In October 2019, less than a year after fielding a 108-win World Series champion, the Boston Red Sox hired Chaim Bloom as “chief baseball officer” to essentially walk back the work of former top decision-maker Dave Dombrowski.
The Mookie Betts trade, which sent one of the game’s elite players out the door in exchange for a pittance later that offseason, made Bloom’s marching orders from team owner John Henry crystal clear, but really, they were right there in the news release. A quote attributed to team chairman Tom Werner heralded Bloom, an alumnus of the Tampa Bay Rays front office, by saying he “possesses the essential qualities to establish a sustainable baseball operation throughout the organization with an emphasis on long-term success at the major league level.”
Sustainable. Read that as you will. It meant building a better farm system, certainly. And most transparently, it meant shedding money.
Less than four years later — baseball executives in Boston have shorter leashes than presidents, apparently — the Red Sox fired Bloom on Thursday, even as he appeared to be succeeding in developing the most important part of the equation. The Red Sox have the outline of a core forming in the big leagues, with international hit Masataka Yoshida and homegrown young players in first baseman Triston Casas, pitcher Brayan Bello, outfielder Jarren Duran and newly promoted center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela. Behind them, there are several exciting prospects within shouting distance of Boston, most notably shortstop Marcelo Mayer and surging outfielder Roman Anthony at Double-A.
Thus far, we have not mentioned winning. Bloom’s Red Sox teams did not usually win. They made the postseason once, in 2021, and finished last in the division twice, with the potential for a third cellar-dwelling season this year, despite a record hovering around .500. It’s also not clear whether they were designed with winning as the top priority.
I don’t even mean that as a pejorative. Franchises make decisions all the time that put some seasons ahead of others in terms of prioritization, budget and expectations. And based on the investment levels, 2023 didn’t look like a “go for it” season at Fenway Park. The Red Sox opened the year with the game’s 12th-highest payroll — after opening every season from 2004 to 2020 in the top five. Granted, a high payroll clearly isn’t required to win in an AL East featuring the high-flying Baltimore Orioles (No. 29 payroll on Opening Day) and Tampa Bay Rays (No. 28), but Bloom wasn’t given the leeway to execute a full, painful rebuild or the time to build the sort of talent delivery machine the Rays have developed.
There are absolutely critiques to be made of Bloom’s tenure; the Red Sox frequently made moves that made them appear stuck in neutral or pulling in different directions. And in a lot of ways, this firing might explain the outwardly confounding posture. Under the microscope ever since the Betts trade — which went over like a lead balloon from day one — it’s not difficult to imagine Bloom feeling the need to gesture at trying, at spending, at urgency, all while still trimming payroll and collecting youth to fulfill his original goals.
Thursday’s statement from Henry cited the organization’s “significant expectations on the field,” which clearly aren’t being met. But it should be noted that ownership directives, including the messaging around Bloom’s hiring in the first place, took a sledgehammer to the expectation compass that had pointed directly at “World Series or bust” through the tenures of Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski. That wasn't Bloom's true north.
To be sure, the next executive in Boston will have a lot to work with. The farm system is one of the top five in baseball, by FanGraphs’ estimation, and there’s plenty of offensive talent in the majors. But the defense is dreadful, and the pitching staff needs more robust patching than James Paxton, Corey Kluber and a wave of other early or late-career fliers can provide. That could be easily remedied, assuming said executive can get past the big Green Monster — no, not the wall, the payroll question.
Perhaps Henry and Co. intend to spike spending again. Or perhaps they are prepared to attempt some sort of reverse Betts trade in pursuit of a superstar. Taking this job will require both figuring out the vision and accepting that it might be used against you before your first draft pick reaches Triple-A.
The Athletic’s Tyler Kepner mentioned Thursday afternoon that Boston manager Alex Cora — who reclaimed his job despite a suspension over the Astros sign-stealing scandal — might have interest in this job and the rare standing to deal with the “unique challenge” of handling Red Sox ownership, which hints at the risk hanging over Fenway right now.
All the top baseball executive jobs are attractive in such a limited field, and landmark franchises such as the Red Sox will never have trouble attracting bright minds. Within that context, though, it’s fair to wonder if Henry’s apparently tempestuous view of his own front office leaders is stripping the shine off this job, despite the strong setup.
Winning a World Series but spending too much, it seems, will get you fired within five years. Not winning enough during a period of explicit retooling, it seems, will also get you fired within five years.
No, Bloom wasn’t successful in his time with the Red Sox. But it’s hard to envision how he could’ve been.