Just as MLB’s newly-expanded postseason was getting ready to start, the brass of the Boston Red Sox -- president/CEO Sam Kennedy, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and general manager Brian O’Halloran -- held a Zoom conference that served as a wrap to a disappointing season.
This marked the second consecutive season that there is no October baseball for the Red Sox, a difficult pill to swallow for one of the most intense fanbases in the game.
With a pandemic still going on, the Red Sox are trying to plot a course that will prevent Fenway Park from being closed for business in October next year and beyond.
The 2020 season marked the fourth time in the last nine seasons that Boston finished in last place in the American League East. It is a somewhat staggering fact, considering the Red Sox have traditionally been in the upper-echelon payroll-wise. It should also be noted that Boston won the World Series in two of those nine years, giving the tradition-rich franchise four since '04.
“As I look back over our 20 years here, we've had obviously disappointing seasons before,” said Kennedy. “We've had some high highs and some championship wins. One thing that we've been lacking is consistency with our competitiveness. I think it's important to acknowledge that.
“And that is clearly something that we're working towards with Chaim Bloom at the top of our baseball operations department. We're excited about building. We're optimistic about the future, and looking forward to better days ahead for the organization and Red Sox fans.”
In respect to that goal, the trio answered questions on a variety of topics on Tuesday. Here are the highlights.
The manager search
One of the biggest mistakes the Red Sox made with a managerial hire came in 2012, when Bobby Valentine replaced Terry Francona and lasted just one season. The perception has always been out there -- and it was never shot down -- that ownership had its fingerprints on that hire.
In recent days, the buzz in Boston is that ownership would love to bring Alex Cora back as manager, but that’s not necessarily how Bloom would like to proceed. With Cora’s suspension up at the end of the postseason, Kennedy said in no uncertain terms that ownership would not interfere with the search for Ron Roenicke’s successor.
“I just want to be very clear that Chaim and his team will run the process and ultimately make the decision on who the next manager of the Boston Red Sox will be. We are not going to talk about candidates,” said Kennedy. “Right now, I’m sure at some point it will be appropriate to, and Chaim will address that.
“My job as president and CEO is to run the organization day to day. Hopefully we do a good job of putting the right people in the right places to make those decisions, and trust and empower them to make those decisions. When it comes to the managerial selection for the Boston Red Sox, that rests squarely with our baseball operation and ultimately with Chaim Bloom.”
The Red Sox didn’t make any lucrative acquisitions last offseason as ownership clearly wanted to reset the luxury tax after being above it for the three previous seasons. In typical times, you’d figure the Red Sox would be aggressive spenders in the coming weeks to help the team rebound from a highly-disappointing season. But these times are anything but typical.
“The obvious impacts of the pandemic have been felt in every industry on planet earth, frankly, and baseball is no exception,” said Kennedy. “I think the good news for Red Sox fans is [owner] John Henry and [chairman] Tom Werner will take a long-term view with respect to the COVID era.
“We hope that while we're living through it now, we will at some point being looking back on the COVID era, a pre-COVID era, and I cannot wait until the post-COVID era.
“So will it have an impact on our budget? Yes, of course it will, because of the devastating impact it's had on our revenues this year, and obviously next year is uncertain. That said, I don't know what the outlook for 2021 looks like yet with respect to the virus. And as that becomes clear, we'll be able to act in real time and make decisions.
“I can tell you that John and Tom, Chaim, [O’Halloran] and I met last week, and there is an organizational-wide commitment from the top down to this mission of building a team that's consistent, that is competitive and that gets us back to where we belong, which is at the top of the American League East.”
“It’s just a question of how much money are you going to lose from a business perspective in 2020. Hopefully we’ll be able to have fans back in the stands next year, some portion of our fans to start. We’ll see how that goes. But again, there’s a long-term view. We know we’re going to withstand operating losses. We’re prepared for that, plan for that, and I think you’ll see the Red Sox continue to invest in our baseball operation the way we have the last 20 years.”
By any measure, the Red Sox had one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball in 2020. Out of all 30 MLB teams, Boston finished 28th with a 5.58 ERA and came perilously close to finishing last.
Obviously the season-long voids left by Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez played a role. But it’s fair to wonder how much Bloom will prioritize adding more quality arms to the organization in the coming months.
“The only way to get to a point where you have even close to enough pitching depth is to always be looking for it,” said Bloom. “I don't think you should ever let yourself get to a point where you're satisfied and you say we have enough.
“I think that's the hallmark of championship level pitching depth, which as we've seen around the league was tested probably more than ever this year, not just with us, but with everybody, is to never stop looking for it. So we're going to need to make sure that we do that.”
Throughout his career, Bloom has never been shy about wheeling and dealing. The volume of moves his Rays’ front office made per year was the stuff of legend. Bloom was also active in his first year with the Red Sox, starting with the mega-deal that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers and continuing with an active Trade Deadline season that sent Mitch Moreland, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, Kevin Pillar and Josh Osich packing. Bloom will once again be open to just about anything.
While the Betts trade was understandably unpopular with the fan base, Bloom got a solid player and potential future All-Star with several years of club control in Alex Verdugo and well as Jeter Downs, currently ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the club’s farm system, per MLB Pipeline. For Workman and Hembree, who were highly-ineffective for the Phillies, Bloom got high-upside righty Nick Pivetta, who finished the season with two strong starts, and also a righty starting prospect in Connor Seabold.
“I think we need to put ourselves into position to make as many moves that further that goal of having a consistently competitive championship-caliber team as we can,” Bloom said. “We do that by being very active in conversation. We do that by making sure that we’re covering every possibility or at least as many possibilities as we can. Regardless of whether that turns into two moves or 20 moves, we just need to be ready.
“I think the key for us if we’ve got a mindset of being as active as we can, creating as many options as we can and then following through on the ones that we think are beneficial to the organization. It’s hard to know where that will lead. The key is we’re going to want to make moves that we think benefit us.”
Is it possible the Red Sox could try to make long-term deals with Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi or Rodriguez before they become eligible for free agency? E-Rod, who dealt with COVID-19 and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), can be a free agent after the 2021 season. Benintendi is under the club’s control for two more seasons. Devers can’t be a free agent until after the ’23 season.
“It’s going to be a different offseason, but I wouldn’t at all rule out the possibility of us engaging with players on long-term deals,” Bloom said. “That’s something if we did it, it’s something we would do our best to keep in-house unless there’s an agreement. But I think as long as there’s mutual interest and a mutual fit, I don’t see why we wouldn’t look into it and pursue it. “
As for the possibility of re-signing free agent center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., Bloom didn’t rule it out.
“With respect to Jackie, obviously, he’s scheduled to become a free agent after the World Series. I don’t know exactly at this moment nor would I want to say frankly if I did what our approach is going to be to that,” said Bloom. “You guys know, and we talked about it a month or so ago, I’m so fond of Jackie. He’s a great player, an incredible person. We’d love to keep him here.
“We also recognize he has earned the right that not too many Major Leaguers do, to go out and see what the market is and pick his next employer. And he now for the first time in his career has equal and full say in that, so that’s a right he’s earned that we totally respect. So we’ll see how it plays out. No idea what the timetable will be on that, and of course Jackie is going to have a say in that as well.”
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.