There’s an old adage in sports that says you can’t lose your job due to injury. However, Chaim Bloom may find himself out of his job as President of Baseball Operations of the Boston Red Sox after the 2023 season due to Trevor Story’s elbow injury.
If you’ve read virtually anything I’ve written about the Red Sox in the last year or so, you know that I fully support Bloom’s focus on building the farm system and his selectivity with the big contracts he has handed out. What I’m writing today is by no means an indictment on that team-building strategy. Rather, it is a mere recognition of the meat grinder that he lives in every day due to being the architect of the Boston Red Sox roster.
Despite being a really good offensive and defensive player, Trevor Story was the last major free agent signing of last year’s offseason. The reason for this, of course, was his problematic right elbow. There was a lot of doubt about how long he could continue being a great infielder before he would need a major procedure that could put him on the shelf for a considerable amount of time. The name that every GM dreads, Tommy John, was even brought up regularly when Story’s name was discussed.
Chaim Bloom saw what we all see in Trevor Story. A streaky hitter with pop, an outstanding fielder, and a great athlete with a swing that seems perfect for Fenway. While many Red Sox fans were turned off after Story’s dreadful start in 2022, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
He signed on the heels of a lockout in late March with no spring training. His first child was born two days after he signed. He battled a serious illness just as the season began that resulted in him missing some time in April. He had to navigate more obstacles than you’ll find in the Double Dare bonus round just to get on the field wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform.
Once he was healthy, he had a lackluster season with more offensive low points than high points, although he did contribute elite defense in his first ever year at second base. A fastball to the throwing hand from Corey Kluber, a guy who is now his teammate, caused him to miss another six weeks later in the season. By the time he returned to action, the Red Sox had been long removed from playoff contention.
Considering his last-minute adjustment from playing in Colorado; where fans show no passion, to Boston; where fans show no mercy, along with all the personal matters he contended with, I was willing to give him a pass for a bumpy first season with the Red Sox. I was amped to see what Trevor Story could really do in a full season as a fully entrenched member of the team.
And then, just this past week, the Trevor Story experiment turned from a heartwarming comeback story to a tragic tale of woe. Not for Story, but for the man who signed him in spite of all the injury concerns that were known league-wide when the contract was inked.
Let me make this perfectly clear: Trevor Story is not an injury prone player. Since 2017, the fewest amount of games he has played in a season is 142. The one exception to this is the fake season of 2020, when he played 59 of 60 games.
Nonetheless, he’s had a bad right elbow for quite awhile. It’s the reason he threw almost entirely with his shoulder throughout 2022. It’s the reason the Red Sox never considered playing him at shortstop last year, even when Xander Bogaerts was banged up or had an off day. It’s the reason Chaim Bloom was able to secure his services for six years at $140 million when Corey Seager, a player of similar talents, scored a ten-year deal for $325 million from the Texas Rangers.
Bloom didn’t care. He wants to build a team of athletes that can contribute on both sides of the ball for contracts that won’t trip up Boston’s payroll flexibility years down the road. He weighed the potential risks of signing Story against the potential rewards, and he pulled the trigger.
And now the barrel that’s attached to that trigger is pointed directly at Bloom’s temple.
To rest his elbow, Story took a couple months off from throwing after the 2022 season ended. When he began to ramp up his throwing activities in December, he was training to become the Boston Red Sox’ starting shortstop in 2023. Bloom and Fenway Sports Group let homegrown hero Xander Bogaerts walk into the arms of an insane 11-year contract in San Diego. Then, as soon as the contingency plan began preparing to take the X-Man’s spot, that contingency plan revealed that his elbow was hurting.
The result has been a downright catastrophe.
On January 9th, Story underwent internal brace surgery of his UCL, which is kind of like opting to get lap-band surgery instead of a gastric bypass. Basically, instead of replacing his UCL, the doctors have inserted a brace to support the ligament. Best case scenario, Story misses four to six months (as opposed to a year or two for Tommy John surgery) and his UCL is not only healed, it’s also protected from reinjury.
As a quick aside, allow me to take a moment right now to marvel at the genius skill and precision it must take to be a surgeon. Imagine the brains, work ethic, and hand-eye coordination that these people must possess to do that job. They are basically mechanics (a trade that is not respected nearly enough by the population at large) who did really well in school. If you want to know what I mean, go watch footage of a nose job. We all picture surgical procedures as symphonies of delicate incisions performed with the grace of a ballerina and the focus of an air traffic controller. But the truth is that these people are so precise, confident, and deft of hand that they hack and pound away at human bone and tissue like the boys at Meineke when they replace an exhaust system. To me, the biggest differences between surgeons and mechanics are the colors that stain their coveralls and the amount of smoke breaks they take during a job.
Anyway, Bloom took a chance on a guy whose throwing elbow was a well-known concern, signed him to a six-year deal, endured one year of non-elbow related issues, then watched him go down with a serious injury to the very same elbow that had Red Sox fans so worried when the contract was first announced.
Chaim Bloom had intended for Trevor Story to be one of the main offensive producers for the 2023 Red Sox. He had intended for him to replace the former de facto team captain at shortstop. He had intended for him to be the best all-around player on the team. And this great athlete, this defensive dynamo, this flat-out baller will likely end up missing at least 148 of the first 324 games the Red Sox will have played since Bloom signed him to be a franchise cornerstone.
Story’s prolonged time on the shelf is particularly backbreaking because it comes right on the heels of the announcement of Rafael Devers’ 11-year, $331 million extension. For about eight seconds, we rejoiced at the idea of having a locked-up Devers and a locked-in Story all year long. Instead, Story has now descended into the putrid if/then sphere occupied by the Chris Sales and Jacoby Ellsburys of the world:
If he can come back … and if he can be as good as he was before … then we may really have something!
I’m going to say this in simple terms as a card-carrying member of the Bloominati: If Trevor Story misses the vast majority of the season and the Red Sox do not contend because of a weak offense, it is entirely the fault of Chaim Bloom.
I agree with keeping future success in mind at all times. I agree with the choice to build up the farm system to create a self-sustaining cycle of talent. I even agree with the choice to not commit a decade of big money for players that will likely only be impactful for half that time.
But if you’re going to be selective of who you commit long-term deals to — if you’re going to eschew the de Groms, Verlanders, Rodons, Correas, and Abreus of the world out of concern that they can’t hold up over the duration of their contracts — you better make damn sure that when you do dish out a big contract, it’s for a player that will hold up over time. And while last year’s freak hand injury is nobody’s fault, we know perfectly well who to blame for this one. The man who made the six-year deal despite all of Story’s elbow concerns.
Could Story miss half the year and come back a house afire, lacing doubles off the wall and hucking strikes to first base from deep in the hole for the last three months of the season? Yeah, it’s possible. But the only way to stay afloat until then is to acquire more players to fill out the roster, not to mention the huge void that Story’s absence has now created. Those deals have not yet happened. If they do happen, they will not be for impact players on the level of what Story is capable of because those players are no longer available.
Chaim Bloom will have to rely on a ragtag group of unproven prospects, veteran castoffs, and under-the-radar journeyman to keep the ship afloat until Story, the expected number-two run producer in this offense, returns to take his place in the middle of the lineup. If this does not happen … if the Red Sox find themselves consistently coming up a run or two short again in 2023, I don’t think Chaim Bloom will be the President of Baseball Operations in 2024.
I appreciate Bloom’s vision for the future and his desire to follow the Houston/Los Angeles model of team building. However, the Red Sox do not play in happy-go-lucky atmospheres like the ones you’ll find in Houston or LA.
Boston fans will not stand for another season out of contention, let alone another season in fifth place. I, for one, would be willing to forgive one more step backward in the name of building a sustained contender that comes to fruition in 2024 and competes for a decade thereafter. I believe that Bloom’s model is in the process of building such a talent base.
But I also believe that Boston is not a haven for perpetual buds that never blossom to see the sun. Even though I would be willing to give Bloom another year to cook, I can’t blame the millions of Red Sox fans that would not be willing to stay on board the ride. Honestly, I can’t blame FSG if they aren’t willing to stay on either.
We all know that the Henry-Werner crew is a reactionary contingent with a penchant for changing courses based on public perception. After a couple terrible years following the 2013 championship, they embraced the slash-and-burn tactics of “Davey Dollabills” Dombrowski to remind fans of the winning ways we had enjoyed during the Theo Epstein regime. When Dombrowski did what Dombrowski does, salting the earth of the developmental system on his way out the door, they hired Bloom, a guy who made his bones working within Tampa Bay’s Dollar Tree culture. These were sudden, drastic changes in direction based largely on the reaction of the fans.
Barely a week ago, Red Sox fans booed John Henry like he was ARod wearing a Donald Trump mask because Rafael Devers had not yet been extended. John Henry is the guy that once drove to a sports radio station’s studio uninvited so he could go on the air and combat negative criticism from the hosts. Does anybody doubt that he would fire his President of Baseball Operations on the basis of overwhelming fan displeasure with the direction of the team?
I think that Chaim Bloom is the man that the Boston Red Sox need at the helm to once again become the kind of team that can compete for championships year after year. I believe in his philosophy, and I loved the way he unapologetically doubled down on his strategy during the press conference when the Devers extension was announced.
However, most Red Sox fans are not the grin-and-bear-it type. They want results yesterday. As unexpected as the success of 2021 was, most Boston fans don’t care that most pundits had predicted that Red Sox team to finish fourth in the AL East that season. All they care about is that the team lost its last game of the year.
In the eyes of many, Bloom has not had two bad years sandwiched around one great year. From the perspective of the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately crowd, Bloom’s Boston tenure has been three seasons of abysmal failure.
Is this fair? Hell no. But making personnel decisions for the Boston Red Sox isn’t supposed to be fair. It’s supposed to be difficult. Agonizing. Soul crushing. It’s supposed to make you wonder why the hell you’d ever volunteer to put yourself through this kind of abuse in the first place. Like it or not, that’s Boston sports in the 21st century.
And while I’d be willing to give Chaim Bloom another year or two of rope to see his vision develop, nobody should be surprised if a 2023 failure results in FSG changing courses once again. Even if the team continues in a similar direction following his departure, Bloom’s head may have to fall in order to appease the rabble.
And Trevor Story’s internal brace surgery just may be the charge that forces his neck onto the guillotine.