TORONTO — Not long after Chaim Bloom was fired on Thursday, the Red Sox boarded a plane for Toronto. The next day, they played a game against their division rivals, a situation where the pall of the former chief baseball officer’s departure — the unquestioned architect of this not-quite-good-enough club — could have hung heavily over them.
And yet, it didn’t feel that way, for better or worse.
“It was a normal day,” manager Alex Cora said Friday, just over 24 hours after Bloom had been fired. “You’ve got to keep going. That’s the brutal nature of this business, right? “
In conversations with players and coaches across the team over the weekend, the general feeling wasn’t so much indifference, but resignation at the reality of the situation. As is said so often in New England, it is what it is.
Thursday, after the announcement of the front office upheaval an hour before first pitch of a doubleheader against the Yankees, Justin Turner expressed guilt at the team’s subpar performance costing Bloom and general manager Brian O’Halloran their jobs.
“I can’t speak for everyone in this room,” Turner said. “But it’s something I definitely take personally. You never want to lose the guy that brought you in here because you didn’t perform well enough on the field.”
Yet while that sentiment was pervasive — Bloom’s compassion for his employees, in an industry that often lacks that trait, was mentioned on more than one occasion — some also expressed frustration at the lack of moves made at the deadline, especially moves that could have bolstered a beleaguered group of pitchers.
Nevertheless, there was also acknowledgment of a shared blame.
“We could have easily still gone on a roll, right?” Alex Verdugo said. “I think the biggest thing is it was all in our hands and we fell short.”
A Red Sox baseball operations member familiar with how the organization operates but not authorized to speak publicly was frustrated by reports that suggested other teams were apprehensive to deal with Bloom because of his indecisiveness. Similar to many organizations, the Red Sox front office typically divvies up duties among a handful of executives who each have specific teams they communicate with. At the same time, there’s an understanding that Bloom is in charge and like any organization, he bears the burden of the blame as much as the credit for when things have gone well.
The roster turnover during Bloom’s tenure has been significant, so it’s little wonder there’s been a business-as-usual vibe. There’s been little consistency on the roster and that’s led, in many ways, to the team consistently underperforming.
Bloom’s tenure was defined by building for the future. It meant often coveting the farm system and protecting prospects in favor of big-name acquisitions. It meant prioritizing shrewd waiver signings and pursuing free agents on shorter deals. The big splash signings in Trevor Story and Masataka Yoshida as well as Rafael Devers’ extension were the outliers.
Games don’t stop because of season-ending injuries or chemistry-shifting trades. They certainly don’t stop for monumental front office firings. Still, the future of this franchise is in flux. The search for a new leader tasked with making the decisions to steer the club back toward championship contention provides another level of uncertainty in an already uncertain business.
“To be honest, there’s always so much uncertainty in our sport so you get used to it,” said outfielder Rob Refsnyder.
Six weeks ago, the Red Sox were coming off a strong July stretch in which they went 15-8 and sat 2.5 games out of the third wild-card spot. This past weekend in Toronto had been circled on the calendar, as it represented a series with key implications for the postseason race. Instead, the Red Sox entered the weekend barely above .500 before losing two of three games to the Blue Jays, including defeats Saturday and Sunday in walk-off fashion.
The current Red Sox roster — a mix of young, emerging players perhaps not ready to speak their minds supplemented by several veteran players signed on short-term deals — left a bit of an identity void for a team that lacked consistency throughout the year. That’s not to say there were issues in the clubhouse; by all indications it has been an amicable group. But the way in which the roster was constructed presented a bit of a split. Half the club was a young core trying to establish itself as the next homegrown wave of players to solidify the organization; the other half, a group of veterans on expiring contracts with something to prove.
In theory, it could have been a recipe for success, but instead it added to the instability.
Bloom and the front office recognized the need for veteran leadership for a younger group led by Brayan Bello, Triston Casas, Garrett Whitlock, Kutter Crawford, Tanner Houck and Josh Winckowski. But so many of the key players were new additions, including Turner, Kenley Jansen, Adam Duvall, Chris Martin and Corey Kluber, along with James Paxton, spending his first significant time with the major league club. The balance was off. Younger players still developing had more tenure with the team than the veteran arrivals. Whitlock, for example, was among the longest-tenured pitchers with the Red Sox big league club.
Of the current players on the roster, only Rafael Devers, Chris Sale and Verdugo were on the big league roster at the start of Bloom’s first season in 2020. That year, Sale’s season was over before it began with Tommy John surgery, while Verdugo had just arrived in one of the most infamous trades in franchise history. Nick Pivetta was acquired later that summer and Bobby Dalbec and Houck made their big league debuts in September.
There were significant behind-the-scenes changes that many in the organization lauded, as Bloom tried to get the franchise back up to speed on the staffing, infrastructure and player development fronts. But as important as those aspects are, they aren’t front-facing products and had little immediate impact on the results.
“It’s hard to say that it is not related to results. Because again, that’s what that’s what this is all about,” Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said.
Even after the success of 2021, which was viewed by many as ahead of schedule for the rebuild, the club regressed the last two years. Ultimately, that league championship appearance seems to have been an anomaly.
And so as the Red Sox head to Texas for another series that could have had a big bearing on the postseason race, it will instead be the latest set of games in a season winding down before the slate is wiped clean for next year, a new person in charge.
(Top photo of Bloom at Spring Training 2023: Jim Davis / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)