Tampa Bay Rays

Three teams, 7 players, 1 home run: What complicated trade tells us about Red Sox's Chaim Bloom

Three teams, 7 players, 1 home run: What complicated trade tells us about Red Sox's Chaim Bloom

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Chaim Bloom impressed Red Sox ownership during his interview by dissecting a handful of deals with the Rays that revealed the kind of creativity John Henry wanted to add to Boston's front office.

One was the pursuit of Charlie Morton, Houston's All-Star right-hander, who received one of the biggest pitching contracts in Tampa history at a modest two years and $30 million. The 35-year-old rewarded Tampa's faith with a third place finish in the Cy Young Award voting.

Another was a complicated three-way trade with the A's and Rangers that sent second baseman Jurickson Profar to Oakland, prospects to Texas, and reliever Emilio Pagan to the Rays. A compensatory pick and international bonus money changed hands, too, for good measure.

It is that second deal and its many moving parts that caught the eye of Red Sox chairman Tom Werner.

"We studied decisions that they made and we were impressed," Werner said. "The total decision-making was impressive. They went out in the free agent market and got Charlie Morton. They made a great three-way trade for Pagan. You can just go up and down that roster and say they found talent in very creative ways."

So how did it happen? The four executives primarily involved — Texas GM Jon Daniels, Oakland counterpart David Forst, and the Tampa duo of Bloom and GM Erik Neander — weighed in from the GM meetings this week. Their observations and recollections shed light on the kind of decision-maker Bloom will be in Boston — nimble, inventive, and connected.

"Very smart and very creative," Forst said. "I've always respected Chaim. He has always dealt honestly with us and been up front."

Merely reading the summary of the trade illustrates its complexity. The A's sent Pagan and a competitive balance pick to Tampa, and infielder/outfielder Eli White and international bonus money to the Rangers. The Rangers sent minor league pitcher Rollie Lacy to the Rays and received three prospects in return: left-handers Brock Burke and Kyle Bird, and right-hander Yoel Espinal, which helped Tampa relieve a roster crunch.

Got all that? Good. The first thing worth noting is that most three-way deals are born of failure, and this was no exception.

"Typically, they don't happen overnight," Neander said. "I don't think anyone's seeking that. There's a sincere interest in finding common ground between two clubs. You run the well dry, and then it's like, 'All right, do we have any other business going on that we could introduce to this negotiation to find a way to get over the finish line?' And that's effectively what happened."

The trade started with Daniels, who played the role of go-between. The A's wanted Profar to be their everyday second baseman, but they lacked the pieces to complete a deal on their own. Because Daniels had maintained regular contact with the Tampa front office — primarily Neander — he knew the Rays wanted Pagan, a hard-throwing reliever who hadn't quite put it together in his first two seasons. And the Rays knew which prospects Daniels valued, primarily Burke.

"Jon Daniels was in the middle," Forst said. "All we knew was there was a team on the other side. Everything went through Jon. We talked to him about Profar and Pagan and the comp pick, and he said, 'Look, to be up front, some of these pieces are going elsewhere.' Anytime you have a three-team deal, sometimes everybody knows, but a lot of times there's kind of a middle manager working both sides. So Jon deserves a lot of credit for working with us and working with Chaim and Erik on that side."

The deal would not have happened without steady communication, a skill Bloom will bring to Boston.

"They've always done a good job of constant dialogue over the year," Daniels said of Bloom and Neander. "Not just trade deadline. Not just winter meetings. Constant dialogue, understanding what your goals are, being up front about their goals. It's where I think they have a lot of information. The way they've built their club, they have a heavy-transactional process, if that's what you want to call it, and more information allows them to make better decisions. Sometimes you'll deal with a club and you'll feel like it's one-way, that they're just pulling information out. I've always felt good dealing with them that it's two-way. They want to know what you're looking at, but they're also happy to share what their goals are."

Added Bloom: "I think a lot of that fell out of our organization having good communication with both organizations, but especially with Texas, who was trying to broker it."

Striking a deal is only half the battle, though. The Rays had to identify the right target, and in Pagan, they hit a home run. Tampa represented his third team in three years, and he was coming off a so-so 2018 that saw him go 3-1 with a 4.35 ERA while flashing intermittent command.

But he blossomed in Tampa. His max velocity jumped from 96 to 99 mph and he ended up posting a career-low 2.31 ERA while saving 20 games and striking out a career-best 12.3 batters per nine.

"He stood out as someone who had a chance to have a little more success than he'd had to date," Bloom said. "We knew towards the end of the season that that harder breaking ball was coming into play more. I don't think any of us, if we're being honest, could have expected that he'd turn in the season that he did. That just speaks to getting a great result from hopefully a good and rigorous process."

The Rays preach organizational humility — it's why they might be the worst team in the league at stealing signs, because it's simply not part of their culture — and they'd be the first to note that they got a little lucky with Pagan, who actually opened the season in Triple-A. But they saw an opportunity for growth if he could reshape his breaking ball, a hard slider that he throws with more of a cutter grip, and the results were tremendous.

"I'm not at all surprised that the Rays got themselves involved," Forst said. "We always felt like we and the Rays see things similarly in how we evaluate players. We didn't like giving up Pagan — I didn't know he was going to be throwing 99 and closing games — but we liked Pagan and obviously there's value in the comp pick. So not surprised at all that Chaim and Erik had their fingers in our business."

The comp pick presented its own challenges, because it cannot be traded more than once and thus had to move as part of one big deal. Awarded to the smallest-market and lowest-revenue teams, this particular pick landed at No. 40 overall, the area of the draft where Tampa had previously nabbed stalwarts like All-Star Carl Crawford and Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. The Rays used the pick on college right-hander Seth Johnson, allowing them to build for the future even as they hoped Pagan would help in the present.

Speaking of which, when Forst discovered Tampa was the third team in the deal, did he pause to question what he and his own evaluators had missed?

"Absolutely," he admitted. "There's a number of teams we feel that way about, where they pick up a player and you go, 'Huh, should we have been involved?' It's not unique to Tampa, but they're a team that we see similar to us in the way they operate."

The Pagan trade is the kind of move the Red Sox will have to make to remain competitive with ownership intent on slashing payroll. Fortunately, they now employ one of its architects.

"Chaim will do really well, because at the end of the day, he's consistent, he communicates well, it's clear," Neander said. "He's trustworthy. There's no agenda. The purpose of the call is whatever's laid out. These relationships are built on trust, and he's someone that can be trusted."

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Chaim Bloom's Rays pioneered the opener — could it be a regular sight for Red Sox in 2020?

Chaim Bloom's Rays pioneered the opener — could it be a regular sight for Red Sox in 2020?

Baseball purists shudder at the mere mention of the "The Opener," the concept of using a reliever for an inning or two before handing the ball off to the rest of the bullpen. It was pioneered by the Tampa Bay Rays during the tenure of new Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, and to great success.

Of the 14 pitchers to make a start for the Rays last year, 11 of them also pitched in relief. All-Star Charlie Morton, defending Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, and breakout candidate Tyler Glasnow were the only Rays used exclusively as starters.

The results have produced some statistical oddities. Former Red Sox farmhand Jalen Beeks pitched over 100 innings despite making only three starts last year, right-hander Ryan Yarbrough has more wins (27) than starts (20) over the last two seasons, and right-hander Ryan Stanek accounted for only two decisions despite making 27 starts in 2019. But there's no arguing the bottom line, with Tampa cracking 90 wins in each of the last two seasons.

With Bloom taking over in Boston, a natural question is if we should expect to see more openers. He's not going there, yet, though he may not have a choice.

"We said it with the Rays, and I and a number of other people are on record about that," he said. "It was always about just trying to figure out how you could take the strengths of the players on your roster and go win as many baseball games as you could. Nothing more, nothing less. In this game now, the more this game evolves, teams are being open to a larger menu of options of how to do that. But there's not necessarily any one right way. It's really just about going into it with a mindset of using everyone's strengths whichever way is going to give you the best chance to win."

The Red Sox belatedly joined the opener bandwagon last season out of necessity. By September, injuries had shelved David Price and Chris Sale and limited Nathan Eovaldi. The only healthy starters on the roster were Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello, necessitating September starts from the likes of Jhoulys Chacin, Travis Lakins, and Bobby Poyner.

In a perfect world, Sale, Price, and Eovaldi will each make 30-plus starts in 2020, but that's a big ask, given the various injuries they battled in 2019. Which means we might be looking another season of openers as the Red Sox piece together a rotation.

The concept has merit, especially if your staff is deep enough to pull it off, which Boston's decidedly was not last year. Let a reliever trained to deliver 1-2-3 innings handle the top of the order before yielding to a more traditional starter or long reliever for multiple frames. This increases the likelihood that if the pitcher after the opener turns over the lineup a dreaded third time, he'll be seeing the bottom of the order and not the top.

The approach turned the game on its head — Tampa's Sergio Romo memorably followed 588 straight relief appearances with starts on consecutive days in 2018 — but it also maximized Tampa's chances to win, especially when Snell and Glasnow landed on the IL last season.

The Red Sox could find themselves with more openers in 2020 if the rotation can't stay healthy.

"I don't know yet," Bloom said. "This is something as we talk and work together, we're going to figure out the best way to think about things. Certainly, when we played our last homestand with the Rays, we played the Red Sox and there were a lot of bullpen games and a lot of pitchers being used on both sides. There were a lot of different ways that this team had been doing it. I don't necessarily think it would be anything new to think about that. But it's really just going to come out of our collective discussions."

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Five pressing issues Chaim Bloom will need to address on Day 1 as Red Sox boss

Five pressing issues Chaim Bloom will need to address on Day 1 as Red Sox boss

Now that Chaim Bloom is headed to Boston, the real fun begins.

Hiring a decision-maker was the first priority of the Red Sox offseason, but in a way, it was the easiest item on the to-do list, since even if the Red Sox remained within the organization, they were assured of making a strong hire. Outside of Bobby Valentine, John Henry and Co. have proven over the past 20 years that they don't screw up their management choices.

With a source confirming that Bloom is headed to Boston as director of baseball operations -- as first reported by the New York Post's Joel Sherman -- the ex-Rays exec must get quickly up to speed on the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of his new organization.

He'll have help, with MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reporting that the Gang of Four (Brian O'Halloran, Eddie Romero, Zack Scott and Raquel Ferreira) will remain in Boston and assistant GM O'Halloran will be promoted to general manager.

That said, there's no time to waste, so let's lay out some of Bloom's most pressing issues.

1. TRADING MOOKIE BETTS

There's really nowhere else to start, right? As we laid out earlier, Bloom (alongside Tampa GM Erik Neander) was aggressive about dealing veterans for youth out of necessity in Tampa. The closest they came to dealing a player the caliber of Betts is when they sent franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria to the Giants in December of 2017. The return has thus far proven underwhelming, though the deal did allow the Rays to get out from under roughly $60 million of the final $86 million on Longoria's deal, money they used to build back-to-back 90-game winners.

Betts will be a free agent next fall, so he's not locked in like Longoria was. There aren't a lot of comps to suggest what Boston might receive in return, but contenders like the Braves and Phillies should be among Bloom's first calls.

One aspect of this deal to watch will be whether Bloom seeks straight prospects in return -- as he generally did in Tampa -- or proven big leaguers. Speaking of which . . .

2. REPLENISH THE FARM SYSTEM

Be prepared to see a slew of veteran-for-prospect trades this winter, because the Red Sox desperately need to infuse one of the game's thinnest minor league systems with youth. The good news is whatever internal evaluations Bloom made of opposing organizations in Tampa can come with him to Boston.

The Rays were particularly adept at identifying talent in seemingly minor deals, whether it was landing corner infielder Yandy Diaz from the Indians to help facilitate a three-way trade involving sluggers Carlos Santana and Edwin Encarnacion, adding reliever Ryan Yarbrough (27 wins in 2 years) in a package for Drew Smyly, or snagging hard-throwing reliever Emilio Pagan in another three-way deal with the Rangers and A's. Oh, and while the Red Sox don't regret a thing about the deal that brought them Nathan Eovaldi in 2018, the Rays have been happy with left-hander Jalen Beeks.

So where might the Red Sox stop chopping . . .

3. MOVE JACKIE BRADLEY JR., AMONG OTHERS

The Gold Glove center fielder (he's a finalist again this year) has had a tumultuous Red Sox career, earning ALCS MVP honors in 2018, but struggling to deliver anything remotely resembling offensive consistency.

Now that he's due more than $10 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, he's no longer cost-effective. He will almost certainly be dealt this winter, presumably for prospects.

Another name to watch is catcher Christian Vazquez. He's coming off a career year and due more than $10 million over the next two years, but the advanced analytics aren't as kind to him as numbers like his 23 homers, and catcher is a position the Rays often viewed as pretty fungible -- they've employed five different primary starters in the last six years.
Put another way: everyone is on the table.

4. JETTISON A STARTER

In David Price, Chris Sale, and Eovaldi, the Red Sox feature a trio of contractual albatrosses who are due $79 million in each of the next three seasons. For the Red Sox to regain control of their payroll, at least one of them has to go -- Price seems like the best bet -- but good luck making that happen. All three are injury risks, and moving on from any one of them would represent the definition of selling low, before we even take into account how much money the Red Sox would have to eat.

Doesn't matter. Financial flexibility depends on it.

5. EVALUATE SYSTEMS

This should probably be No. 1 on the list, because long-term, it's the reason Bloom is here. Tampa was renowned as one of the most forward-thinking organizations in the game, but the Red Sox had lagged under Dombrowski, focusing their attention on maximizing the big league roster at the expense of the farm system, not to mention the next generation of data integration and evaluative tools that could not only improve the lineup, but help identify trade targets. So that's the list, but it's by no means comprehensive. The real work starts. . . now.

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