Rosenthal: The Red Sox’s ownership is partly to blame for the team’s underwhelming offseason

I can’t defend Chaim Bloom. Not for his dud of a trade deadline. Not for his uninspired work so far this offseason. But ownership of the Red Sox deserves just as much, if not more, blame for the franchise’s current inertia. Bloom, the team’s chief baseball officer, shouldn’t be the only punching bag.

The Mets are spending big because owner Steve Cohen is pushing general manager Billy Eppler. The Padres add stars because owner Peter Seidler strengthens GM AJ Preller. The Yankees’ Hal Steinbrenner extended his contract to keep Aaron Judge. Even the Cubs’ Tom “Losses of Biblical Proportions” Ricketts awoke from a long sleep to approve a $177 million deal with shortstop Dansby Swanson on Saturday.

The Red Sox under the owners John Henry, Tom Werner and Co.? They have failed to respond to a changing market in which stars have been doing business for decades. Since Mookie Betts, Sox owners have been averse to such contracts. They’ll have to adjust their philosophy to compete for top talent, including their own third baseman Rafael Devers. Otherwise, they have to trust Bloom to thread the needle, which he failed to do.

Still, the Red Sox insist everything is fine.

“We remain optimistic that we’ll field a very competitive team with a chance to play baseball in October and win a World Series in 2023, absolutely,” team president Sam Kennedy told me Saturday before the Red Sox lost to Swanson, a.m Player they were interested in. (Kennedy is the member of the Owners’ Group appointed to speak for Henry and Werner, who rarely speak publicly themselves).

Bloom talked about adding “seven, eight, nine, maybe more players than we had after 22” at the winter meetings. To this point, the Sox have added six — four assists plus infielder/DH Justin Turner, 38, and Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida, 29, who many in the industry believe overpaid for five years by $90 million. They tried to land first baseman José Abreu and right-hander Zach Eflin early on. And they were outbid by about $120 million for a player they said they want to keep, shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

It’s only December 19, Bloom said the athlete‘s Chad Jennings that the Red Sox are “very, very actively exploring trades.” But as is often the case with the Sox, demonstrated most clearly by their “pursuit” of Bogaerts, there is a disconnect between their words and their actions.

In theory, the Sox could piece together the kind of offseason they did a decade ago before winning the 2013 World Series and split $100.45 million among seven mid-level free agents. But the 2013 club had stars like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury performing at elite level. The 2023 Club will consist of Devers and… who exactly?

Of Jim Bowden’s top 25 free agents, the only remaining players are right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, who the Sox are interested in retaining, and outfielder Michael Conforto, who was out all of last season with a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Kennedy said: “We were top 5 in payroll last year. We will continue to do that.” But according to Fangraphs, the Sox currently rank 12th on the cash payroll with $183.6 million and 14th on the luxury tax payroll with $202.7 million (based on on average annual salaries). They are more than $30 million below the lowest threshold. And at least in the free hand, practically all of the best players are gone.

It’s not that ownership lacks engagement — or at least it hasn’t in the past. The Sox had the highest luxury tax payrolls in both 2018 and 2019. They finished sixth in 2021 when they made the World Series within two games and fourth in 2022 when they finished last in the AL East.

In a way, 2022 was a year when everything that could go wrong went wrong; The Sox started the season with the fifth-best playoff ratings in the AL, according to Fangraphs, behind the Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros and White Sox. Injuries played a part in the Sox’s downfall, but Kennedy was right to call them out
35-51 record after a 43-33 start “an absolute disaster”.

From Kennedy’s point of view, the current despair at Red Sox Nation is a direct reflection of that end. Many fans would disagree, attributing their irritation to the aftermath of that ending — the Sox’s balmy offseason.

“We recognize what makes this market great is that our fans care more than any other market. And it’s not acceptable to our fanbase if we don’t have success in the major leagues,” Kennedy said. “That’s why you see and hear anger, outrage, frustration. And we understand that.

“But we won’t be deterred. We will do our best to continue making the right decisions for the organization in the short and long term. And of central importance is empowering our baseball people to do what they can. This has been a recipe for success for 21 years.”

When asked if that meant Bloom was responsible for decisions not to spend heavily on Bogaerts or even Correa, Kennedy said no, explaining that ownership always involves large movements of money. When asked if Bloom was the subject of too much criticism, Kennedy said, “Absolutely. General managers in sports generally get too much criticism and too much credit.”

However, Bloom had more than his share of missteps. The Sox owners gave him a challenging job when they hired him from the struggling Rays in October 2019, saying they wanted him to keep the major-league club strong while rebuilding the minor-league system. Everything seemed to be on track as the Sox advanced to the American League Championship Series in 2021. However, this season is now looking something of a mirage.

If the Sox were a fast-burning candle under Bloom’s predecessor Dave Dombrowski, they are now a slow-burning candle, and at times the candle doesn’t even seem lit. After Bogaerts approved his $280 million deal with the Padres, his agent Scott Boras alluded to the difference in the Sox’s approach under Bloom, saying, “The decision makers are different than they were before. It’s their process.” But free agency, the part of roster building perhaps most influenced by ownership, isn’t the only area where Bloom falls short.

View Bloom’s returns on trades for Betts/David Price, Andrew Benintendi, Hunter Renfroe, Mitch Moreland, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, and Christian Vázquez. To this point, those deals have produced a slightly above-average corner fielder (Alex Verdugo), backup catcher (Connor Wong), #4 starter (Nick Pivetta) and rotational depth piece (Josh Winckowski), along with a number of prospects yet to live up to expectations. First among those disappointments: infielder Jeter Downs, coming into Betts trades and destined for the job of clearing a 40-man roster spot for Yoshida.

Almost as devastating are the trades Bloom failed to make as of the 2022 deadline, the deductions from Eovaldi and designated hitter JD Martinez that could have dropped the Red Sox below the luxury tax threshold. But Bloom, with the backing of ownership, as of the deadline, proceeded immaturely, not quite in, not quite out.

If the Sox really believed they had a shot at making the postseason, they should have kept Vázquez and left-hander Jake Diekman along with Eovaldi and Martinez. Instead, they tried to play it both ways, adding outfielder Tommy Pham, catcher Reese McGuire, and recently DFA’s first baseman Eric Hosmer. For their efforts, they suffered double the shame of finishing over the threshold and missing the playoffs — by eight games.

The damage carries over to the next amateur draft. Breaking the threshold would have allowed the Sox to get picks for Bogaerts after Competitive Balance Round B and for Eovaldi if they end up losing him. Staying on top means Bogaerts and possibly Eovaldi will be compensated after the fourth round. The first pick after last year’s Competitive Balance Round B was #75. The first pick after Round Four was #137.

The trade for Hosmer, meanwhile, cost Sox left-hander Jay Groome, who installed as the Padres’ 12th-best prospect, while bringing in two more youngsters who didn’t crack the Red Sox top 30. Not a productive exchange, but the Sox’s farm system has actually improved under Bloom, at least according to the subjective reviews of various publications.

Anyway, what are we talking about here? As Kennedy said, the way to make fans happy is to win the World Series, not to build the game’s #1 system. Also, while the impact of Bloom’s trades and some of his trades has yet to be fully realized, two of the Sox’s best prospects, first baseman Triston Casas and right-hander Brayan Bello, were players they added under Dombrowski.

But enough about Bloom. Any analysis of its shortcomings should begin with the people who manage the Red Sox’s wallets, the people who hold ultimate power. It was the property that Bloom hired to bring Rays-like efficiency to the Sox, property that bears most of the blame for Betts’ loss, property that didn’t get past $160 million for Bogaerts and now with Devers on the o’clock who enters his way year.

On September 1, I wrote, “For Sox owner and Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, the upcoming offseason looks like a turning point, if not a turning point.” The offseason is still rolling. But try to convince everyone who follows this team that the Sox aren’t broken.

(Photo by John Henry: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images))

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