The Mookie Betts trade defined, and ultimately doomed, Chaim Bloom: McCullough


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The Boston Red Sox set up Chaim Bloom to fail.

His end occurred soon after his beginning. One hundred and eight days after the Fenway Sports Group hired Bloom as its chief baseball officer, John Henry’s ownership group authorized a trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers. The move made little sense then. It makes even less sense now, three years later, with Betts jockeying for another MVP trophy in Los Angeles and Bloom getting the heave-ho in Boston.

The decision doomed Bloom’s tenure, which abruptly ended on Thursday afternoon. He was used as a shield during a mystifying Red Sox era, in which the franchise frittered away almost every bit of goodwill generated by the 2018 World Series. As so often happened during these past few years, the timing was curious: Henry will search for a new leader of his baseball operations department, only days after Steve Cohen’s Mets reached an agreement for the top free-agent executive, former Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns.

The Red Sox hired Bloom, who had spent 15 years in Tampa Bay’s small-market laboratory, to build a sustainable juggernaut, a consistent winner who did not experience the boom-and-bust cycles the franchise rode through the 2010s. Ownership’s patience with Bloom lasted fewer than four full seasons, including an appearance in the 2021 American League Championship Series. That flirtation with contention was not enough to secure Bloom’s continued stewardship, which was hardly a shock. Dave Dombrowski was axed only 10 months after winning the 2018 World Series. Winning the 2013 World Series could not protect Ben Cherington.

Bloom achieved less than his predecessors. The 2023 Red Sox are both above .500 and tied for last place in the American League East, a result emblematic of the franchise’s uncertain direction. Bloom built a quality lineup but a shoddy pitching staff supported by one of the worst defenses in the league. “We need pitching,” cornerstone third baseman Rafael Devers said before the trade deadline, back when the Red Sox were still in the wild-card race, but Bloom effectively stood pat. In scanning the current roster and improving farm system, there are reasons to believe better days are ahead, just as there are reasons to believe the franchise has fallen woefully behind its more frugal counterparts in Baltimore and Tampa. They don’t even wield their financial advantage the way they once did: In 2023 Red Sox fell out of the top 10 in Opening Day payroll, after years of hovering around the top 5.

The Red Sox appeared caught in between cycles of rebuilding and cycles of contention, unable to keep up in baseball’s toughest division. Ownership bears responsibility for the bizarre two-step over the past year, when the team first failed to sign Xander Bogaerts to an extension, and then underbid him by about $160 million before pivoting to a $313.5 million extension for Devers. The Red Sox seemed confused about who they wanted to be this entire time. The spiral began when the franchise parted ways with Betts a year ahead of his free agency.

Mookie Betts returned to Boston to applause this year, and then bludgeoned the Red Sox over a three-game series. (Billie Weiss / Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

The idea of trading Betts did not originate with Bloom. In the summer of 2019, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman engaged in lengthy discussions with Dombrowski about a deal. The negotiations fizzled when the Red Sox went on a brief winning streak. But that winter, after Dombrowski got canned, Friedman connected with Bloom, his former lieutenant in Tampa Bay. The Red Sox wanted to reduce their luxury-tax payroll after exceeding the competitive-balance threshold in 2018 and 2019. Bloom was charged with dealing Betts to make that happen.

The trade appeared lopsided from the start. The Dodgers gave up outfielder Alex Verdugo, catcher Connor Wong and infielder Jeter Downs. To sweeten the deal, the Dodgers ate about half of the $96 million Boston owed pitcher David Price. Betts, the 2018 American League MVP, flourished in Los Angeles. He signed a 12-year, $365 million extension during the pandemic-afflicted summer of 2020. That fall, he helped the Dodgers end a 32-year championship drought. He is a perennial All-Star, a Gold Glover capable of playing three different positions, the sort of player owners should never part with.

But Henry’s group did. And the franchise has never really recovered. Boston waived Downs last winter. Verdugo, 27, has been an adequate if unremarkable performer. Wong, 27, has put together a solid year in 2023. These are decent players. Most fans would prefer to watch Mookie Betts. The ownership group has yet to put forth a product capable of scratching that itch.

Bloom fortified the organization’s infrastructure, made a variety of useful additions and aided the farm system. Yet he spent so much time looking at the long road that he ran out of room. Rival executives found his deliberate, painstaking process left him flat-footed at moments like the trade deadline. His decision to trade catcher Christian Vázquez last summer upset his clubhouse, but Bloom hung on to pending free agents like Nathan Eovaldi or J.D. Martinez, which kept the club over the luxury tax threshold.

After Bogaerts left for San Diego, Bloom had few options when Trevor Story, Bogaerts’s replacement at shortstop, underwent elbow surgery. The defense suffered as a result. The Red Sox could never escape from the basement of the American League East.

“The results we expect as an organization have not been there,” Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said on Thursday. 

Then again, Betts hasn’t been there, either. And because of that, because of a decision foisted upon him by his bosses months after his arrival, neither is Bloom.  

(Top photo: AP Photo / Michael Dwyer, File)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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