By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
In 2018, the Red Sox won a World Series by flexing their financial muscle. Led by then-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, they spent the offseasons leading up to that run making splashy, blockbuster moves. They made David Price the highest-paid player in team history, J.D. Martinez the highest-paid offensive free agent of his class, and shipped two of their top prospects to Chicago for Chris Sale.
That title was just three years ago, although the way things are going now it feels like 30.
Following that 2018 run, it’s been a steep decline for the Red Sox. They missed the playoffs with 84 wins in 2019, before a last place finish in 2020. Their exuberant spending cost them key young players – namely Mookie Betts. At the same time, they gutted their farm system for MLB-ready players, leaving the roster thin once those players moved on.
None of that should have come as a surprise. For his entire career, Dombrowski’s M.O. had been spend big while focusing only on the short-term picture. It worked with the Red Sox fielding one of the greatest teams in MLB history in 2018, but now the other shoe has dropped.
While Dombrowski certainly built an impressive team, it’s not like anything he did was groundbreaking or revolutionary. If you constantly offer record-breaking contracts, you’ll probably land a good majority of the free agents you target. If you’re constantly willing to ship out top prospects in trades, you’re bound to make some splashes. Basically, disregarding the future makes it a lot easier to build for the present. Eventually though, there’s no more money to spend and no more prospects to trade. That’s where the Red Sox have been for about a year.
Enter Chaim Bloom, who was chosen to clean up the mess following Dombrowski’s firing in September 2019. So far, his first full offseason has been defined not by the moves he’s made, but by those he hasn’t. Dubbed “The Interest Kings” by Barstool Sports’ Jared Carrabis, the Red Sox have seemingly been linked via reports to more prospects than not. Despite that ‘interest,’ they’ve yet to land a big free agent, missing out on players like Corey Kluber, Jurickson Profar, and Tomoyuki Sugano who were thought to be ideal fits.
In many ways, Bloom has proven early on to be sort of an anti-Dombrowski. Instead of swinging big with their newfound luxury tax space and somewhat rebuilt farm system, the Red Sox now seem to be more calculated, cautious, and willing to take risks.
Bloom shed some light on his offseason strategy on Thursday during a podcast with SoxProspects.com.
Here's what #RedSox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom had to say about building a foundation for the team's future on episode 200 of the Podcast.— SoxProspects.com (@SoxProspects) January 21, 2021
Listen to the whole episode at https://t.co/k9NTb6nbIb pic.twitter.com/oHsAZ0YzMQ
“We have an ownership that’s in this for the long haul and is measuring this in terms of wanting to win the fifth, the sixth and the seventh ring,” Bloom explained. “When that’s the big-picture goal – I think we are positioned right now where doing that is not going to be accomplished by some of the flashy, instant gratification moves that help when you are much closer to a championship.”
Dombrowski’s team building was centered around an all-or-nothing approach. Go big or go home, win now, etc. Yet it would appear the post-Dombrowski era of Red Sox baseball has a new approach – sustainability. The goal doesn’t appear to suddenly burst back on to the scene, but build a team that can be consistently competitive for the next decade.
“We have to lay this foundation,” Bloom told SoxProspects. “Do it the right way and build up the talent base to be able to get to that point. To feel like when we’re at that point, we’re going to stay at that point and we’re not going to go right back into the valley.”
Consistency isn’t something Red Sox fans have experienced in recent history. It’s been quite the roller coaster since the 2011 collapse and the departure of Theo Epstein. In that nine season span, the Red Sox have finished first in the division four times, and last in the division four times. In the 13 years before that, they finished outside of the top two in the AL East just twice, and hadn’t finished in last since 1992.
They won two World Series five years apart, but with unusually high turnover for that time span. Only five players played for the Red Sox in both the 2013 and 2018 World Series. Those teams also had different managers (John Farrell/Alex Cora) and lead executives (Ben Cherington/Dombrowski).
Bloom’s strategy hardly guarantees the success – especially immediate success – that Dombrowski’s does. He’s going to have to hit on draft picks. He’s going to have to hit on diamond-in-the-rough free agents and reclamation projects. He’s going to have to make (more) unpopular trades. Like he told SoxProspects, the turnaround won’t happen overnight.
However, the upside is attractive. A baseball team that competes – truly competes – year in and year out. No more ten-win Aprils after first-place finishes. No more “blow the thing up” conversations every two or three years. Instead, we could be looking at star players who debut in Boston, and stay long enough to build a legacy with the organization and a relationship with the fanbase.
That last point can best be characterized by looking at the Red Sox current roster. With Dustin Pedroia expected to retire at some point this year, the new longest-tenured Red Sox player is Xander Bogaerts. That feels about right, but after him there’s no players who have been with the team regularly for more than six years. Guys like Pedroia and David Ortiz are supposed to be rare, but the Red Sox are running low on franchise cornerstones.
For Red Sox fans, it comes down to this – is it better to go all out for a one or two season stretch, knowing that there’s half a decade of roster turnover and competitive irrelevance on the other side? Or allowing the team to slowly build up for a few years in order to form a solid core, and replicate the sustained success they had in the first decade of the 2000’s?
Each strategy has netted them two titles (although it’s fair to argue 2013 fits into its own category). But now we’ve seen what the all-or-nothing approach can do on the back end. Bloom has a hard task ahead of him – to make the Red Sox not just as successful as his predecessor did, but sustainable in a way he couldn’t.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.