By Chad Jennings, Tyler Kepner and Tim Britton
The Boston Red Sox hired Chaim Bloom at a moment of organizational transition. They were only a year removed from a World Series championship, yet their roster and payroll felt unsustainable. Their minor league system was thin in the upper levels, and there were questions of how long their core could stay together. Bloom was hired away from the Tampa Bay Rays to help them turn the page.
But four years later, he’d not quite gotten them to the next chapter, and on Thursday, Bloom was fired amid what might be this third last-place finish in four seasons.
Red Sox have announced they’ve fired Chaim Bloom
— Jen McCaffrey (@jcmccaffrey) September 14, 2023
Starting with the trade of Mookie Betts and continuing through the loss of Xander Bogaerts, the extension of Rafael Devers and the arrival of Triston Casas, Bloom has overseen a massive shift within the Red Sox organization. The roster is radically different and the organization meaningfully changed since Bloom took charge, but the Red Sox have yet to fully define what’s next. With money to spend and an emerging big league core in place, this offseason feels like an opportunity for the Red Sox to truly chase a championship again, but Bloom will not have the final say over his long-term vision.
The next head of baseball operations will be the Red Sox’s third in the past decade as the organizational transition continues.
So, what does Red Sox ownership want?
To some extent, they want what every owner wants: a winning team, a loyal fanbase, a bustling ballpark, a reasonable payroll, and a fruitful farm system. They want to have it all, and Boston is among a handful of markets that can — and has, at times been able to — pull it off.
Which direction ownership goes in pursuit of having it all is hard to say. After the lengthy tenure of Theo Epstein — whom Red Sox president Sam Kennedy has already ruled out as a potential replacement — the Red Sox have drifted from a executive with a player development background (Ben Cherington) to a big-spending, all-in, old-school veteran (Dave Dombrowski) to an analytically minded up-and-comer (Bloom).
How exactly they plan to approach the next step really starts with a far more straightforward question. — Jennings
How much does ownership want to spend these days?
So part of the confusion about ownership here stems from its shift in spending over Bloom’s tenure. For nearly two consecutive decades, the Red Sox ranked at or near the very top in the sport in Opening Day payroll; they led the league in spending in the two years preceding Bloom’s hire. Certainly, firing Dombrowski and hiring Bloom was a signal that ownership didn’t want to spend quite that much anymore. Nevertheless, the payroll has fallen more than most expected even then.
This year, Boston’s Opening Day payroll ranked 12th in the majors, its lowest ranking since 1997. The Red Sox no longer press their financial advantage to the same extent that they had under Epstein and Cherington, let alone Dombrowski. This year’s Opening Day payroll was just 13 percent above the league average; not that long ago they were spending 70-plus percent more than the average.
While that all tells one story about reining in the financial investment, this ownership has proven capricious in the past. Henry spoke often of being responsible in free agency, and in particular avoiding long-term deals for starting pitchers around the time Jon Lester was traded. A year later he hired Dombrowski, whose first move was a seven-year deal for David Price. Henry went on the record in 2014 saying the luxury tax “may not be as important as we thought.” By 2020, the team fired Dombrowski and traded Betts and Price largely to avoid the tax.
Which is all to say, while ownership’s recent behavior points in one direction, Henry and Co. have zagged before and made wholesale philosophical changes in their baseball ops department. Maybe they’re reminded of where they were in 2015, when they brought in Dombrowski to capitalize on a strong internal core by being aggressive in free agency and in the trade market. — Britton
Is the existing core good enough to attract top candidates for the job?
In short, yes. Maybe even emphatically, yes. Red Sox ownership is a bit of a wild card considering their tendency to cycle through executives, but the four years under Bloom laid the foundation for a good team going forward. The franchise cornerstone Devers is signed to a long-term extension, luxury tax penalties were reset this season, and Chris Sale’s contractual albatross expires next year. The Red Sox should be primed to spend with a good core of young talent to build upon. Casas and Brayan Bello are at the heart of it, but Masataka Yoshida was also plenty productive in his first big league season, Jarren Duran, Colton Wong and Josh Winkowski took steps forward, and Ceddanne Rafaela is making a case for a big league job. A healthy Trevor Story should be an immediate upgrade on the disappointing production at shortstop.
As for the long-term future, the Red Sox farm system is still light on pitching — a familiar state for this organization — but the team has found and graduated some cheap useful arms (Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck, John Schreiber, Brennan Bernardino) and there is legitimate position talent in the upper levels (Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, Kyle Teel and Nick Yorke are all in Double A). FanGraphs and Baseball America each rank the Red Sox among the top five farm systems in baseball, though MLB Pipeline is less optimistic and has them middle-of-the-pack. — Jennings
If Bloom was so great, why is he gone?
Because cutting costs and laying groundwork isn’t enough in Boston. Ultimately, Bloom had the job for four seasons and made the playoffs once. This season could be his third time in last place. The two guys who had the job before him, Cherington and Dombrowski, ran Red Sox baseball operations for a similar amount of time — between four and five years — and were each let go within two years of winning a World Series.
“Last place is NOT our standard,” one longtime employee said in a text message, “and end of (the) day numbers don’t lie.”
The Red Sox do have a solid foundation to build upon, but it’s reasonable to question Bloom’s track record of big league additions and the minimal impact of his many trades. He’s also spent money in unusual and unsuccessful ways (notably taking on Adam Ottavino and Jackie Bradley Jr. salary dumps to add prospects). He’s drawn hard lines that have caused him to miss out on free agents and his meticulous nature fostered a reputation as a difficult trade partner. Some in the organization have questioned his feel for clubhouse and roster considerations that go beyond objective analytics.
Mostly, though, he simply hasn’t won. Red Sox ownership in the past stated confidence in Bloom’s methods and abilities, but in the end, clearly felt the results were lacking. — Jennings
Which names could be in the mix as Bloom’s replacement?
Several former general managers have moved on in recent years from teams they helped lead to pennants, including James Click, Jon Daniels, Jeff Luhnow, Dayton Moore, Brian Sabean and Ken Williams. (Forget Epstein; the Red Sox president Kennedy has already ruled him out.) Those are certainly names to keep in mind, especially because ownership went that route when hiring Dombrowski in 2015.
Usually, though, teams seek candidates who are currently working in leadership roles for winning teams. An added element in Boston is the ability to function in that market, where the Red Sox are embedded in the culture – everyone cares, everyone has an opinion, and everyone’s eager to share it. Considering those factors, these five names stand out:
Amiel Sawdaye, Arizona Diamondbacks senior vice president and assistant general manager
If this were a poorly written movie, Sawdaye would walk into the interview, place his three Red Sox World Series rings on the table and ask, “Any questions?” He spent 15 years in the Boston front office, from 2002-16, the last seven as vice president of amateur and international scouting. That era coincided with the acquisitions of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and several other core, homegrown players who helped the Sox win the 2018 World Series. By then, Sawdaye had moved on to Arizona, where he’s worked with Mike Hazen and helped build another solid foundation of young talent that has the Diamondbacks contending for a playoff spot and well-positioned for the future.
Josh Byrnes, Los Angeles Dodgers senior vice president, baseball operations
Like Sawdaye, Byrnes has institutional knowledge of the good ol’ days at Fenway – he was assistant general manager for the Red Sox from 2003-2005. Byrnes also has experience in the top chair, having served as GM of the Diamondbacks (2005-10) and San Diego Padres (2011-14). That’s a while ago now, but as a top official with the Dodgers, he’s been part of a front office that’s sharp and innovative but not afraid to spend big – exactly what the Red Sox should aspire to be.
Brandon Gomes, Dodgers executive vice president and general manager
Gomes, 39, was promoted to GM in January 2022 after serving four years as player development director, an area at which the Dodgers have excelled. Gomes, a reliever for the Rays from 2011-2015, was born and raised in Fall River, Mass., which obviously couldn’t hurt – in Dan Duquette, Epstein and Cherington, the Red Sox once had a strong history of looking local for this role.
Sam Fuld, Philadelphia Phillies general manager
The basics get your attention – Fuld is a native of Durham, N.H., educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and Stanford University and owner of an eight-year major league career, mostly with the analytically-minded Rays and A’s. He’s worked for the N.L. champion Phillies since 2017, first helping integrate analytics into a front office that had fallen behind in that area, and now serving directly under Dombrowski, the GM of the last Red Sox championship team.
Alex Cora, Red Sox manager
Cora, of course, has won championship rings as a player, coach and manager, and he’s believed to have interest in a front-office career at some point. He’s obviously well-regarded by ownership, which brought him back after his 2020 suspension for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. With Cora’s strong interpersonal skills and deep knowledge of the organization, he may be best positioned for the unique challenge of dealing with the finicky Fenway Sports Group, which would seem likely to implicitly trust him. — Kepner
(Top photo of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers, a member of the team’s core: Elsa / Getty Images)