he certainly didn’t jettison any young talent, however, he did this not by hanging on to the right players, but rather by hanging on to all of the players.
I look forward to the new general manager, whoever it is, and, for the first time in a while, I have hope that the team can make major strides towards relevancy. I hope that, like Dave Dombrowski, they can trade the prospects that are not future Major League anchors to bolster the Major League club, and that they act aggressively in free agency to address major team needs. I hope that, like Ben Cherington and Bloom, they can build a strong internal infrastructure in the player development system that produces high quality minor league players for years to come.
Years later, when I think back on Bloom’s tenure, I will always remember him for his failure to keep Betts and Bogaerts. I will remember the frustratingly slow offseasons, his lack of urgency, and his indecisiveness at the trade deadlines. But most of all, I will remember the collective loss of critical thinking that gripped Red Sox nation with the many fans who believed that Bloom could do no wrong and that any failings were simply the results of the environment he was operating in.
A new day is here. The air is crisp. I feel a relief from the heat and a relief that the baseball team that I love will now have a real chance to move forward and reach its vast potential.