Are Even More Changes Coming to the Red Sox? The Globe Seems to Think So.
On Chaim Bloom, Alex Cora, job security, a potentially overly volatile ownership, Rafael Devers, Chris Sale, Julio Rodriguez, Austin Riley, and oh my gosh are you serious Mookie Betts /jumps off cliff
When a team plays for the playoffs, all topics are important. When they’re playing out the string, nobody cares who leads off or which reliever is pitching the eighth inning. At least I don’t. The important part of the 2022 season for the Boston Red Sox has ceased. It’s the questions that lie ahead that deserve our focus now. And after reading a few pieces in the Globe yesterday there might be a lot more turnover in the cards for the Red Sox than I previously thought.
There were some revealing lines in Peter Abraham’s most recent Sunday Baseball Notes column and in Alex Speier’s piece on Julio Rodriguez’s contract extension with the Mariners that merit - nay! - require further discussion. So let’s discuss!
Before getting into it though, I want to ask you to subscribe. It’s going to be an interesting off-season in Red Sox Nation, perhaps even more so than we thought, and we’ll be on top of things here at Sox Outsider with news, notes, and the ever present opinions. So subscribe (it’s free!) and join us. Thanks.
Let’s start with Abraham’s article. There are a bunch of items therein I want to address. Some are kinda lumped together so I’ll try and separate them out by topic.
It’s been a long time since 2018. That’s the year Alex Cora took over as manager of the Red Sox and led the team to 108 wins. That’s the year they beat three 100-win teams en route to their fourth World Series title in a decade and a half. In case, you know, you forgot.
I say it’s been a long time since 2018 because back then you almost couldn’t conceive of any criticism of Cora. Yes, he did some weird things on occasion but they almost always worked out. And when they didn’t, whatever because the team was so far ahead of everyone else it didn’t make a difference. But even more than the weird things was how well he did every other part of his job. He brought guys together, got the most out of players, and made the clubhouse a joyous place to be.
We’re now three Cora seasons (and one Ron Roenicke season) removed from that championship year and there are definitely some cuts in his armor, but I’m not sure I was prepared to hear this from Abraham. When discussing how Cora might be the fall guy for this season if Bloom doesn’t go first (we’ll get to that), Abraham wrote:
The owners made it clear in 2020 they wanted Cora back after his suspension and Bloom went along.
Perhaps you already knew Red Sox ownership were the ones who re-hired Cora over Bloom’s head, but I didn’t. From what I had always heard, the hire was Bloom’s. Supposedly he made the choice independently. Sure, the owners wanted Cora back, but Bloom went into things with an open mind and Cora convinced him that he was the best person for the job and that’s why Cora was rehired under Bloom. That’s what I’d read and heard. But apparently not?
Abraham seems to be saying Bloom didn’t get to hire his own guy. It was the owners who forced their guy, Cora, on him. If Bloom had had autonomy he’d have picked someone else. That’s news to me!
I generally don’t think owners should be in the business of making baseball decisions, especially when they’ve just hired someone with expertise they don’t possess specifically to make those decisions. But we’ve seen this ownership group force a new manager on a new GM before (with disastrous results *cough* Bobby Valentine *cough*) so it wouldn’t be out of character if what Abraham were saying was true. Though you’d like to think they’d have learned their lesson when it comes to this sort of thing.
None of this is to say re-hiring Cora was a bad decision, regardless of who made it. Clearly Cora was good enough last season during the team’s unexpected run to the ALCS, and despite things falling apart around him, we haven’t heard much if any griping from players, not even when Bloom made the decision to deal Christian Vazquez. All of which is to say Cora sure isn’t perfect, and I’m sure there are some things he’d do differently if given the chance, but from where I sit he’s done a fine job this season.
But if Bloom didn’t have the ability to hire his own manager, well then. That’s news.
That brings us to…
Here, again, are Peter Abraham’s words:
Chaim Bloom is coming up on three years in October and has not won the World Series. Public perception has turned sharply against him in recent weeks after a convoluted and unsuccessful approach to the trade deadline.
If the owners decide to ax him after the season[…]
That’s the part where I say, “Stop the music!” First off, that opening line is a doozy. Three whole years and he hasn’t won the World Series yet? My stars! I feel lightheaded. Where’s the fainting couch?
On the other hand, John Henry & Co. should be thinking that way and I applaud them for it. You do want to win and you should expect to win, after all. But you can hardly hire a guy, force him as his first move in charge to trade a future Hall of Famer and face of the franchise for pennies on the dollar, then whine and moan when he only makes the ALCS in his second season.
1. Trade your best player
2. Clean up after the previous guy’s mess
3. Win World Series
is hardly a recipe for instant success.
I agree the trade deadline didn’t turn out well. It probably didn’t turn out like the team would’ve wanted either. I’m guessing Bloom, if given truth serum, would agree with that. Likely what they wanted to do was deal off all the big players, JD Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Vazquez, and maybe more, for big prospects, build up the farm system, and life to die again next season. But for whatever reason the market didn’t come to them and those trades didn’t materialize outside of the Vazquez deal. Perhaps in light of that, Bloom shouldn’t have dealt Vazquez. Maybe Bloom should’ve waited to pull the trigger on that one until he knew he could make the other deals, and when it became clear the other deals weren’t going to happen, he could’ve gone to Houston and said, hey sorry, but I can’t.
That’s slightly off topic though, because what Abraham is really driving at is that Bloom may be in danger of getting fired. To me, that sounds insane, but Abraham isn’t, or at least doesn’t appear to be, spouting his personal opinion here. Instead it sounds more like informed speculation, the whispers heard in the hallways around Fenway Park.
My instinctive reaction is that that would be unfortunate. I haven’t always been a fan of what Bloom has done, but I think he’s smart, hard working, and working with a long term plan. I also think he’s learning on the job and expecting perfection immediately is unreasonable, especially, as I said, when considering what he was charged with doing immediately upon taking over the position. Dumping him now would be effectively flushing the last three seasons and starting over from square one with someone new. Maybe that’s the best thing to do, but from where I sit, that’s a pretty rough call.
It’s also going to lead to a re-run of the list above for whomever they tab to take over the reigns, only instead of dealing Mookie Betts with one year left of team control, it’ll be Rafael Devers. And I wouldn’t count on getting as much in return either. This is a bad cycle to fall into. You can’t just develop franchise cornerstones and then ship them out the door when they start to become expensive over and over and expect to win. I mean you *can* but you’re going to be disappointed. And yet here we are.
If, after three years (and one ALCS appearance), Red Sox ownership has determined Chaim Bloom is over his head/not up for the job/not winning enough, then I disagree, but sure, fire him and move on. But I’d suggest there aren’t going to be a lot of highly thought of candidates waiting to take over. There aren’t a ton of very smart, very committed people lining up to work extremely hard for a highly volatile ownership group with virtually unreachably high expectations.
This is a smaller note, but I’m here, you’re here, so let me hit on it quickly. Abraham suggests that moving Chris Sale to the bullpen could be a solution to help him stay healthy. I don’t mean this whole piece to pick on Abraham, whose work I like. But in this case I disagree. It’s not like relievers don’t get hurt too. I don’t think asking Sale to pitch out of the bullpen, a role unfamiliar to him and one that still requires him to stay healthy, is going to do more than drop the ceiling of what he can provide the team on those occasions when he is healthy.
To me, the answer is, as frustrating as it might be, to keep doing what they’re doing. We saw what Sale can do when he was briefly healthy this season. He’s not perfect, he’s aging, but he can be a productive part of the rotation if not maybe an ace when he’s not falling off something or getting hit by a screaming projectile. Take what he can provide when he can provide it, but don’t plan on getting anything from him. I don’t think changing his role and going through all the rigamarole doing so would entail (remember this is the guy who didn’t want to change uniforms so badly he literally cut them up into little pieces with scissors) is going to fix anything, and likely it’ll make things worse on multiple levels.
Julio’s New Deal & The Red Sox Failure
Alex Speier of The Globe is an excellent journalist, one of my favorites. And this piece is a great example why. It’s funny too because this thought has been kicking around my head since the Braves extended Austin Riley a few weeks ago or whenever it was (I’m too lazy to look it up right now). Of course, Speier did it far better than I would’ve so I highly recommend you read it.
The Mariners extension of 21-year-old star-in-the-making Julio Rodriguez just highlights the point even more: why aren’t the Red Sox doing this? Why did the Red Sox not do this?
You can’t tell me there wasn’t a time when the Red Sox could’ve locked Mookie Betts up. They could have. But they didn’t. Why? Because they wanted to get a deal, not make a deal.
Speier highlights this expertly without outright saying it because he’s really good and I’m not, but it’s right there in the following text if you look for it.
By the time the Sox started pursuing long-term deals with Betts after the 2016, 2017, and 2018 seasons, he was an established star and wanted to be paid accordingly, walking away from offers in the $100 million (post-2016), $200 million (post-2017), and $300 million (post-2018) range. The sides never got close to an agreement.
The Red Sox were clearly willing to pay Betts $200 million following the 2017 season and $300 million after 2018. This means they were willing to pay Betts $300 million. Why didn’t they offer those deals to him a year sooner? Heck, why didn’t they offer those deals two years sooner? Well, because, again, they were looking for a discount. It wasn’t about signing Mookie Betts so much as it was about signing him to a below market contract. Betts wasn’t looking for a below market contract. He was looking to set the market, or something close to that. That’s why the negotiations didn’t work.
The same is true of Devers, and Speier gets into that as well. I don’t want to quote too much from his article because it’s behind the paywall at The Globe (which I subscribe to and you should too) but it’s the same story with Devers as it was with Betts. The people in charge might’ve been different, but they were after the same thing: a discount rather than a contract.
Two points seem to have been missing from the discussion at the front office level. Setting the market isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you believe in the player. Two, getting a deal done sooner will ultimately cost you less than if you wait. Waiting can have its own advantages, namely more assurance that the player is who you think they are, but it also affords the player more time to gain a measure of financial might that allows them to forgo a contract and wait until free agency. Not always, of course, but the option becomes more palatable as the player gets closer to free agency.
But even more important than any of that is this: if you overpay by a little bit, you still get Mookie Betts! You still get Rafael Devers! You still get to keep these cornerstone face-of-the-franchise players who you can market your team around for the next decade! That and they’ll help win a lot of baseball games. But also the marketing crap.
The Mariners found a way to keep Julio Rodriguez. It might cost them $400+ million to do it, but if Julio is as good as the Mariners (and I) think he is, that’ll be a good problem to have because, say it with me now: they’ll have Julio Rodriguez! The Braves did the same thing with Riley and with a few other young players. It might not work out, but this is how you keep young stars.
It takes two to sign a contract, so it’s not just that the team has to want to sign a player. The player has to want to sign too. But if you don’t have that first part, if you don’t put it out there that this is the place you should spend the rest of your career because we really value you and we really want you here, then you’re taking a huge risk that the player won’t feel that love and won’t want to stay. If it’s a family, treat them that way including paying them like it. If it’s a business, fine, it’s a business, but don’t ever expect a bargain if that’s how it’s going to be.
I swear it’s not my intention to keep bringing up Mookie Betts every other damn article, but I’ll be hornswoggled if the gosh darn Red Sox don’t keep forcing me to do it! The time to sign Betts was four years before the Red Sox got serious about it. The time to sign Devers was four years ago from today. If you’re lucky enough to draft and/or develop a Betts, a Devers, a Bogaerts, you don’t let them leave. You do what the Mariners did and get a deal done even it means paying more than you might’ve wanted to. The Red Sox didn’t do that and now they’re on the precipice of losing all three.
Not to say those consequences are fatal. They aren’t. A smart organization can overcome or at least work to overcome such an obstacle, even if it was an obstacle they put in their own way.
So what does all this mean? It means, in the face of perhaps the most tumultuous off-season in more than a decade, some people in the know are starting to question whether the Red Sox braintrust will even be in position to make the crucial decisions that need to be made. Perhaps there is even more turnover afoot at Fenway Park this off-season than previously thought. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not that’s a good thing. If and when things go down though, don’t expect me to pull my punches. Punches will be thrown, even if they’re at my couch.
Thanks for reading.
While I generally like Bloom and the approach he's used in rebuilding the farm system, there's plenty to criticize about his construction of the 2022 team. We were complaining about RF, 1B and the bullpen in April. They didn't address the first two until the trade deadline, and the bullpen is still a disaster.
However, I've been under the impression that Bloom is doing what Henry & Co. hired him to do (just as Dombrowski did). If that is not the case, I'm not sure what to think.
“But even more important than any of that is this: if you overpay by a little bit, you still get Mookie Betts! You still get Rafael Devers! You still get to keep these cornerstone face-of-the-franchise players who you can market your team around for the next decade! That and they’ll help win a lot of baseball games. But also the marketing crap.”