SAN DIEGO — The Boston Red Sox came and left the 2019 winter meetings with the foundation of their roster unchanged. Despite the unending discussions among fans for months about the future of outfielder Mookie Betts, the team’s best player remains slotted in to roam right field at Fenway Park. Despite inquiries from other teams, as reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, David Price and his hefty contract (three years, $96 million) remain on the books. For all of the talk about a messy offseason requiring lots of creative roster management, Boston has remained quiet so far.
But the lack of player movement isn’t indicative of the growing change within the Red Sox front office. Based on conversations with multiple executives around baseball and staffers within Fenway Park, newly minted chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is establishing his vision for the baseball operations department. Bloom entered an organization that features front office mainstays such as general manager Brian O’Halloran and the trio of executive VPs/assistant general managers Raquel Ferreira, Eddie Romero and Zack Scott, all of whom have spent more than a decade with the team and recently signed contract extensions. Manager Alex Cora said the transition has been smooth.
“It’s been good. Like I said a few weeks ago, had the pleasure with Dave [Dombrowski, Bloom’s predecessor]. You know, Dave has been in the business for, what, 40 years,” Cora said. “You’re in the business for 40 years, you’re not lucky — you’re good. Chaim, who’s, what, 36? It seems like he’s been in the business for 20 years.”
Many around Fenway Park have noticed an immediate cultural change within the baseball ops department with Bloom in charge. While Dombrowski mostly relied on the opinions of veteran executives Tony La Russa and Frank Wren, shutting much of the rest of the department out of the decision-making process, Bloom has sought advice from a much wider circle in seeking creative solutions to the team’s goal to cut payroll and sneak under the $208 million luxury tax threshold. Several Red Sox staffers noted a happier working environment, in which baseball ops people up and down the organization’s ladder feel their opinions are valued, a feeling that slowly evaporated over the course of Dombrowski’s tenure.
“[Bloom] is basically the direct opposite of Dombrowski,” according to one rival front-office executive.
Sure, sure, sure, it’s easy to sing praises at the beginning of a new tenure, when the rosy-eyed honeymoon period is still intact, especially when Bloom has yet to make any major roster moves. But the praise for Bloom extends down to Tampa Bay, where he built an unusually positive reputation among other front-office executives. Those who spent significant time around the Rays noted his strong people skills, something Bloom says he is always working on, and his ability to connect with people from the front office to the clubhouse to the media.
“It’s super important to me. The reason we were able to have the success [at Tampa Bay] that we did was the people and how we all worked together,” Bloom told ESPN. “I hope that an appreciation has something to do with how I was raised both by my parents and then also how I was raised in this game with the people I was around. The value of that was something that was shown to me by a lot of the mentors around this game.
“You just see how much more you can accomplish when people work together when they feel valued, when everyone recognizes that no one person has a monopoly on the truth and nobody has all the answers. We are only going to achieve our full potential if we’re willing to work together and willing to be vulnerable and acknowledge that we can all learn from each other.”
Bloom’s influence will extend onto the field, given his fundamental role in normalizing the shift and the opener among the Rays’ various innovations over the course of the past decade. Cora noted in his winter meetings press conference that he and Bloom see the game from a similar perspective.
“One thing we’re going to talk about with Chaim coming from an organization that’s very aggressive as far as defense, is why they do it, how they do it and if that aggressiveness is going to — he can help us out,” Cora said. “And that’s something that I’m looking forward to sitting with Chaim and see where it takes us.”
But Bloom doesn’t intend to turn the Red Sox into Tampa Bay 2.0, though Cora noted that using an opener instead of a regular fifth starter is an option for the team heading into 2020. Different circumstances demand different approaches; and the vast financial resources, the rabid Red Sox fan base and a demanding media market — from sports radio to the newspapers — separates Boston from the situation at Tampa Bay and has led to Bloom adapting his approach for his new work environment.
“There’s nothing that I want to bring that’s like, ‘This is the way the Rays did it or do it.’ But that’s actually something that in a lot of the times we’ve been around each other that [Cora] and I have talked about. I know that he’s very passionate about being able to use information to put players in the best position to succeed. What that means specifically, that’s where the rubber meets the road.
“There’s a lot of room to see that differently, but it also needs to be based around the strengths of your own players and the tendencies of the opposition, but that’s something that we already talked about, and I don’t want to predict if it will be more or less.”
According to multiple sources, Bloom’s focus is less on creating a top-heavy roster than on building more depth at both the major and minor league level, valuing versatility. Thursday’s signing of Jose Peraza illuminates some of what Bloom values in a player: someone who can play multiple positions and has shown the ability to make an impact with the bat. Peraza hit .288/.326/.416 in 157 games in 2018 before dropping off to .239/.285/.346 in 141 games in 2019. Peraza reportedly signed for about $3 million, less than what Brock Holt will likely make on the open market after hitting .297/.369/.402 in 87 games.
Bloom said that finding the right balance between analytics and the human element is key to accomplishing what he was brought to Boston to do: Build a long-term sustainable franchise, with a strong farm system, that can contend for a World Series title every year.
“I’ve never felt that [numbers and people] were categorical opposites. The best process is going to allow you to take into account as many sources of information as possible and try to paint a complete picture,” Bloom said. “People with different backgrounds see the world differently, and that can lead us into some debates, but I’ve never seen it as one side is going to win or the other side is going to win.
“I think it’s really all about trying to understand the questions you want to ask about a player. What are we trying to figure out here, and we’re going to need the best tools to figure that out. And even in terms of things that don’t lend themselves as easy to quantify and being put into numbers, you still need to learn how to put some context to them, so you still have to figure out what we might think about this particular player that might not be a number.”
Bloom will face many tough decisions before the 2020 season begins, and he hopes to have his roster finalized heading into spring training. That will require tough decisions, something Bloom was part of with Tampa Bay, involving players such as David Price and Evan Longoria, franchise superstars who were traded by the Rays. While a trade involving Betts is “unlikely to happen,” as reported by Passan, Bloom’s mindset in approaching the Price trade while at Tampa Bay is illustrative of his mentality toward the value of star players in trades.
“Especially when you spend time around guys, you really get to know them and attached to them. You also recognize you have a responsibility to do what’s best for your organization. That’s what our jobs are,” Bloom said. “To a certain degree, you have to separate those things. But I think that basically allowed us to make some of the deals we made with the Rays. And I think that’s no different here in terms of getting acclimated in a new environment and working with new teammates; you just want to make sure you are prioritizing what’s best for the organization and achieve the objectives that you have.
“If you determine that something is more or might be, you want to vet it very closely because these decisions are difficult. But at the end of the day, you have to do something that you think is best.”
Bloom spent much of the winter meetings bonding with his employees in a slightly different setting than the offices on Jersey Street. He still is getting used to the ins and outs of being a Bostonian, noting how his drenched socks serve as a regular reminder to buy a pair of boots to combat the New England winter. Across baseball, Bloom has gained a reputation as the type of leader who asks a lot of questions and tries to get as many perspectives as possible. Bloom finds himself at the head of a baseball operations department at the tender age of 36, and he notes there’s a lot for him to learn, both about the Red Sox organization and the sport as a whole.
“Whether we like to admit it or not, there’s a lot about this game that we don’t know, and I think there always will be,” Bloom said. “Our job is just to continue making forward progress and learning as much as we can and recognizing there’s a lot of things we don’t know and attacking our jobs with the appropriate humility that comes from that. It might be a little unsettling, but I don’t think it’s that different from a lot of the challenges we face on a daily basis.”