Chaim Bloom and His Obsession With Comeback Tours
Will the front office’s pre-lockout moves work out?
We are now officially in the Major League Baseball lockout of 2021.
There’s a lot to say about union negotiations or anything that has to do with the fundamentals of working rights— and those things will be said. I’ll probably write something myself. But so far, the biggest response we’ve seen to the impending lockout was the mad scramble to get deals done between players and front offices before they were barred from doing so.
We saw the Mets go crazy picking up half a dozen players and dishing out hundreds of millions so that they don’t have to hustle between the end of the lockout and the start of spring training. We’ve seen more than a few guys get overpaid so that they commit early. And we’ve seen players scramble to what is perhaps an imperfect fit for security purposes.
And then there’s whatever Chaim Bloom is doing.
I shouldn’t say that. We’ve figured out exactly what he’s doing. But I, and many others, can’t seem to make sense of it. He’s clearly a fan of no-name guys — in the small sample size of the offseason so far, every high-profile name attached to the Red Sox has signed somewhere else, often for a crazy amount of money. The players we have signed or traded for are low profile and often low cost guys who seem to fit into the puzzle that Bloom is putting together, but quite a few of them — if not all — come with some baggage.
Let’s talk about them:
The Pitchers: Wacha, Paxton, Hill
An overwhelming issue with the team last year was the plan for starting pitchers. We only had three pitchers consistently pitch in a rotation format all year (Eovaldi, Pivetta, Rodriguez) and although the idea of a regularly scheduled, typically five-man rotation is becoming a bit archaic, one thing that plan usually does not do is put a strain on the bullpen. If they don’t have that security of a good chunk of innings completed to start a game, they end up pitching a lot of innings. And that can slow any pitcher down.
So we needed some guys who could give us some innings. Not only in the “rotation”, but in the pen as well — when Sale is on a short leash after Tommy John surgery and you only let Houck see a lineup twice through, you need some inning eaters in the pen as well.
The first move was for Michael Wacha — a pitcher who hasn’t had a winning season since 2018. (Yes, wins are perhaps an outdated way to measure pitchers since that has a lot to do with the offense, but a 5.11 ERA in that span is no coincidence.) I liked (like? I don’t know) the Wacha signing when it was first reported. This is a guy who was flexible with Tampa Bay last year, pitching 124.2 innings in 29 games including 23 starts. Sounds to me like a guy who can adapt to rotation needs and injury-created problems while not doing too much damage. Eat some innings. A good start.
The next move was a little more surprising. James Paxton, a former stud (and another AL East veteran), who is in the midst of recovering from Tommy John surgery. He won’t be available until the middle of the season at the earliest and will clearly be limited on pitch counts, but perhaps he can act like a mid-season acquisition that we just happened to pick up in November. And Tommy John isn’t really a thing to worry about — right? Over a quarter of the league’s pitchers have had TJ at some point, so it’s kinda hard to find someone who hasn’t. And if he returns to anything resembling his former self (114 career ERA+) he can be a boost down the stretch when we want to tweak how the rotation affects the bullpen.
Finally, 41-year old, 17-year veteran Rich Hill joined the team yesterday on a one-year deal, his seventh signing with the team. I didn’t want to be that guy who was like “What about Rich Hill!” because there’s a chance that his excellent 2021 was a fluke (31 starts in 32 games for 158.2 IP), but even if he can give us just 100 innings of short starts or long relief, he can be a valuable southpaw. And his flexibility to go in and out of the rotation seems to be a recurring theme here.
I liked (like? I don’t know) all of these moves. It came with some hesitation, but I could see the pitching plan coming together.
I wanted some offensive moves.
I regret asking for that now.
Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley Jr. + two prospects
We knew Renfroe was trade piece numero uno. He’s coming off a dirt cheap, red hot season and everyone thought we could flip him for something valuable that could give us some defensive flexibility (another Bloom preference) or maybe someone we could hope to not go ice-cold in the post-season.
And then my personal apocalypse.
The return of Jackie Bradley Jr.
Listen, I defended Jackie for a long time. I remember watching him in (at the time) High-A Salem and he was really fun to watch there — 1.006 OPS in his time for the Salem Sox.
He was also fun in Boston for a bit too. 2016 All Star, valuable part of the 2018 World Series run, but these things are unfortunately ancient history now. The current team barely resembles the Red Sox of then. I considered Jackie a part of our past and definitely no part of our future. When he left for Milwaukee on an outrageously overpriced deal, I said goodbye without hesitation.
I was right. His sole season in Milwaukee is entirely indefensible. He slashed (if you can even imply any slashing) .163/.236/.261 in 2021. Somehow Bloom finds this acceptable and finds it to be a Milwaukee issue. In his final pre-lockout conference where he addressed these moves, he said, “Coming back here, we can get him to back to a lot of what he used to do.” I don’t see how on OPS+ of 34 is something you could even conceivably come back from, but apparently he does.
And personally, to lose Renfroe, one of my favorite players to watch last year, and for him to leave in exchange for a player I wiped from memory to avoid the headaches he used to give me, it stung. Yes, JBJ’s strength is his defense. But Renfroe had a cannon and 100 RBIs.
As you can see from my tweet after last night’s Bastards of Boston Baseball YT episode, this puzzling move has made me rethink just about everything so far in this shortened offseason:
Yes, we got some fun prospects (more on them another time), but the only other way I find this move to be defensible is if this is the first in a series of moves to switch up the outfield. Jackie is no answer. But if he’s just going to be used as a bench piece for defensive and speed supplements behind a free agent righty like Bryant, Castellanos, or Japan’s incoming Suzuki — I can get behind this.
But I just can’t get the phrase “comeback tour” out of my head. It seems to be the common denominator of all of Bloom’s moves so far. Wacha is trying to find his magic from his St. Louis days. Paxton is recovering from a major surgery in Tommy John. Rich Hill is old and just a few years removed from his successful attempt at a career resurgence that found him a stint in the independent Atlantic League at a spry 35 years old. And JBJ straight-up sucked last year — there’s no other way to put it.
He’s putting a lot of faith in guys that have a lot to prove.
I will leave you will something I said in that Bastards episode that still rings true for me. I said I wanted to sleep on it, and even after a JBJ-infused toss and turn of a sleep, I still stand by it:
“I’m trying to win a World Series in 2022. And we came very close this year. We came very close….I am befuddled by what he’s doing…”
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Stats, as always, are from Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and MLB.com