What makes someone good at building a baseball team? Is it scouting? Is it relationship-building? Is it financial muscle-flexing? Or it something unquantifiable, spiritual, rendering our General Managers nothing less than God-Kings of Sports Modernity?
Lulz aside, I probably thought, to some degree, some combination of the four specializations above pretty much covered it for most of my life. Then Chaim Bloom came along and screwed my whole world up in a dozen ways but made me appreciate a fifth column in this debate: Competence! You can have dreams of doing things well but if you are not good at them, are not even basic at them, they don’t much matter, no matter what the circumstances.
In light of what we’ve known about John Henry since Bloom took over, it should not surprise us that ownership apparently gave Bloom a $225 hard salary cap in 2023, a full $13 million below the first luxury tax threshold. Whatever else is happening, Henry was, and is, being relatively cheap compared to the other supposed top-tier clubs. That said, working within weird, arbitrary parameters is everyone in the world’s job more or less so I think it applies equally to Bloom, who wore out his welcome, and Craig Breslow, who is still making his introduction.
If only in comparison, there is a lot to like. Bloom trusted his process even when things repeatedly turned out mediocre, and Breslow seems to have more or less just aimed his sights for each deal a little higher than his predecessor while being, Mookie trade aside to Bloom’s “credit,” far more proactive. No matter how good Michael Wacha was on a single year deal, a two-year Lucas Giolito deal at slightly more money is a smarter investment than the former, in the same way that grabbing Tyler O’Neill early in the player movement period was a serious departure from Bloom’s “soak up the value in January” routine — which, to his credit, Breslow still has time to do.
It’s the Chris Sale trade that really impressed me, because it’s hard for me to know whether or not Bloom had the go-ahead or wherewithal to trade him, but there isn’t a point in the last few years that a deal like this wouldn’t have made sense. That Breslow got it done in a few months is more impressive that it is simply competent.
That said, there’s still a long way to go, but in fairness, with Scott Boras having a stranglehold over the offseason, it’s okay to imagine it playing out fairly steadily until “pitchers and catchers” and the like, and thus it makes sense to exercise some patience. Bloom started by creating a huge problem where none existed, while Breslow started by fixing obvious holes in the roster and clearing loads of salary.
And why not? He’s a mop-up man. Breslow was a reliever on the most fun Red Sox team ever, and it’s hard not to note the traces of a classic cleanup job in the early stages of his tenure. You have to make pitches to get out of a jam. More than that, you have to be willing to make pitches. There’s nowhere to hide. There’s no beautiful, theoretical design on which to fall back. There’s only what you do when the eyes are on you and the clock is ticking down. Bloom let the clock run out on deal after deal, except for some paltry attempts at team-building. Whatever else Breslow does, I’m fairly certain he won’t fail in exactly the same way. He’s already proven as much. Is he constrained by ownership? Yes. Does he know what he’s doing today? No. But he’s here, and he’s gonna give it his best shot.