December 13th, 2021
After coming up a mere two wins short of reaching the 2021 World Series and nearly the entire team slated to return, the Boston Red Sox appeared to need nothing more than a couple tweaks in order to reload for 2022. I had my dream scenario envisioned, and often found myself staring off into the distance imagining Chris Taylor fielding a ground ball to second and tossing it over to first baseman Kyle Schwarber to close the book on a Raisel Iglesias save that preserved an Anthony DeSclafani win.
I knew that Chaim Bloom would never secure all those players during free agency, especially during an abbreviated free agency period leading up to the first MLB lockout since 1994. Still, I expected Bloom’s approach to be somewhat similar to what I had in mind. Re-sign Kyle Schwarber, grab a starting pitcher, secure a lockdown back-end reliever, and get an upgrade at second base (with all due respect to energy specialist Christian Arroyo).
And now here I am, stuck in the Matrix, wondering how I could have been stupid enough to think I could anticipate the offseason moves to be made by a general manager like Chaim Bloom. I feel like all those dopes that call into sports radio shows every May trying to guess which SEC wide receiver Bill Belichick will target at the upcoming NFL Draft, leading to each of them chucking a beer at their TV after he selects another defensive back from Rutgers.
Bloom did add a starting pitcher, though it was not Anthony DeSclafani. Then he added another starting pitcher that was not Max Scherzer, and another that was not Carlos Rodon. Instead, he replaced new $77 million Detroit Tiger Eduardo Rodriguez with bargain basement free agents Michael Wacha, James Paxton, and Rich Hill. These pitchers were on nobody’s radar, mostly because they had not impressed anybody in quite awhile. Wacha has been a below average swingman for two years, a time frame during which James Paxton has pitched 21 innings amd 41-year-old Rich Hill has played for three different teams. While each of these players has an upside and could potentially contribute to a winning Red Sox team in 2022, they were all about as far from a sure thing as could be found on the market.
Meet Chaim Bloom, everybody. This is what he does. A student of the Tampa Bay Rays approach to acquiring players, Bloom targets low-risk, high-reward hurlers to amass a deep, yet cheap pitching staff. While the Friedmans and Dombrowskis of the world take their black credit cards to shop for blood diamonds on Rodeo Drive, Bloom brings his piggy bank to go bargain hunting at the Dollar Tree. Chaim seeks quantity over quality, relying on his scouting department to identify undervalued gems and his coaches to develop them into quality big league contributors.
You can’t argue with the results of the philosophy, at least when done well. The Tampa Bay Rays have perfected the practice of winning (during the regular season anyway) by eschewing expensive talent and building a major league team from within their minor league system. The Rays have been good for 90 wins a year the past three full seasons, with Nelson Cruz being the only high-priced player in the home dugout of that dump Tropicana Field. The Oakland A’s have also had brief successful runs in the past, but all the other small market teams have perpetually flailed in the dark, hoping to land a haymaker or two per decade to justify their uncompetitive, yet dastardly profitable brand strategies.
The problem, of course, is that these coupon-clipping techniques have never yielded a World Series championship. Not a single one. Even the Rays, baseball’s version of George Bailey, have found themselves laid out at the end of every season, looking up into the sneers of the Red Sox, Dodgers, Astros, and other Henry Potters of the league.
Most Boston Red Sox fans can’t handle the idea of their team adopting these impressive, yet ultimately unsuccessful tactics. Even I had my doubts about the Bloom approach after Mookie Betts was traded. The Red Sox had netted all their championship success by pushing around small market teams, not acting like one. We were happy being Henry Potter, snarking at those wide-eyed George Baileys in Tampa, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati that lived off bologna and Ramen noodles.
But those early doubts I had about Chaim Bloom were always drastically superseded by my intense hatred of his predecessor.
I despise Dave Dombrowski. I’ve made no secret of this, and will said it repeatedly to anybody that cares to listen. Sure, I enjoyed that 2018 World Series. I loved that team, and I wholeheartedly admit that Dave Dombrowski was its architect. He went all in for a couple seasons, sparing no expense in bringing in the stars that Boston needed to win its fourth World Series since 2004.
That, however, is how you win when your franchise is in dire need of a championship. That’s what I wanted to see from the Red Sox every season of my life until they finally won their first World Series in 86 years. But it’s not how the Boston Red Sox should have been operating after winning three rings in 15 seasons.
Dombrowski sold off every decent minor league prospect the Red Sox had in order to win that 2018 championship. He committed over $250 million to Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi, all of whom have missed significant time during their long-term contracts, two of which have been more detrimental than helpful to the organization due to injuries and/or behavioral issues. Dombrowski’s frivolous spending and complete lack of vision or creativity put the Red Sox in a position where they were forced to either trade the best position player the organization had developed since Carl Yastrzemski, or face over $100 million in luxury tax penalties.
With some hard work and a creative vision, a core of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, and Rick Porcello could have been primed for a five-year run of multiple championships. However, due to Dombrowski’s malfeasance, they went into the tank after winning one.
One of the biggest reasons I love Chaim Bloom is that he is the antithesis of Dave Dombrowski. Bloom has a vision. He has a plan. He has a strategy that goes far beyond buying the prettiest thing in the storefront window. He works hard, he’s creative, and he’s smarter than just about everybody else in the room. Like I said, he’s the opposite of Dave Dombrowski.
However, the last move that Bloom executed before midnight on December 1st gave me the first moment of pause that I’ve had regarding his strategy since this past May.
Look, I loved watching Jackie Bradley Jr. play center field in Boston. He’s the best defensive outfielder I’ve ever seen, and he has likely made more circus catches than anybody this side of Torii Hunter in the past 30 years. But his struggles at the plate in Boston were well documented. He struck out at an alarming rate, though he did sprinkle in a few mystifying tape measure home runs along the way. All in all, he was terrible at the plate and, electric defense aside, I was happy to see him walk away after 2020.
Well, as bad as he was at the dish while he was in Boston, Bradley somehow found a way to get even worse when he got to Milwaukee. Regardless of which metric you want to judge him by, Bradley was inarguably the worst offensive player in Major League Baseball last season (.163/.236/.261, 132 Ks in 387 at bats). So watching Chaim Bloom trade away Hunter Renfroe (31 HRs, 96 RBI), who legitimately carried the Red Sox offensively for certain stretches last year, infuriated me. I wanted Renfroe’s bat in the back half of Boston’s lineup for the next several years. I was even a fan of his defense, feeling that the horrendous 12 errors he made in right field were justified by the stunning 16 outfield assists he racked up, some of which came at crucial moments of big games.
It’s not like Bradley was the only return in the trade. I realize that the Red Sox also picked up two prospects in infielders Alex Binelas and David Hamilton. Binelas is said to have good pop, Hamilton is said to have great speed, and they both play multiple positions. We all know Bloom loves him some versatile athletes, so I can only assume that he really liked these guys and that selling high on Renfroe was the only way to get the Brewers to part with them. But neither of them are highly rated prospects, and on the surface it feels like their addition does nothing beyond adding some depth to the back end of the Red Sox minor league system.
Defense was the weakest facet of the Boston Red Sox last year, and I am thrilled that improving it is a high priority for Bloom. But I am struggling to come to grips with the idea of adding Bradley’s great defense and a couple uninspiring prospects at the cost of Renfroe’s Major League bat and outfield cannon. I can’t see Binelas, Hamilton, or Bradley being key pieces in a subsequent move to improve the big league team, and there may be no time whatsoever after the end of the lockout (whenever that may be) to make additional moves before the season finally begins anyway.
Regardless of my feelings on the Renfroe trade, I can’t help but admire Bloom’s temerity. He has a plan, and he could care less if us fans understand or support it. You know what happens when the Red Sox sign the most expensive free agents that are available just because the fans demand high-profile acquisitions and headlines? Carl Crawford. Pablo Sandoval. Matt Clement.
See where I’m going with this? These are the types of moves that set organizations back years due to a lack of foresight into how well those players fit on the team and how much their contracts affect payroll flexibility.
And flexibility, both on the field as well as on the books, is the foundation of Chaim Bloom’s approach. If he can build up the minor league system and create an organization that churns solid Major League players in and out without missing a beat the way the Rays currently do, Bloom may be able to elevate the Tampa model from an intriguing fad to a forge for dynasties.
Combining Tampa’s scouting and developmental systems with the war chest of the Boston Red Sox could result in a fearsome juggernaut that would strike fear into the hearts of the other 29 Major League teams.
An entity like that could steer clear of the PR-conscious moves that have pushed the Red Sox up against the luxury tax in the past. It could compete for any intriguing rental player at the trade deadline. It could sign superstars like Rafael Devers to long-term extensions while letting good, but not great players make their fortunes elsewhere to in deference to adequate replacements that are years away from arbitration.
The same fans that were furious to see Scherzer, Eduardo Rodriguez, Marcus Semien, and Kevin Gausman sign elsewhere would be the first ones to lambaste the organization for signing them if those acquisitions did not work out. Fans could care less that MLB owners are in the business of baseball to make money. They are offended at the very idea of billionaires owning a team for the purpose of turning a profit, and would sooner spit at them than empathize with the dilemma of spending $100 million in luxury tax penalties. Running a team for the pleasure of fans like that is at best stupidity, and at worst crippling to the franchise.
In a sport where the market for elite talent is set at approximately 10-years for $300 million, it’s no longer feasible to simply wield a hefty checkbook during the offseason. Those nine-figure contracts need to be tempered with a great deal of wisdom and strategy, with a well-defined systemic philosophy in place.
Much like Theo Epstein was 18 years ago, Chaim Bloom is the future of Major League Baseball. The Dave Dombrowskis of the world are facing extinction, and rightfully so.
For a fanbase that is used to checkers, it’s not surprising that the emergence of a grandmaster is met with such apprehension. Us working slobs may not understand how the queen’s gambit works, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the correct method of attack.
Last year’s offseason was met with disgust by much of the Red Sox fanbase, and the miraculous results spoke for themselves. Based on that alone, we owe Chaim Bloom our patience to see his plan through and build the organization in his image.
Unfortunately, if the team takes a step back this year, he could quickly find himself roasting above the spit. We all know this ownership group’s history of changing course in the wake of public backlash.
Just ask Dave Dombrowski.