The Boston Red Sox set up Sime Bloom to lose.
His end came almost as soon as he started. One hundred and eight days after Fenway Sports Group hired Bloom as its chief baseball officer, John Henry’s ownership committee approved the trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers. The move made little sense at the time. Three years later, it makes even less sense now, as Betts jockeys for another MVP trophy in Los Angeles and Bloom gets the heave-ho in Boston.
The decision brought Bloom’s tenure to an abrupt end Thursday afternoon. He’s been used as a shield during a mysterious Red Sox era in which the franchise squandered every bit of goodwill generated by the 2018 World Series. As has often been the case in the past few years, the timing was curious: Henry would be looking for a new head of his baseball operations department, just days after the Mets reached a deal for Steve Cohen’s top free-agent executive, the former Milwaukee Brewers general manager. David Stearns.
Bloom, who spent 15 years in Tampa Bay’s small-market laboratory, was hired by the Red Sox to build a consistent winning juggernaut that didn’t experience the franchise’s boom-and-bust cycles in the 2010s. The franchise’s patience with Bloom lasted less than four full seasons, including an appearance in the 2021 American League Championship Series. That flirtation with controversy wasn’t enough to secure Bloom’s continued stewardship, which isn’t a shock. Dave Dombrowski was fired 10 months after winning the 2018 World Series. 2013 World Series winning Ben Sherington could not be protected.
Bloom achieved less than his predecessors. The 2023 Red Sox are both over .500 and in last place in the American League East, a result emblematic of the franchise’s uncertain direction. Bloom built a quality lineup, but a substandard pitching staff backed by one of the league’s worst defenses. “We need pitching,” Cornerstone third baseman Rafael Devers said before the trade deadline, when the Red Sox were still in the wild-card race, but Bloom effectively stood down. In scanning the current roster and improving the farm system, there are reasons to believe the franchise has fallen woefully behind its more frugal counterparts in Baltimore and Tampa. They’re not leveraging their financial advantage like they once did: In 2023, the Red Sox dropped out of the top 10 in Opening Day payroll after years of hovering around the top 5.
The Red Sox are caught between cycles of rebuilding and cycles of controversy, unable to keep up with baseball’s toughest division. Ownership is responsible for a strange two-step last year, when the team first failed to sign Xander Bogaerts to an extension, giving Devers a $313.5 million extension for less than $160 million. The Red Sox have been confused about who to be this whole time. The spiral began when the franchise parted ways with Betts a year before his free agency.
The idea of trading bets didn’t originate with Bloom. In the summer of 2019, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman engaged in lengthy discussions with Dombrowski about a contract. Negotiations fell through as the Red Sox went on a narrow winning streak. But that winter, after Dombrowski was booked, Friedman got in touch with Bloom, his former lieutenant in Tampa Bay. After exceeding the competitive-reserve limit in 2018 and 2019, the Red Sox wanted to reduce their luxury-tax payroll. Bloom was accused of manipulating beds to do that.
The trade has seen upside from the start. The Dodgers waived outfielder Alex Verdugo, catcher Connor Wong and infielder Jeter Towns. To sweeten the deal, the Dodgers ate half of the $96 million pitcher David Price owed Boston. Betts, the 2018 American League MVP, grew up in Los Angeles. He signed a 12-year, $365 million extension in the pandemic-stricken summer of 2020. That fall, he helped the Dodgers end a 32-year championship drought. He’s a perennial All-Star, a Gold Glover capable of playing three different positions, a player owners should never part with.
But Henry’s team did. And the right is not actually redeemed. Boston waived Downs last winter. Verdugo, 27, is a remarkable performer. Wong, 27, has put together a solid year in 2023. These are decent players. Most fans want to see Mookie Betts. The franchise team has yet to come up with a product capable of scratching that itch.
Bloom strengthened the company’s infrastructure, made various useful additions and helped with the farm system. Still looking down the long road, he left the room. Tournament executives found his deliberate, painstaking process, leaving him flat at moments like the trade deadline. His decision to trade catcher Christian Vazquez last summer upset his clubhouse, but Bloom joined pending free agents like Nathan Ewaldi or JD Martinez, which kept the club above the luxury tax threshold.
After Bogarts left for San Diego, Bloom had few options when Trevor Story, Bogarts’ replacement at shortstop, underwent elbow surgery. This affected security. The Red Sox will never escape the basement of the American League East.
“The results weren’t what we expected as an organization,” Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said said Thursday.
Again, bets aren’t there either. Because of that, a decision thrust upon him by his employers a few months after his arrival, neither was Bloom.
(Top photo: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)