Source: Getty Images
by Brian Garland
BOSTON, Mass. – The Red Sox have made clear through the rumor mill and local media that changes are on the way. The first of these messages started with the firing of former President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski, replacing him with a new-age executive in Chaim Bloom. From Bloom’s hiring by Tampa Bay in 2005, the expansion Rays experienced unprecedented success, including a World Series appearance in 2008 and playoff appearances in 2010, 2911, and 2013, along with two 90+ win seasons in 2018 and 2019.
While Bloom’s qualifications for the job are apparent, the reason for why he is here and what is instructed by ownership to do, is another matter entirely. Co-0wners John Henry and Tom Werner are quoted in local media for wanting to cut down the payroll of the Red Sox, citing the dreaded “repeater tax” after Boston was over the MLB luxury tax in 2018 and again last season.
In Bloom’s appearances in media, he has presented mixed messages of wanting to keep a competitive team on the field despite the payroll cost, and doing what his bosses ask of him, presumably to cut down the payroll. The Red Sox are currently the highest payroll in the league, and they are at a crossroads with a number of high-dollar players.
Chief among them is superstar outfielder Mookie Betts, who is under one final year of team control at an expected salary of $27.7 million. Betts has reportedly rejected every extension offer Boston previously gave him, and is waiting until his peak leverage of free agency to received his asking price. The threat of Mookie Betts leaving in free agency is one of the primary puzzles Chaim Bloom will have to solve in his first year of business, whether that is the offer of a game-changing contract extension or the trade of Betts for long-term pieces that will service the Red Sox beyond 2020.
For context, Bloom is an alum of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, one that is notorious for cutting costs but still developing talent and winning games. Red Sox pitchers David Price and Nathan Eovaldi are two products of Tampa Bay’s development system, and they were both traded to save money and acquire prospects to continue the rebuilding cycle. Bloom has sat in on many trades of this nature, such as Price to the Detroit Tigers in 2014, longtime third baseman Evan Longoria in winter 2017, Chris Archer in July 2018.
If ever there were an executive known for trading big pieces and helping cut costs, it is Chaim Bloom. That is not to say Mookie Betts is no longer a member of the Red Sox beyond 2020, but the initial signs do not appear promising.
The Red Sox are keeping slugger J.D. Martinez on their payroll for the next three years as Martinez chose to opt-in to the remainder of his contract last month at an annual cost of $25 million per year. If ownership was looking to save money on Martinez, they will not now.
There are rumblings that the Red Sox are also looking to move Jackie Bradley Jr., who is under contract for one year and $11 million. Bradley Jr.’s offensive struggles are a reason for the potential interest in trading him, and replacing Bradley Jr. with an outfielder that can provide comparable defensive metrics with improved offensive performance.
Starting pitcher Rick Porcello is now a free agent and his $20 million figure are now removed from the payroll. While Porcello struggled to keep the ball down and out of hard contact last season, the amount of innings he pitched will have to be replaced by a cheaper starter or Boston’s less-than-stellar bullpen.
The 2019 Winter Meetings in San Diego are the time where executives meet and talk shop, usually accelerating the free agent process. Players start to sign by this point, and the rumor mill kicks up with all of the teams at-the-ready to make transactions.
The Red Sox can expect better luck and production in 2020, but they need an improved bullpen and a consistent, healthy rotation of starting pitchers to regain the magic that was lost in 2019. However, new contracts for young players such as Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers are growing closer, and Chaim Bloom and management will have to see how far ownership will budge on their demands to cut costs.
It should go without saying that a competitive team stands to be more profitable than a team like last year’s, but the Red Sox do not operate in the business of common sense. The bottom line suggests they won’t want to pay Mookie Betts beyond this season, but there is nobody on the team that sells tickets like Mookie does. A perfect offseason for the Red Sox would be to find cheap replacements for Rick Porcello, add new bullpen arms, and sign Mookie Betts to whatever he asks. If not, Chaim Bloom is no stranger to rebuilding.