Chaim Bloom has been taking his lumps all season long, and that’s fine. I believe in what he is trying to build in Boston, but being the Red Sox’ Chief Baseball Officer means a few things. Every loss will be blamed on you because you put together an imperfect team. No wins will be credited to you because you’ve never played a MLB inning. Every run driven in by a player you traded away will be a fire-able offense. And every run given up by a player you traded for will be evidence of your incompetence.
The borderline miraculous 2021 Boston Red Sox season was not supposed to happen. Bloom assembled that team in the Billy Beane mold of trying to win as many games as possible by spending as little money as possible. When the Red Sox were swept at home by the lowly Orioles to open the season, the majority of Red Sox fans had decided that Fenway Sports Group had brought in Bloom to essentially defund the Boston Red Sox so their profits could be reallocated to subsidize Manchester United, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bloom’s success in 2021 was unrecognized by many Sox fans, who still felt betrayed. After all, had Bloom spent more money, they may have been able to win six more games and bring home their fifth championship since 2004. When Kyle Schwarber and Hunter Renfroe departed Boston in exchange for Trevor Story and the maligned Jackie Bradley Jr. to begin the 2022 season, Bloom was public enemy number one again. Their awful April provided even more fodder for Chaim hatred, and the hot streak that lasted from mid-May through June was disregarded as a lucky stretch against bad teams. And when all chances of a 2022 rebound were derailed by an onslaught of simultaneous injuries at the worst possible time, it was Bloom’s fault for acquiring brittle players.
Are all these criticisms fair? Sure. That’s just the job.
Do all these criticisms hold merit? Of course not. That’s just Boston.
Bloom’s strategy for 2022 was the same as it was in 2021. Compete the best that you possibly can using a fiscally responsible strategy in order to finally escape the four-year payroll inferno that Dave Dombrowski forged on his path to winning one single championship in 2018. More than $70 million comes off the payroll after this season, at which point the only significant dud contract left on the books will be the 3 years and $75 million that are still due to Chris Sale. Next year, with the team out of the red, Chaim Bloom will get to take his furthest step yet toward building the team he envisioned when he was hired in 2019.
All that aside, this season has been abysmal. Bloom haters blame poor roster construction, while Bloom apologists like myself blame injuries, particularly the Klubola virus outbreak of early July. What has been overlooked too often, however, has been the utterly disappointing seasons from two guys that were meant to be lynchpins of this team’s offense.
A ten-year veteran with two rings and the unofficial designation as the captain of the team, Bogaerts’ pop has virtually disappeared this season. After sizzling through June with a .330 average, X’s offense has taken its traditional summer vacation. He hit a respectable .286 in July, but has gone off the grid through 17 games in August, with a nauseating slash line of .209/.239/.343/.583. He finally hit his tenth homer of the season in garbage time Sunday night, and his average has just dipped under .300 for the year, with only 50 RBI and his lowest OPS (.810) since 2017. This from a guy in a contract year who has hit third or fourth all season on a team that featured one of the top five offenses in baseball in 2021.
He has supposedly battled a shoulder injury this year after a collision with Alex Verdugo, but Bogaerts has always seemed to milk his injuries a bit. He’s a gamer that never wants a day off, but X does enjoy playing up the whole warrior image thing. I think he exaggerates his bumps and bruises juuuust a bit, which only reinforces the love that Boston fans have for him. While I’m sure his shoulder is not quite at 100%, I don’t think an injury is the reason he has struggled so much this season.
I think X is worried about his future. I think he loves playing in Boston and wants to finish his career with the Red Sox, but doesn’t want to be the sucker who never got paid. He’s a superstar champion who got his Boras on and came into this season finally ready to cash in after taking the discounted bridge deal in 2019. However, I think the pressure of playing his way to a big contract has weighed on his mind and screwed with his focus. I think he’s a complex, yet impressionable ballplayer that’s received some unfortunate advice from a vicious agent/overlord whose focus is much more simple and economic. I think he’s swinging for the fences more than ever because chicks and big market franchises dig the long ball, and the sluggers are the guys who really get paid.
Bogaerts will be a happier guy when his next contract is signed and he can get back to just playing baseball. Once that deal is finalized, I predict that X will go right back to being one of the best shortstops in the game. Even with his offensive issues this year, he’s still managed a 4.0 WAR now that the absurd defensive metrics have finally stopped pretending he’s a bad shortstop. Once the business issues are resolved, he’ll be hitting .300 with 20 HRs and 90 RBI per year all over again.
However, since he is determined to receive top dollar for his services, I don’t think that next contract will be with the Boston Red Sox. It will be a sad day when X leaves. But after yet another summer swoon, and with his 30th birthday right around the corner, how can you blame Chaim Bloom for refusing to give him the 8-year/$240 million deal he will probably seek?
JD Martinez’ productivity dropped in the second half of last season (though he did hit well in the playoffs), leading to some apprehension from me when he opted in for the last year of his Red Sox contract. I wanted the Red Sox retain Kyle Schwarber over JD, and feared that his second half decline would become a trend for the now 35-year-old DH. This year, the decline came much earlier, and it was much steeper.
Martinez is hitting .276 with 9 HRs and 46 RBI in 104 games slotted in the middle of the Boston lineup. His OPS has steadily dropped every full season since 2017, and has now cratered at .780, the lowest it’s been since 2013. He has back issues, and not only does he have trouble running the bases, he’s a risk for tripping over them while playing the field. In the 23 games he’s played in the second half, he’s hitting .173/.266/.247/.513 with 0 HRs and 8 RBI. He has 36 doubles on the year, but only six of them have come since the midway point. His bombs into the seats and line drives to the gaps have been replaced with occasional soft singles to left-center and frequent grounders to short. He’s being victimized by sliders away like Giancarlo Stanton circa 2018.
Unlike Bogaerts, Martinez has no prayer of cashing in this winter. Someone will take a flyer on him under a short-term prove-it deal, but JD is snowballing his way to the end of his career. He was the offensive centerpiece of the winningest Red Sox team of all time, but I will be thrilled to rid the Red Sox lineup of his limp bat at the end of this season.
Bogaerts, Martinez, and Rafael Devers were the holy trinity of the Red Sox lineup last year. Their prowess essentially defined one of the most lethal offenses of 2021. X and JD combined for 51 HRs and 178 RBI last season. This year, they have delivered 19 HRs and 96 RBI from the middle of the order through 122 games. They may be banged up, but when offensive threats like Kike Hernandez and Trevor Story can’t even take the field, centerpieces like Bogaerts and Martinez need to rise above.
Boston’s decreased offensive output was certainly influenced by long-term injuries to Hernandez and Story, as well as Bloom’s grossly misplaced belief in franchise flunky Bobby Dalbec. However, the anemic output this summer from Bogaerts and Martinez must take center stage regarding the lack of pop in the lineup. Even if you disagree with the long-term strategy of the general manager, you can’t give free passes to high-priced, underperforming anchors that have allowed the ship to drift off into the middling waters of irrelevance.
Next week, we’ll take a look at a few of the Red Sox pitchers that have been such disappointments this season. Proceed with caution … you may very well come away from that column with a broken hand.