Chaim Bloom Aims for Collaboration and Sustainable Competitiveness in Boston

In an interview that ran here last week, Red Sox Senior Vice President/Assistant General Manager Zack Scott suggested that Dave Dombrowski’s successor will be heavily invested in analytics. That turned out to be an understatement. On Monday, Chaim Bloom — an integral cog in Tampa Bay’s cutting-edge front office since 2005 — was formally introduced as Boston’s Chief Baseball Officer.

If you paid heed to the press conference, you’re aware that “collaborative” was the buzzword of the day. Bloom, principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and president/CEO Sam Kennedy used the term (and variants thereof) as frequently and purposefully as “Trick or Treat” is heard on Halloween.

Dombrowski didn’t depart Fenway Park in a gorilla costume, as Theo Epstein famously did in 2005, but the reason he’s being replaced isn’t cloaked in mystery. However much the ownership group cares to dance around it, Dombrowski didn’t fully embrace the collaborative process that was deemed necessary to move the team forward, certainly not to the extent they expect Bloom to do so.

Couching his comments with, “I wouldn’t contrast the two,” Henry said from the dais that ownership was “extremely desirous of bringing in someone who would augment and add, as opposed to bringing in someone who might have been an autocrat.”

By all accounts, Bloom should work well with an already-strong analytics department. Making the dynamic especially interesting is the fact that the Rays are known for taking creativity to a whole new level. How does Boston’s number-crunching acumen compare to that of Tampa Bay’s somewhat-larger group? The 36-year-old Yale graduate is anxious to find out.

“You never really know what other organizations are doing behind closed doors,” Bloom said. “But what I’m expecting, as I get my feet on the ground here, is to be impressed. Knowing Zack, and the people he has in the department, the quality of their work is going to be really, really high. They’re probably going to have done some things differently from how we did them with the Rays, and I can learn from that. At the same time, hopefully I can bring some of the things we may have thought about in different way to the table.”

In all likelihood, the two teams’ respective projection models and assessments of individual players aren’t going to match up perfectly. That could come into play in the weeks and months ahead, as Bloom’s new organization has several roster decisions — important ones among them — to address. What if Boston’s analytics department sees Player X as a surefire star, while Tampa Bay’s analytics department has viewed him with a heavy dose of skepticism, or vice versa? How will Bloom and his new colleagues go about determining which assessment is accurate?

“Chances are, no one will have been ‘right,’ per se,” said General Manager Brian O’Halloran, who was promoted from assistant GM upon Bloom’s hiring. “We don’t really view the world that way. I’d say it’s similar to blending scouting and analytical information on a player. Disagreements are, in some ways, the most interesting challenges you can have. Whether it’s one predictive model versus another, or a scout’s opinion versus another scout’s opinion, versus what the analysts think — those are opportunities to get under the hood and see what’s driving those disagreements. It’s an opportunity to ultimately come to a conclusion on a given player, or a transaction.”

Save for those who are living under rocks, Red Sox fans are currently captivated — “terrified” might be a better word — by the idea that Mookie Betts could be traded. It’s a distinct possibility. The charismatic superstar is a year away from free agency, and Henry-and-company have expressed a strong desire to get below the luxury tax threshold. Given the current payroll, and the possibility that Betts may not actually desire to play in Boston long-term, a difficult decision looms.

Questions about Betts’ status were nearly as frequent as utterances of the word “collaborative” during Monday’s presser. And while the inquiries were generally deflected by all on the dais, Bloom did say that the team’s top priority is “sustainability and competitiveness over the long term.” Read of that what you will.

Dombrowski was largely lionized for signing J.D. Martinez and David Price, and dealing for Chris Sale. Conversely, Bloom will be demonized if he trades away a fan-favorite like Betts. Whether that happens or not, it won’t be his decision alone.

“Chaim will be the leader of our baseball operations department, so he’ll be the decision-maker to the extent that they’re decisions the baseball ops department is empowered to make on their own,” explained Kennedy. “Decisions involving major free agent dollars, or major trades — potential franchise-altering decisions — are always brought to the ownership level for discussions. They always have been. John and Tom are very hands-on. For instance, when we made the deals for Chris Sale, JD Martinez, and David Price, ownership was heavily involved with the dialogue.”

I asked the CEO if that input extended beyond financial parameters.

“John and Tom have both been in the game for 30-40 years,” responded Kennedy. “So there’s a conversation around all elements of a deal — baseball, financial, what it means for the franchise, the fan base, the organization. I think there’s a misperception that John and Tom aren’t involved with decisions. They empower people — Chaim will be empowered to lead the baseball operations department and make the baseball decisions, just as I’m empowered to lead the organization as the CEO — but we’re in constant contact. Ultimately, we work for the owners.”

Alex Cora does as well, and he’ll continue to be part of the decision-making process. He wasn’t during his one year as Houston’s bench coach, but he has been in his two years as Boston’s manager. Much as he did with Dombrowski, Cora is looking forward to bouncing ideas around with Bloom.

“With Chaim, I think it will be kind of the same as it’s been the last few years,” Cora told me. “We’ll be comparing thoughts and ideas — and we’ll not only be thinking about the now, but also the future. So, the delivery, and the perception of the people involved might be different, but I don’t think the [process] itself is going to change much.”

Henry has said that he and Dombrowski disagreed on the team’s direction. Bloom wasn’t brought on to be a puppet, but at the same time, his pulling of the strings can’t be at cross-purposes with ownership’s desires. Moreover, he’ll need to be on the same page as O’Halloran, Scott, assistant GMs Raquel Feirrera and Eddie Romero Jr., and the other key cogs in the Boston front office. Given the intricacies of the relationships and knowledge-bases alike, Bloom faces a steep learning curve as he acclimates to his new job.

Thus far, the interactions have been few, and limited in scope. Bloom did get together with several of his new colleagues the night before he was introduced, but as Romero put it, the group was “mostly just shooting the bull, having a few drinks, and kind of outlining what the next two or three weeks will look like. We haven’t had a chance to get into anything too deep.”

Scott echoed Romero, with a notable caveat. As informal as most of the evening was, the subject of analytics did come up.

“Chaim was curious about some of the things we’re doing, and what he was asking about made me feel even more confident that we’re in a good spot,” said Scott. “It gave me some insight into what he experienced in Tampa. And while we didn’t get into too many specifics, I could see that he’ll have his ideas, and different questions that could have us thinking in different ways. I’m looking forward to our [further conversations] and seeing what we can do together.”

When I spoke to him on Monday, Scott had already asked the members of his analytics team to put together a packet — “basically, here is the work we deliver” — for Bloom to use as a starting point. By the time you’re reading this, Boston’s new Chief Baseball Officer will have met the entire baseball operations staff, and begun the ground work for a multitude of roster decisions.

The Mookie Betts conundrum is far from the only one. Martinez may or may not opt out of his contract in the coming days. Rick Porcello, Brock Holt, Mitch Moreland, Andrew Cashner, Jhoulys Chacín, and Steve Pearce are all hitting free agency. Jackie Bradley Jr. remains under contract, but is widely rumored to be trade bait. There are Rule 5-eligible players to make decisions on.

Scott and his analytics team will have already assigned values to all of the above. Their future performance levels, relative to their expected salaries, have already been projected. But again, what if Bloom, based in part on his old organization’s internal assessments, views some of these players differently? O’Halloran called disagreements “the most interesting challenges,” and Boston’s front office will inevitably face at least a few of them as they work to shape the team’s future.

Which brings us back to the aforementioned buzzword. “Collaborative” may not be Bloom’s mantra, but it could accurately be described as his decision-making M.O.

“It’s going to be a process of trying to get the best answer, based on everything we know,” Bloom explained. “It’s going to be about asking really good questions, and challenging everybody’s viewpoints. If we do that well — and I expect that we will do that well — hopefully as a group we can get to the best answers for the Boston Red Sox.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Sandy Kazmir
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Sandy Kazmir

Somebody should tell this Romero dumbass that the Rays don’t play in Tampa. How smart can this guy be if he doesn’t even know that? I hope Chaim likes handcuffs, because it sounds like they only brought him in to deprive his former team of his services. This whole new world is going to be quite restrictive after being allowed to consume as much oxygen as he wanted. It doesn’t sound like they’re off to a great start.

drewsylvania
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drewsylvania

If Fangraphs wants its chat area to remain intelligent, it must do something about posts like this.

Brad Lipton
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Brad Lipton

Sandy Kazmir’s insight about recruiting Bloom away from an in-division competitor as, perhaps, a more important driver than initially assumed is relevant. And the appearance of additional constraints in Boston, relative to Tampa, is a valid point that one may infer from the article.

I suspect much of the downvotes for those comments stem from the Romero observation, which was silly and detracted from the other points being made.

kevinthecomic
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kevinthecomic

Censorship is not the answer; mockery and derision are!