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The Red Sox have fired Chaim Bloom, because owner John Henry hates nothing more than someone doing exactly what he wanted them to and it not being very popular with fans and media. Not to say that Bloom did a magnificent job with the Red Sox by any means, because he sure did not, but he did about what you’d expect him to be able to do with the resources given to him. Which is to say, not many: the Red Sox might still be spending a lot compared to some clubs, but with three of four seasons under the luxury tax threshold, they aren’t spending like the Red Sox can. And the team Bloom inherited was one designed to be spent on a lot more heavily than his own clubs were allowed to, so you can imagine how “don’t spend” impacted any plans to field the kind of team that was supposed to be at the end of this particular rainbow.
The farm system needed reloading, he wasn’t allowed to spend like his predecessor Dave Dombrowski, and oh, he kicked things off with a Mookie Betts-sized hole in the lineup, since he sent him packing to Los Angeles along with David Price in a salary dump. None of this is sympathy for Bloom, who knew he took on the role of hatchet man for Boston, and spent years defending his decision. It’s more to point out that Henry’s issue with Bloom isn’t so much with the big ticket decisions Bloom made — even failure to retain Xander Bogaerts and be put into the position to have to extend Rafael Devers is something that arose from ownership’s restrictions on Boston’s spending. It’s just that Bloom didn’t manage to do more with less, which is what Henry was hoping for. To cut corners, to take shortcuts, to still have the Red Sox be competitive often enough that he could go, “See, we didn’t need Mookie Betts to be a Red Sox for life.” The Red Sox need Betts a lot more than Betts needs the Red Sox, which becomes pretty clear when you see how those two paths have diverged since his trade.
Boston finished in fifth in the AL East in 2020. They finished in second in 2021, winning 92 games and losing in the ALCS in six games, but then finished in last once more in 2022 and are currently in fourth place in 2023. They’re one game over .500, and might even be in fifth again if the Yankees weren’t dealing with their own mismanagement issues. Betts, meanwhile, powered the Dodgers to a World Series championship in 2020 while winning a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and finishing second in the NL MVP race. His 2021 season was a down one due to some injuries, but he still made the All-Star team, then in 2022 he once again picked up a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger while finishing fifth in MVP voting, and he might win his second MVP this year, at age 30, as he’s batting .312/.412/.607 with a career-high 39 homers, while leading the NL in OPS and OPS+.
If you aren’t a team that’s going to put in the resources to retain someone like Betts, then you’re not going to allow yourself the resources you need to be a serious competitor. You might get lucky, as the Sox were in 2021, with a whole bunch of what was still around from the days when they were more serious about competing with the full power of their resources deployed — that 2021 team lacked Betts, but Bogaerts, Devers, and J.D. Martinez were still there, Hunter Renfroe put up a quality campaign to fill the gap left behind by Andrew Benintendi’s own trade, the bullpen was on point, and the rotation’s worst arms were at least league-average ones. It hasn’t all come together like that since. Meanwhile, the Dodgers had a quieter winter, shed some payroll as they wait for the next big free agents and trade opportunities and prospects, and suffered injuries at the start of the year that made them look vulnerable. Betts stepped up, not just at the plate, but by hopping around the diamond where needed to fill holes: he’s played 57 games at second and 16 at short, in addition to 102 in his usual position of right field. A $25 million utility man who very well could win MVP, and is helping the Dodgers get through what was a bit of a reloading year for them. Must be nice.
There are ways to shed salary, basically, and while the Dodgers chose the calculated risk of stepping back for a moment and hoping the enormous talents still around would be enough to see them through, Boston has scaled back far more, and in more meaningful ways, as well. Hiring Bloom signaled that Betts’ days were numbered — that’s not hindsight, it was put into words here and elsewhere by me before a trade happened. When he went through with a deal, and it was more to remove salary from the roster than to bring talent in, it became clear what Henry’s priorities were. And they certainly weren’t a commitment to winning, so much as lip service to it.
Bloom isn’t the first front office leader for Henry to dismiss for doing exactly what he wanted. Ben Cherington completely reshaped the roster in one brilliant swoop in August of 2012, held on to prospects to rebuild the farm and complement the high-priced free agent acquisitions on the roster, and it ended up being huge for them in 2013 and even after Cherington’s tenure, which ended because Henry wanted to bring on Dave Dombrowski to start dealing prospects and get them the rest of the way there again. Dombrowski spent big on acquisition costs in both dollars and prospects, and the Red Sox were extremely competitive for much of his tenure, including with a World Series championship in 2018. He was dismissed in no small part because he didn’t want to trade Betts in a salary dump. Bloom did. But now that’s over with, the hatchet job at its end. Henry can fire Bloom, leak whatever he wants to the press to make it seem as if Bloom’s decision-making process was the only issue, give a new hire a fresh start where whatever goes wrong with the Sox can be blamed on his predecessors, and take all the credit if things go right, just like the contributions of Cherington (and Theo Epstein before him) were often forgotten in the rush to congratulate success in the present.
Bloom did develop a stronger farm system — Dombrowksi had mostly depleted the stores, as he was instructed to do in order to win, and it was fine because the big league core was full of young, productive players, anyway. Betts, again, is just 30 years old now, and is in his fourth season with the Dodgers. Bogaerts just reached free agency for the first time last winter. Devers was signed to an extension before he could. The rest of what Bloom was asked to do, in conjunction with trading Betts, was a mostly impossible task. So of course he failed at it! Maybe Bloom is going to have a strong career as an executive post-Boston. Or maybe doing the things no one else wants to be blamed for will be his thing going forward, and he’ll just need a more patient owner who isn’t intent on firing every non-Epstein executive within four years of their taking the gig to show that he can be more than that. I certainly don’t feel bad for Bloom, whose willingness to blow things up just to get a job shouldn’t be praised. But he wasn’t the problem in Boston, so much as the one who hired him for a very specific purpose. And yet, who’s left in the office today?
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