Chaim Bloom’s Time as Boston’s Fall Guy Has Ended

Chaim Bloom
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine trading Mookie Betts. Chaim Bloom must have done that, must have considered all of the angles and potential outcomes of such a move, including the possibility that he would be saddled with it as his legacy — then sold principal owner John Henry on a vision of the Red Sox without the superstar right fielder in order to be hired as the team’s chief baseball officer in October 2019. That trade has not worked out well for the Red Sox, who have made the playoffs just once since winning the 2018 World Series, behaving more like a mid-market franchise than the league’s third-most valuable one. And while Bloom had put something of a stamp on the post-Betts roster, the rest of his vision will not be realized. On Thursday, the Red Sox fired him, kicking off a search for new leadership of their baseball operations department for the fourth time since Theo Epstein departed for the Cubs in October 2011.

Unlike predecessors Ben Cherington (2011–15) and Dave Dombrowski (2015–19), Bloom didn’t win a championship during his run to offset the team’s disappointing seasons. On his watch, the Red Sox went just 267–262 from the start of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season to the point of his dismissal, becoming more notable for their belt-tightening than for their on-field success. They made the playoffs only in 2021, when they went 92–70, finishing second in the AL East, then beating the Yankees in the Wild Card Game and the Rays in the Division Series before losing to the Astros in the ALCS. They finished last in the division in both 2020 (24–36) and ’22 (78–84) and fired Bloom while tied for fourth with the Yankees at 73–72, with just a 0.3% chance of making the playoffs.

If the Bloom era needed to end with a whimper, Tuesday’s doubleheader sweep by the Yankees at Fenway Park will suffice. With the Red Sox trailing by a run in the opener and down to their final two outs, they drew three straight walks to load the bases against Yankees closer Clay Holmes. Up came Alex Verdugo, the centerpiece of the return from the Dodgers in the Betts deal. Holmes served up a 97-mph sinker in the middle of the zone on the first pitch, and Verdugo… hit a routine grounder to second for a game-ending double play. The 27-year-old outfielder didn’t play in the nightcap, because he doesn’t hit lefties very well and has slumped lately. Oy vey.

In a statement, Henry thanked Bloom for his efforts, praising “his professionalism, integrity, and an unwavering respect for our club and its legacy.” The team additionally announced that Brian O’Halloran, who has worked for the Red Sox since 2002 and served as the general manager under Bloom since October ’19, would no longer fill that role but “has been offered a new senior leadership position within the baseball operations department.” He has yet to accept the new title, but in the interim, he’ll direct the team’s day-to-day operations above assistant general managers Eddie Romero, Raquel Ferreira, and Michael Groopman.

During an afternoon press conference, CEO Sam Kennedy ruled out a return from Epstein, who left the Cubs after the 2020 season and currently works for Major League Baseball’s commissioner’s office as a consultant for on-field matters. Names such as former Astros GM James Click (like Bloom, an alumnus of Yale, Baseball Prospectus, and the Rays), Josh Byrnes, Mike Hazen, and Sam Fuld — all of whom have past Red Sox connections — and even manager Alex Cora have surfaced as candidates for either the GM role or the one above it, but all of this is initial industry speculation ahead of an upcoming search that Kennedy characterized as a broad one. Via the New England Sports Network, in response to a question asked by colleague David Laurila:

“It’s very early days to be talking about specifics when it comes to a candidate at the end of the day,” Kennedy said, as seen on NESN. “We need leadership. These are big operations. We need leadership that can help continue to build the organization from the bottom up, can continue to promote and expand processies, procedures, medical, analytics, keeping up with this ever-changing game. Leadership that is focused on winning at the big-league level. It’s something we’ve all been trying to do for the last several years, and that will be the mandate going forward.”

…“I think a lot gets made of individual baseball philosophy and how they think about the game,” Kennedy said. “I would just say we’re committed to bringing the next group of leadership to take us back where we belong.”

As for the outgoing head: Bloom joined the Red Sox as a 36-year-old who was considered one of the brightest up-and-coming executives in the industry. He’d spent 15 seasons with the Rays, working in a variety of capacities since joining the organization as an intern in 2005. He received a thorough education in their front office, first working in player development, and methodically climbed all the way to senior vice president of baseball operations, second in command under president of baseball operations Matthew Silverman. While he had interviewed for the general manager positions of the Phillies, Brewers, Twins, Giants, and Mets, he had never headed a baseball ops department.

Bloom’s experience in helping to build successful teams on shoestring budgets no doubt made him an attractive candidate to Henry and the Fenway Sports Group. The Red Sox carried the game’s highest payrolls in both 2018, when they won 108 games and their fourth World Series in 15 seasons, and ’19, when they sank to 84–78. They had paid the Competitive Balance Tax in four of the previous five seasons (all but 2017) when they parted ways with Dombrowski in September 2019 over what Henry characterized as differing opinions on building for the future.

By that point, the Red Sox had backed themselves into a corner, payroll-wise. In the wake of the championship, Dombrowski allowed closer Craig Kimbrel and setup man Joe Kelly to depart via free agency, then failed to retool the bullpen, which largely scuffled during the 2019 season. At the same time, long-term extensions for Xander Bogaerts and Chris Sale, signed in the spring of 2019, had pushed their payroll past $240 million for CBT purposes, just shy of the third tier of penalties. That figure didn’t even include a full-blown salary for Betts, who after winning MVP honors reportedly rebuffed an offer for a 10-year, $300 million extension during that offseason (he has since denied receiving such an offer).

Less than two weeks after Bloom was hired, slugger J.D. Martinez chose not to opt out of the three years and $62.5 million remaining on his five-year deal. Henry and his Fenway Sports Group partners, already perceived as being more engaged with Liverpool in the English Premier League than with their baseball team, became more concerned about cutting payroll than upgrading the roster. Thus the Red Sox committed less than $20 million to free agents that winter, with Martín Pérez, Mitch Moreland, and Kevin Pillar their “big-ticket” expenditures. Particularly once Betts was set to make $27 million, a record for an arbitration-eligible player, and then test free agency, ownership’s mandate to trade him for something more valuable than a compensation pick was clear, as was Bloom’s casting in the role of the organization’s fall guy.

On February 4, 2020, the Red Sox agreed to a three-team deal involving the Dodgers and Twins, though medical concerns over the health of Brusdar Graterol, who was supposed to move from the Twins to the Red Sox, scuttled that configuration and turned it into a pair of two-team trades pivoting around the Dodgers. The Red Sox sent Betts, David Price, and $48 million (half of Price’s remaining $96 million over three seasons) to Los Angeles in exchange for Verdugo, a former top-50 prospect who had just completed a solid rookie season with the Dodgers, as well as catcher Connor Wong and infielder Jeter Downs, both of whom had finished 2019 in Double-A; the latter placed 47th on our Top 100 Prospects list the following spring.

While Betts signed a $365 million extension with the Dodgers shortly before the 2020 season finally opened, then led the team to its first championship since 1988, Boston’s returns on the deal have been underwhelming. Downs played just 14 games for the Red Sox, all in 2022, but was lost to the Nationals via waivers after the season (he only briefly surfaced this year). Wong has emerged as a solid backstop this year, worth 0.9 WAR in his age-27 season. Verdugo has been inconsistent at best, totaling 7.4 WAR with a 107 wRC+ and playing regularly for four seasons. He played well enough to receive down-ballot MVP votes in 2020, producing 1.9 WAR, but it’s taken three years for him to surpass the 2.1 he posted with the Dodgers in 2019. He’s at 2.4 thus far this season, but has been benched twice, once for a lack of hustle running into a critical out and once for showing up late, apparently not for the first time.

On the one hand, you could argue that the Red Sox did adequately in exchange for one year of control over Betts, whom Bloom could not unilaterally sign to the megadeal he clearly merited. That ignores the possibility of the team finding a middle ground to keep the franchise face and future Hall of Famer by paying him market value as he hit free agency after his age-27 season. Nobody would have faulted the Red Sox for overpaying to keep such a dynamic and charismatic player, even if the back end of the deal wasn’t pretty. Ownership used Bloom as a shield to avoid that outcome.

The burden of trading Betts wasn’t the only thing Bloom inherited upon taking the Red Sox job. Soon after his hiring, Major League Baseball launched an investigation into allegations of illegal electronic sign-stealing by the 2018 team, tainting their championship. Though commissioner Rob Manfred’s investigation did not uncover the same level of sophisticated skullduggery as in the efforts of the Astros, Cora was suspended for the 2020 season; he resigned and was replaced by bench coach Ron Roenicke. Sale, who had already missed the last six weeks of 2019 due to injuries, lost all of ’20 due to Tommy John surgery and hasn’t been the same since, managing just 28 starts and 2.6 WAR in three seasons.

Between Sale’s decline, other injuries, a tightfisted approach to free agency, and unremarkable returns from the nearly-barren farm system Bloom inherited (the team was dead last on The Board in 2019, more on which below), the Red Sox have particularly lagged in the starting pitching department. For the 2020–23 period, their 42.2 WAR is 21st in the majors. Nathan Eovaldi’s 7.6 WAR leads the pack, with 5.7 of it coming in 2021, but he departed via free agency after last season. Nick Pivetta, acquired from the Phillies in August 2020, is second at 5.2, and homegrown Tanner Houck is third with 4.6 WAR; nobody else has reached 4.0, and nobody has reached 2.0 in either of the past two seasons. That’s not going to drive many playoff appearances.

Under Bloom, the Red Sox have fallen in payroll rankings, rarely venturing into the deep end of the free agent pool.

Recent Red Sox Payrolls
Season Actual Rank CBT Rank POBO
2018 $230.4 1 $239.5 1 Dombrowski
2019 $228.4 1 $243.7 1 Dombrowski
2020 $64.3* 13 $184.9 8 Bloom
2021 $187.4 6 $207.6 6 Bloom
2022 $217.1 6 $236.1 6 Bloom
2023 $198.8 11 $223.9 11 Bloom
2023 figures and rankings via Roster Resource, 2018–22 via Cot’s Contracts.
* = prorated. Yellow = exceeded Competitive Balance Tax threshold.

Their biggest expenditures following the 2020 disappointment were Enrique Hernández (two years and $14 million) and Garrett Richards (one year, $10 million). After the 2021 season, the Red Sox signed Trevor Story to a six-year, $140 million deal; he’s been beset by injuries since then, including a torn UCL, and has played just 124 games in two seasons. Their next-largest deals of that offseason went to James Paxton (two years, $10 million while rehabbing from April 2021 Tommy John surgery), Jake Diekman (two years, $8 million, but flipped at that year’s deadline for backup catcher Reese McGuire and relief prospect Taylor Broadway) and Michael Wacha (one year, $7 million).

The Sox were much more aggressive this past season, albeit mainly with short-term deals to grizzled players. They paid a $15.4 million posting fee to the NPB’s Orix Buffaloes for Masataka Yoshida, then signed him to a five-year, $90 million deal. Also inked were Kenley Jansen (two years, $32 million), Justin Turner (two years, $21.7 million), Chris Martin (two years, $17.5 million), Corey Kluber (one year, $10 million), and Adam Duvall (one year, $7 million). All but Yoshida are in their age-34 seasons or older, and none has delivered more than Duvall’s 2.0 WAR; Turner, Martin, and Paxton are in the 1–2 WAR range, Yoshida has produced just 0.7 WAR due to shaky defense (though B-Ref has him at 1.4 WAR), and Kluber is both on the injured list and below replacement level.

Those moves did not take the sting off losing Bogaerts to free agency after he opted out of the final three years and $60 million of his contract last fall. The Red Sox don’t appear to have made much effort to keep him by reportedly offering a four-year, $90 million deal last spring — as in, one additional year and $30 million — to forgo opting out. The team was said to have proposed six years and $160 million once he reached free agency, but the Padres blew that offer out of the water with their 11-year, $280 million deal. The team did finally complete a deal with a foundational homegrown player this past January by signing Rafael Devers to a 10-year, $313.5 million extension covering his ages 27–36 seasons, but from a goodwill standpoint, that’s at best a Band-Aid after losing Betts and Bogaerts.

If so much of the high profile stuff of Bloom’s tenure was often uninspiring, his rebuilding of the team’s farm system stands out as a significant positive, particularly considering its decrepit state when he took over. Prospect evaluation and valuation is of course an inexact science, but this picture is encouraging:

Red Sox Prospects on THE BOARD
Period 2019 2019U 2020 2020U 2021 2021U 2022 2022U 2023 2023U
Value $56M $96M $114M $152M $204M $242M $259M $245M $282M $242M
Rank 30 30 29 23 18 9 9 9 5 3
Top 100 List 0 1 2 2 2 4 3 4 4 4

Triston Casas, the team’s 2018 first-round pick, and Downs were the organization’s only Top 100 prospects until mid-’21; the latter washed out, but the former has overcome a rocky start to deliver a pretty good rookie season (129 wRC+, 1.7 WAR). The returns from the drafts Bloom has overseen have yet to come to fruition; 2020 first-round pick Nick Yorke, a second baseman, fell from 29th on the ’22 Top 100 to 102nd this year, but ’21 first-round pick Marcelo Mayer, a shortstop, was 18th this spring. He, Casas (29th this spring), 2021 international signing Miguel Bleis (20th), and ’17 international signing Ceddanne Rafaela (49th) all cracked this year’s Top 100 and are now among the top 31 on The Board. None of the team’s 2022 or ’23 draftees has reached the Top 100 yet, though three of the former and two of the latter number among Boston’s eight prospects in the 45 or 45+ FV category on The Board.

Bloom won’t be around to reap the benefits of those prospects’ production, mainly because the big club’s sluggish performance didn’t buy him enough time. It’s yet another unfair aspect of the thankless job he was hired to do. Perhaps his tenure will receive some credit for its contributions to a future championship in Boston the way Cherington did for his additions to the 2018 team. And perhaps Bloom will find success at the helm of another organization; he’s too bright a baseball mind, and too well-regarded within the industry, not to get another shot. But until then, and for perhaps even longer, Bloom will be remembered as The Guy Who Traded Mookie Betts, and that’s a tough tag to wear.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 months ago

Yeah, kind of sucks for Bloom that he will likely be forever remembered as the guy who traded Mookie Betts. A lot of that blame should fall on the ownership, as they made the decision to cut payroll. But, the return for Betts has been really really underwhelming, which likely won’t help Bloom’s future reputation.

6 months ago
Reply to  v2micca

As a Red Sox fan and a frequent critic of Bloom, I agree that trading Mookie is 100% on the ownership. They were looking to move David Price before his 10-and-5 no-trade rights vested, and the Dodgers were more than happy to give Sox ownership that additional payroll relief to land Mookie.

And with that as the backdrop, I wasn’t surprised that the return was mediocre. Maybe you fault Bloom for not taking Graterol as part of the package, but even that’s just splitting hairs.

6 months ago
Reply to  tz

Maybe they never said he had to do it. But it is obvious they hired him specifically because he told them what they wanted to hear–that they could get below the tax line immediately and it was okay to trade Betts and they could win the world series and have a more consistent team without going above the tax line. So it is Bloom’s fault, sort of. But the Red Sox were going to keep looking for someone until they found a person willing to do it.

6 months ago
Reply to  v2micca

Trading Betts because the ownership wanted to cut payroll is an incredible and probably inaccurate oversimplification. The main issue was that by re-signing Sale and Eovaldi, as well as extending Bogaerts two years before Betts was due to become a FA, there was no way the team could also bid for Betts (with no guarantee of landing him) without incurring multiple years of stiff CBT penalties if they were successful. The timing (should BOS have put their payroll on hold for two years for only the opportunity to bid on Betts? they decided not to) and Betts’s insistence on waiting until FA (obviously his right) essentially signed his ticket out of town. The CBT system works! Parity prevails! LAD fans, rejoice!

6 months ago
Reply to  v2micca

I’m just not sure how much better they could have done if we assume that Price’s dead weight had to be tied to any deal. I don’t think a 60 FV prospect was ever going to be on the table

6 months ago
Reply to  v2micca

Trading a superstar with only one year left is a recipe for a crap sandwich. The fanbase expects you’re going to get every star prospect in the world (and that they’re all going to pan out) because you traded Mookie Freaking Betts. But the reality is that no one’s going to give you tons for one year, and even if they do the guys you traded for might not pan out.

Short version: a lot of things have to go right to make trading a guy with one year left worth it. Maybe it’s better to just play it out.

6 months ago
Reply to  v2micca

I think it’s really hard to measure what hurt Bloom’s reputation took (or _will_ take) with the Betts trade…

There is simply no way to trade a generational talent and get back a positive return and even keeping Graterol in the deal doesn’t change that much.