Nobody expected the job to be easy, but new Boston Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom certainly didn’t expect this.
As the Red Sox close out their first series of the season against the rival New York Yankees on Sunday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), Bloom has just closed out his ninth month running the ship in Boston since the team lured him away from the Tampa Bay Rays.
In that time, Bloom has dealt with sign-stealing investigations, the departure of a popular player and manager, and now a once-in-a-generation pandemic. While the rumors had been swirling around trading superstar outfielder Mookie Betts for months, it was no less controversial — or chaotic — when, less than three weeks after skipper Alex Cora’s dismissal for his role in the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal, Bloom shipped Betts and left-hander David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The results of Major League Baseball’s investigation into Boston’s own sign-stealing scheme and, much later, Betts signing a long-term deal with the Dodgers and the beginning of a pandemic-induced 60-game schedule, put the cap on one of the most tumultuous offseasons in franchise — and baseball — history.
Nine months. That’s how long Bloom has been in charge since he was hired on Oct. 28, 2019.
“I don’t think anybody could have possibly imagined a lot of what has gone on over the last eight, nine months,” Bloom told ESPN. “I mean, I think a lot of the stuff that we went through as an organization, even prior to the pandemic shutting down our sport, would have seemed like a pretty remote possibility.”
With new manager Ron Roenicke holding the clubhouse and Boston fans still recovering from the loss of a generational player, the bar for success moving forward is extremely high — as it always is.
It might feel like even longer, but here’s a taste of how Bloom’s first 280 days have gone.
Jan. 14: Parts ways with manager Alex Cora
Cora — who managed the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2018 — was supposed to be a fixture for years to come. During his two-year tenure, Cora had become one of the organization’s most influential voices, skillfully guiding the communication between the front office and clubhouse and managing egos with the touch of a grizzled veteran.
But in the wake of MLB’s sign-stealing investigation, which implicated Cora — then Houston’s bench coach — in the Astros’ 2017 affair, and with the league’s report on the 2018 Red Sox and its punishment of Cora for his role in both dugouts still pending, Bloom and Boston took the preemptive step of parting ways with their skipper.
Without Cora, Bloom began an unforeseen managerial hunt deep into the offseason, and less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting for what would turn out to be baseball’s aborted attempt at spring training.
“It was shocking and really sad because I had so much respect for Alex and I still do, and I know how much people here love him and just highly and rightly that they think of him,” Bloom said. “It was obviously a huge shock to know that we are in a different world and we are going to be moving forward with that one, and it does change a lot of things. At the same time, no one person is all of an organization.”
Feb. 4: Trades Mookie Betts and David Price — for the first time
Nothing ingratiates a new front-office boss with fans quite like trading the team’s most beloved superstar.
With Betts rumored to be on the block heading into his walk year, Bloom started getting calls early in the offseason, but the ones he seriously considered didn’t start coming in until the weeks leading into spring training. The San Diego Padres showed significant interest, but the Dodgers ultimately put together the winning package, sending outfielder Alex Verdugo and taking on half of Price’s remaining $96 million salary. The twist? The addition of the Minnesota Twins into the deal: Minnesota — at least initially — got Kenta Maeda from L.A., with Brusdar Graterol headed to Boston. The move — which at that point wasn’t yet official — marked Bloom’s first major trade and sparked outrage among Red Sox fans.
For Bloom, though, the popularity of the deal wasn’t paramount. “It wasn’t our No. 1 priority as a baseball ops department to be focused on what was going on externally,” Bloom said at the time. “We were worried about what we were working on, but it was very clear to us that this move would come with a lot of fan backlash. I think we had to prioritize what we thought was right in the big picture for the Red Sox over the fan reaction.”
So why trade the franchise’s best player in his prime? It was a question debated all winter. In effect, the Red Sox found themselves with a lot of money tied up to players not named Mookie Betts — who said he was determined to test free agency in the winter — and a goal, if not a mandate, from ownership to get under the luxury tax threshold and avoid the odious penalties that come with being a repeat offender.
Feb. 6: Puts a hold on the Betts/Price trade, and the Twins bow out
But wait! The Red Sox didn’t like what they saw in Graterol’s medical report and the Betts trade hit a snag. The Twins, for their part, decided to exit the three-way deal and instead acquire Maeda by sending Graterol directly to the Dodgers, forcing Bloom to construct a new deal with Los Angeles.
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The delay only further inflamed Red Sox fans. As details emerged, some speculated on Twitter that the Red Sox were holding up the deal following the massively negative reaction to the trade, but Bloom denied this. “We did hear that report and that’s absolutely untrue,” Bloom said when the deal was ultimately completed. “Unfortunately, when these things are going on and especially during the process, that’s not something we’re able to address. But that is not true.”
On Twitter, some fans pleaded with the front office to take a mulligan and keep Betts. According to multiple sources, several other teams called Boston when it appeared the trade might collapse, asking what it would take to acquire Betts. But Bloom and the Boston front office plowed ahead in their talks with the Dodgers.
Feb. 10: Trades Mookie and Price — again
Red Sox fans still hoping Boston’s best homegrown player since Ted Williams would man right field at Fenway Park in 2020 were dealt a final blow when Bloom completed the trade, sending Betts and Price to Los Angeles. Boston got Verdugo, with infield prospect Jeter Downs and catching prospect Connor Wong added to the mix.
All these months later, Bloom reflected on the deal and the rationale behind it.
“There wasn’t one defined path with him or with anybody that we needed to take,” Bloom said. “We looked at the situation, I think any team, no matter your market size, no matter your resources, if you don’t have a broad and deep talent base that is sustainable that you can replenish over time, regardless of your resources, it’s very difficult to compete year in and year out. You may peak, but then you have a wide valley. The young talent we got back combined with financial flexibility that we got in that trade, we just thought, again, looking at our larger goal of trying to win as much as we can over the five, 10 years, that it sets us up better to do that than if we hadn’t made the trade.
“Sometimes those decisions come in sharper relief as you have a superstar player approaching free agency, where in order to keep him, you will have to make a very significant commitment. And you’re comparing possibilities against being able to bring in a whole lot of young talent that can help drive you towards your goals.”
Feb. 11: Hires Ron Roenicke as interim manager
With three heroes from Boston’s most recent title team gone, Bloom completed his managerial search.
Even with MLB’s ongoing investigation into the team for sign stealing, Bloom & Co. named Roenicke as interim manager, just a day before pitchers and catchers reported to Fort Myers, Florida. After interviewing four candidates, including Oakland A’s quality-control coach Mark Kotsay, Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach Luis Urueta and Red Sox third base coach Carlos Febles, Bloom landed on Roenicke — who had served as Cora’s bench coach.
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“I said at the beginning of this process, I think it’s really important to evaluate people for who they are in total, the whole person, and everybody who does this type of job, you bring your whole self to the job so you really look at everything and how it all adds up, putting players in a position to succeed,” Bloom said in February. “There’s no question that Ron, having been a part of the success here, being as perceptive as he is and combining with the time he spent around this group, it equips him much better to be the guy around.”
The Red Sox would eventually remove the interim tag from Roenicke’s job title. At the time, though, Bloom declined to address the future of the tag, choosing to “address permanency” following the completion of the sign-stealing investigation.
This helped fuel fan speculation that Cora would return to Boston following the completion of his impending suspension, which Bloom publicly addressed during a weekly radio appearance on WEEI.
“That’s not a consideration,” Bloom said. “The decision we made with Alex was a result of the 2017 report. Obviously everything there is still there. I don’t see how anything that’s going on with us would change that.”
March 12: Start of MLB season is postponed due to the coronavirus
Announcing the biggest disruption to its schedule in 25 years, MLB suspended spring training and delayed Opening Day by “at least two weeks” in response to the growing threat of the coronavirus pandemic that has upended daily life around the world.
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“This probably won’t be shocking, but the pandemic has been the most disruptive of everything that’s happened,” Bloom said. “That’s not to minimize the impact of anything else that’s happened, just because it’s changed everything.”
At a time when Bloom hoped to be spending more time in person with his new colleagues, the pandemic forced him to work virtually with the rest of the team.
“Trying to get to know the people and get to know how we do things and with an eye towards contributing and helping when all those things are on pause, it’s harder to do that,” Bloom said. “You have to get more creative in trying to find ways to accomplish that. There’s some things you just aren’t going to be able to see or do, and that’s frustrating, but it’s obviously a very small problem in the grand scheme of things. We have much, much bigger problems to worry about with an event as disruptive as this pandemic.”
March 30: Chris Sale undergoes Tommy John surgery
Atop the list of things Boston needed to go right for 2020 to be a bounce-back season was for ace Chris Sale to be healthy. Within a month of spring training, those hopes evaporated when the left-hander opted for Tommy John surgery.
Sale’s disappointing 2019 campaign of a 4.40 ERA in 25 starts ended abruptly last August when the pitcher hit the injured list with elbow inflammation. After meeting with Dr. James Andrews, the Red Sox starter decided to receive a platelet-rich plasma injection instead of going under the knife. But the results of Sale’s early spring training MRI showed he had a flexor strain in his pitching elbow, and, with the 31-year-old set to enter the first year of a five-year, $145 million contract extension doled out by former head honcho Dave Dombrowski, he was ultimately lost for the year.
“When we found out that he had the setback in March, that was a very hard day,” Bloom said. “It’s not the first time in my career that I’ve experienced that where you get a call that one of your key pitchers has an arm injury, but Chris is elite, period, and a talent like that you can certainly try to backfill, but you can’t replace. To lose him for any period of time is obviously something that you can’t sugarcoat or talk about like it’s a good thing at all.”
April 22: MLB completes its sign-stealing investigation of the Red Sox
After months of anticipation, MLB finally released its findings from its sign-stealing investigation of the 2018 Red Sox. The Red Sox were stripped of a 2020 second-round draft pick, while video replay operator J.T. Watkins was suspended without pay through the 2020 season. MLB officially banned Cora through the 2020 season, although the punishment stemmed from his activities while with the Astros, not with the Red Sox.
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“As an organization, we strive for 100% compliance with the rules,” the team said in a statement. “MLB’s investigation concluded that in isolated instances during the 2018 regular season, sign sequences were decoded through the use of live game video rather than through permissible means. MLB acknowledged the front office’s extensive efforts to communicate and enforce the rules and concluded that Alex Cora, the coaching staff, and most of the players did not engage in, nor were they aware of, any violations. Regardless, these rule violations are unacceptable. We apologize to our fans and Major League Baseball, and accept the Commissioner’s ruling.”
With the investigation complete, Bloom officially removed the interim tag from Roenicke’s manager title.
June 10: Bloom’s first draft with the Red Sox
The Red Sox selected high school infielder Nick Yorke with their first-round pick and slugger and social media star Blaze Jordan with their third-round selection.
Given Bloom’s reputation as a builder of farm systems, the 2020 draft represented one of his first major opportunities to construct the organization in his vision, even in a significantly shortened draft process, cut from 40 rounds to just five.
“It’s something every team had to deal with, it was shortened for everybody. So we were on roughly equal footing with that. Maybe it was a bigger impact to us because of not having one of the five picks that we would have had, but it changed the ground rules,” Bloom said. “It was pretty impressive to watch this group come together and try to figure out how to do that, whether it was during the draft or whether it was in the undrafted free-agent signing period that followed. I think it’s one of the benefits of having a group, as our scouting staff does, that has a lot of trust internally and trust with each other.”
July 22: Betts signs a 12-year extension with the Dodgers
The Dodgers did what Boston fans wanted the Red Sox to do by signing Betts to a mega-extension, even in the midst of a pandemic that will likely reshape the financial future of the game, giving the 27-year-old outfielder a 12-year contract through the 2032 season worth $365 million with a $65 million signing bonus — the richest contract in Dodgers history.
Bloom said he congratulated Betts on his new contract following the announcement.
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“I didn’t get to know him obviously that well in my time in the organization, but certainly know how great a player he is,” Bloom said. “And even in just the short time I got to know him, I got to see why everybody thinks so highly of him. He is a wonderful person, great teammate, great player and I’m very, very happy for him.”
When asked if he is philosophically opposed to mega-contracts like those given to Betts, Bloom deflected.
“I do think this is a tough question to answer in the abstract,” Bloom said. “Every move you consider you need to consider the merits of that particular move and you need to make sure you have a good process for looking at that and assessing how it fits into where you are as an organization and your larger goals. I think it’s a difficult thing to talk about in the abstract because of that.”
Bloom said he understands the lingering anger among Red Sox fans.
“It’s very painful when you’re attached to a player, especially a great player, to see him in another uniform,” Bloom said. “I know that’s not something that really my words or anybody’s words are going to make less painful. As I said, I think our job as a front office is to set ourselves up to win as much as we can over the long haul and 2020. That’s a picture that’s much bigger than any one player, any one decision.”
July 23: MLB’s Opening Day and beyond
Given the condensed nature of the season, Bloom acknowledged the absurdity and the idiosyncrasies of what the 2020 season will bring.
“There’s a lot of variance around what teams can achieve, regardless of their true talent level, so all the more so over 60 games,” Bloom said.
But, as the games postponed around the league during the past week due to positive coronavirus tests shows, a lot more is at stake. On Saturday, the Red Sox lost lefty Eduardo Rodriguez for the season because of a heart issue the team believes is a result of Rodriguez’s recent bout with COVID-19. Ultimately, 2020 goes far beyond the challenges of running one of baseball’s signature franchises — or battling the Yankees in the Bronx.
“This is an extremely disruptive event that is a lot bigger than us, people’s lives have been destroyed,” Bloom said. “So many people’s livelihoods have been destroyed and we get to do what we love. Yeah, it’s going to be different, but we’ve just got to embrace that difference, consider ourselves incredibly lucky that we get to put on the show, try to do the best we can and make sure we find ways to enjoy it.”