Working together without knowing it, and doing so years apart, Dave Dombrowski and Chaim Bloom built a Red Sox roster that had a chance to do something special.
With Dombrowski ensuring Xander Bogaerts would never reach free agency after the 2019 season, reading the market correctly to land J.D. Martinez ahead of the ’18 season and opening John Henry’s wallet shortly after the ’18 World Series to keep Nathan Eovaldi in a Red Sox uniform for four more years, his fingerprints are all over the 2021 Red Sox roster.
Bloom’s, too, of course.
Trading Mookie Betts was like swallowing cough medicine, though the prime reward, Alex Verdugo, has done a fine job essentially replacing Andrew Benintendi as the Red Sox’ multi-talented left fielder.
Most of Bloom’s work has been done on the edges of the roster, something he acknowledged in February, when he spent just about $20 million in free agency on three players: Kiké Hernandez, Garrett Richards and Hunter Renfroe.
He swallowed most of Adam Ottavino’s $9 million salary to acquire him and a prospect from the Yankees, drafted Garrett Whitlock in the Rule 5 Draft, acquired Nick Pivetta in a trade-deadline dump last August and nabbed Christian Arroyo off the waiver wire around the same time.
While Dombrowski was largely responsible for the big names on the Red Sox’ roster, Bloom took care of the smaller ones, filling the gaps that Dombrowski largely failed at taking care of.
If there was one roster-building weakness of Dombrowski, it was on the edges. The Sox lacked depth in his tenure. And while they lacked talent all over the field in 2020, Bloom made sure depth was no issue in 2021.
“We knew we lacked depth,” Bloom said in February. “Last season we showed that in the most painful way possible, so we wanted to make a number of different acquisitions that could help us really fortify our depth.
“Our front-line talent can play with anybody. So we wanted to surround our talent with enough depth that if everything clicks, we can have a pretty exciting year. We’ll see what plays out. But I certainly think with the talent we have in hand, hopefully we’ll be able to add to it as we get closer to camp and get into camp, that we’ll have the pieces here to make some noise and make a playoff run.”
World Series titles aren’t won in the offseason — just ask the San Diego Padres, who acted like a teenager who just got their first paycheck while buying up every great player they could get their hands on.
Bloom was more methodical, waiting out the free agent market for a while and avoiding dipping his toes in the top-20 talent pool while finding a few guys he liked on a budget.
His biggest signing was Richards, who cost about $10 million this year and almost certainly will not have his option picked up next year after MLB changed the rules on sticky substances and effectively made Richards an afterthought. It’s hard to fault Bloom for this one. He gambled on a pitcher’s arsenal, something manager Alex Cora is often in favor of.
Bloom said he consulted Cora on roster moves and put a lot of value on his opinion.
We’ve learned a lot about Cora through his years in Boston, particularly that he loves pitchers with “stuff,” hitters with attitude and fielders with versatility.
And after the Red Sox looked flat, uninspiring and often embarrassing on the field in 2020, Cora made it a point to value postseason experience. He thought adding guys like Hernandez, Renfroe and the eventually-released Marwin Gonzalez would be huge, given they have all made World Series runs in the last few years.
You have to know what you need and what you don’t need. And while the Sox would’ve loved to get guys like George Springer ($150 million over six years) and Marcus Semien ($18 million over one year), who went to the Blue Jays for more money than the Sox wanted to spend, Bloom found Hernandez for $14 million over two years and Renfroe for $3 million over one year to be more efficient replacements in the outfield and at second base.
He traded Benintendi and let Jackie Bradley Jr. walk to the Brewers for $24 million over two years.
And he gave Cora a crew that wasn’t exactly overflowing with talent, but had just enough upside that, if everything went right, they could sneak into October and make a run.
For the most part, everything went right. The Sox avoided serious injuries to all of their star players. They added what turned out to be the missing piece, Kyle Schwarber, in July. And they survived a COVID-19 outbreak to limp into the postseason without a game to spare.
It wasn’t a master class on elite roster-building, by any stretch of the imagination. The 2021 Red Sox never looked elite, nor did they soar above the competition.
But it was about as close to perfect as you can get at efficiently building a roster that was just good enough.
“Just good enough,” should’ve been the motto of the 2021 Red Sox.
Just good enough to get in, and let Cora do the rest.