Blogging the Red Sox Presents: An Interview With Chaim Bloom

When Major League Baseball first suspended spring training and delayed the start of the 2020 season back in March due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I sent an email to Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom asking if I could send him a handful of questions pertaining to those aforementioned events taking place.

It took some time, but after sorting things out with the club’s media relations department over the last few weeks, I have in my virtual possession the written responses to the questions I sent him.

Rather than structure this article like a story you would typically see on here, I am instead going to enclose the “transcript” of the “interview” below. So please enjoy, and remember, these questions were sent earlier in the spring, before this year’s draft and before MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said he’s not “100%” confident there will be a season this year.

Would you rather the Red Sox host spring training workouts in Boston or Fort Myers?

Chaim Bloom: This is such a unique year – it forces us to rethink everything that goes into spring training. There are certainly benefits to both places and we’re hoping to get a clearer idea of exactly what 2020 will look like before we firm up a plan. In the meantime, we’re working on parallel tracks to make sure we’re ready for whatever makes the most sense once we see the schedule as a whole.

How has it been preparing for this year’s draft with less material to go over than usual?

Bloom: The process to prepare for the 2020 draft really favored those staffs who had done their homework in the summer and the fall. When you have a hard-working staff with a lot of continuity, which we do, that’s one aspect we were well prepared to take advantage of. The biggest challenge for all 30 clubs was how to weigh those spring samples, which were either small or nonexistent. If a player changed dramatically from what he’d been, how much weight do you put on that? Is that who he is now – was it a real step forward or back – or was it just a small-sample fluke? Those types of discussions were some of the most interesting that we had amongst our staff.

Who in the front office or scouting department would be best at convincing undrafted players to sign with the Red Sox for up to $20,000?

Bloom: The decision to play pro ball is a very personal one for a lot of players and this year is no different. We certainly want to make the case to interested players that we’re the organization that can get the most out of them and maximize their potential. But we also want this to be a mutual fit, who see themselves as well-positioned to take advantage of what we have to offer. When those things line up, we will be set up well to have success in development.

Despite the current freeze placed on any sort of roster moves, have you had any conversations with free agents or other general managers during this period?

Bloom: Along with others in the front office, I’ve continued to speak to counterparts and contacts throughout the game, but not to discuss trades or roster moves. That’s just not appropriate right now and there have been many other issues to worry about.

As a spectator, how different would it be for you to watch Major League Baseball be played in empty ballparks? Would that impact the way you view or analyze a certain player since there would be no crowd noise to react to?

Bloom: It would be different, that’s for sure. I don’t think we know exactly how players will react. But I’d be hesitant to give too much blame or credit to the attendance (or lack thereof) when assessing how a player performs. There’s so much that goes into what these guys do that I don’t know how we could separate the signal from the noise. They’re pros and I have every reason to think they’ll be locked in when the time comes to compete.

Finally, how odd has it been to not have any live stateside baseball to watch at this point in the year? There are obviously more pressing issues at hand in this country, but as someone who has been part of a major-league front office in some capacity since 2005, this has to be kind of strange, no?

Bloom: No question. This is not an experience that has been fun for anyone in the game. We’ve done what we can to make the most of the time, but we’re all in this because we love baseball and when there isn’t any, it’s a downer. Having said that, we know that public health and the safety of our players, our staff, and our fans is and should be higher priorities. Those things have to come first, but we’re hopeful that we can provide some entertainment for our fans during this really difficult period.

Thank you to Chaim Bloom and Red Sox vice president of media relations Kevin Gregg for making this possible. 

2020 MLB Draft to Be Held Remotely Over Two-Day Period Beginning June 10th

The 2020 Major League Baseball first-year player draft will be held remotely and it will begin on June 10th at 7 PM eastern time.

The first 37 picks of the first round will be made on that Wednesday night, while rounds 2-5, which will be comprised of 123 picks, will be held the following day beginning at 5 PM eastern time.

From there, clubs can begin contacting passed-over players at 9 AM eastern time on June 14th. An unlimited number of these undrafted players can be signed by clubs for up to $20,000.

The deadline to sign players, both drafted and undrafted I would assume, is Saturday, August 1st.

Also worth noting, via The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal:

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, “As of now, teams are not allowed to have draft rooms and will do all drafting via video conference.” That mandate could change though, and “like the NFL Draft, the head of baseball operations for every team — either president or general manager — will be sent a video it and will be on camera with no audio during the MLB Draft.”

This all according to a memo obtained by ESPN.

The Red Sox, under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and director of amateur scouting Paul Toboni, will have approximately $3,609,700 to spend on their top pick this year at No. 17 overall.

Due to their stealing of signs in 2018, Boston will be without a second-round pick in 2020, so in what will be the shortest draft in the sport’s history, the Red Sox will be limited to just four selections.

And by the looks of it, it would seem that we might be able to get a glimpse into Bloom’s world via video conference next month, so that could be interesting.

MLB Owners Approve Proposal for 2020 Season, League Will Present Plan to Players’ Union Tuesday

Major League Baseball owners have approved a proposal from the league for the 2020 season to present to the MLB Players’ Union, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The two sides are expected to meet sometime on Tuesday to discuss said plan.

This marks another step towards potentially getting Major League Baseball this year, and as ESPN’s Jeff Passan states, “now is when it starts to get serious.”

Of course, where things go from here depends on how the players’ union feels about all this.

For starters, “Because games, at least initially, will be played without fans, the players’ would be asked to accept a further reduction in pay, most likely by agreeing to a set percentage of revenues for this season only.”

This idea of revenue sharing is apparently a ‘non-starter’ in any proposal the union gets from the league, per The New York Post’s Joel Sherman. Other hurdles include “making players comfortable with protocols/personnel/equipment that play can resume safely,” as well as where teams will play their games.

More specifically, according to Rosenthal, “Teams unable to open in their cities [due to the COVID-19 pandemic] temporarily would relocate, either to their spring training sites or major-league parks in other parts of the country. The same would apply to spring training 2.0 if the league decides to use mostly home parks as opposed to returning to Florida and Arizona.”

The problem with this is that “Not all clubs agree they should train in their home parks, believing spring locales offer a less densely populated, more controlled environment.”

Regionalized schedules consisting of anywhere between 78-82 games and expanded playoffs have also been discussed, while a universal designated hitter and expanded rosters could also be implemented if there is indeed baseball in 2020.

That final part, for now, is still up in the air, though. And although I can’t say for sure, it would appear that the players’ union has final say on the matter. We should hear more about where the MLBPA goes with this on Tuesday.

 

2020 MLB Draft Will Be Limited to Five Rounds, per Report

The 2020 MLB Draft will indeed only be five rounds, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The draft will be held June 10th, its original start date, and June 11th.

Upon completion of this year’s amateur draft, clubs can sign an unlimited number of undrafted players for a signing bonus of up to $20,000 each.

The five-round draft will be the shortest in the sport’s history, and as The Athletic’s Jayson Stark notes, that means that over 1,000 draft-eligible prospects who thought they were going to be drafted as recently as January won’t.

That being the case because under normal circumstances, the draft would be 40 rounds. However, due to the pandemic-induced shortened 2020 season, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached an agreement back in March to shorten the draft from anywhere between 5-10 rounds.

In a proposal sent to the MLBPA from commissioner Rob Manfred’s office earlier in the week, a 10-round draft would come “with other trade-offs that the Players Association determined were too restrictive, including slot amounts in rounds 6-10 at half their 2019 values and a limit of five undrafted players who could sign for a $20,000.” The union rejected the proposal.

If their had been five additional rounds in this year’s draft, the slot values of those rounds would have only come out to approximately $29,578,100, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan. In other words, less than $1 million per club, which has disappointed many across the game.

The Red Sox this year will make their first selection in this year’s draft with the 17th overall pick. That pick will have a slot value of $3,609,700.

Boston will be without a second-round pick as part of their punishment for stealing signs in 2018, but here are the rest of the slot values for the club’s third, fourth, and fifth-round picks, courtesy of Baseball America.

Round 3, 89th overall: $667,900

Round 4, 118th overall: $487,900

Round 5, 148th overall: $364,400

Again, the 2020 MLB Draft will begin on June 10th, and it will be held virtually, presumably on MLB Network.

J.D. Martinez Says MLB ‘Had to Do Something’ When Punishing Red Sox Even Though ‘They Really Didn’t Find Anything’

Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez has had a few weeks to think about the punishment his team received from Major League Baseball for what they did during the 2018 regular season, and quite frankly, he’s still not happy about it.

On April 22nd, MLB released its findings into the 2018 Red Sox, resulting in the club losing their second-round pick in this year’s amateur draft while video replay coordinator J.T. Watkins was suspended without pay for the 2020 season.

Some may think that Boston got off light in this case given their previous offenses, but Martinez was having none of it while talking to The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham on Wednesday.

“If they went to court with that, it would get thrown out,” Martinez said. “There was nothing there. The judge would laugh.”

The 32-year-old was one of the first Sox players to defend his team’s actions and proclaim innocence back in January. Now that the results have since been released, and the league found that any advantage the Red Sox had was “limited in scope and impact,” Martinez could feel some sense of vindication here.

He could have gone the “See, I told you so” route while speaking with Abraham, but he instead decided to defend Watkins.

“That pissed me off. It wasn’t right,” Martinez said of the former Red Sox farmhand’s punishment handed down by commissioner Rob Manfred. “They just ruined this guy’s career with no evidence.”

What could be the reason behind this? Well, Martinez believes that since this was not the Sox’ first rodeo in terms of dealing with discipline from MLB, Manfred felt inclined “to do something” even though “they really didn’t find anything.”

There is a distinct possibility that Watkins was used as a scapegoat in this case to prevent the league from looking worse than it has in the months since the 2019 season came to a close last October. However, it seems unlikely that we will ever know the full story if there is another version to be told, at least not for a while, anyway.

MLB Still Planning on Holding Virtual 2020 Draft on June 10th, per Report

Major League Baseball is still planning on holding its annual first-year player draft on June 10th, its original start date, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman

Before the COVID-19 pandemic put sports on hold in the United States and across the world, the 2020 MLB Draft was originally slated to be held in Omaha, Neb. at the same time the College World Series was happening there in June.

Instead, just like we saw with the National Football League this past weekend, this year’s draft will have to be held virtually.

Per the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, the number of rounds the 2020 draft will consist of has yet to be decided. That being the case because back in March, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached an agreement that would allow commissioner Rob Manfred to cut the draft from anywhere between 5-10 rounds this year while also holding it as soon as June 10th or as late as July 20th.

If this report is true and the draft will indeed begin on June 10th, that means clubs have a little over a month remaining to continue with their preparations while not having much to work with since high school and college baseball has also been put on hold due to the coronavirus.

Based on how Sherman says that, “The plan now is to return the draft to its original start date of June 10 with the potential to add a day if it is deemed necessary,” I would assume that means this year’s draft will be at most a two-day event compared to three days it usually takes to complete 40 rounds.

The Red Sox will make their first selection with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 draft. You can read more about who they might take with that pick here.

Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom on Not Having a Second-Round Pick in This Year’s Draft: ‘It’s Significant’

As part of their punishment for illegally stealing signs in 2018, the Red Sox on Wednesday were docked a second-round pick in this year’s first-year player draft.

That may not sound too significant on the surface, but when you consider that the 2020 MLB Draft will only be anywhere between 5-10 rounds to cut back on spending, it becomes that much larger of a hurdle.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom echoed that same sentiment when speaking with reporters via a conference call earlier Wednesday evening.

“The potential limitations on the draft this year just makes that punishment larger” he said. “It’s significant.”

According to Baseball America, the Sox were slated to make their second-round pick in this year’s draft with the 52nd overall selection, so all that means is the chance to continue to improve a poorly-regarded farm system has in part been taken away.

Some notable prospects the Red Sox have drafted in the second round of past drafts include Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Justin Masterson, Alex Wilson, Brandon Workman, and Sam Travis.

The loss of a second-round pick in this year’s draft comes a year after the Sox were without a first-round selection in the 2019 draft. That was due to luxury tax-related penalties, though, and they wound up taking infielders Cameron Cannon and Matthew Lugo with their first two selections in the second round.

The exact date of the start of the 2020 draft is not even known at this point. It could begin as soon as June 10th or as late as July 20th. It’s anyone’s guess, really.

On another note, I’m planning on writing something up on who Bloom and Co. could target in the first round of the 2020 draft (Red Sox have the 17th pick), so stay tuned for that in the coming days.

Red Sox to Remove ‘Interim’ Tag From Ron Roenicke’s Title, Name Him Manager for 2020 Season

The Red Sox have removed the ‘interim’ tag from Ron Roenicke’s title, making him just the manager now, according to team chairman Tom Werner.

Roenicke, 63, was named interim manager of the Red Sox by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom back on February 11th, when Boston was still under investigation by Major League Baseball for stealing signs electronically in 2018.

At the time, the ‘interim’ tag was given to Roenicke so that the Red Sox could “respect the [league’s] ongoing investigation,” meaning that permanency would not be addressed until the findings were revealed.

A little more than two months after Bloom said that to the media, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s findings have been released, and while the Sox were handed down some punishment for what they did in 2018, Roenicke was exonerated, hence the move to officially name him manager on Wednesday.

Roenicke had served as Alex Cora’s bench coach the previous two seasons with the Red Sox. He has previous big-league managerial experience with the Brewers, where he went 342-311 (.508%) over a five-year tenure from 2011 until May 2015 that included a National League Central title the first season he was at the helm.

Although Roenicke has officially been named the 48th manager in Red Sox history, the possibility remains that Cora, who was cleared of any wrongdoing while manager of the Red Sox, could return to Boston in 2021 after he was handed down a one-year ban by the commissioner on Wednesday.

That remains speculative, though. For now, I just want to see Roenicke have actual baseball games to manage this year, whether it be in Boston, Arizona, Florida, or Texas. Let’s just get baseball back.

Who Is J.T. Watkins? Red Sox Video Replay Coordinator Violated MLB Regulations During 2018 Regular Season, per Commissioner Rob Manfred

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred finally released his findings into the 2018 Red Sox and the club’s “improper use of the video replay room” on Wednesday, and fall guy or not, Red Sox video replay coordinator J.T. Watkins took most of the blame for what went down two years ago.

Watkins’ name is mentioned approximately 125 times in the commissioner’s 15-page report, starting with the following statement:

“I find that J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video replay system operator, on at least
some occasions during the 2018 regular season, utilized the game feeds in the
replay room, in violation of MLB regulations, to revise sign sequence information
that he had permissibly provided to players prior to the game.”

Listed in the Sox’ media guide as the team’s advance scouting assistant, Watkins first joined the organization in 2012 as a 10th-round draft pick out of West Point.

An Alabama-born first baseman, Watkins, now 30 years old, retired from baseball in November 2016 after three minor-league seasons (he missed the 2013 and 2014 seasons while serving in the military for two years) and transitioned into a role with Boston’s advance scouting staff that winter.

A little more than three years after being offered that position, Watkins will be suspended without pay for the 2020 regular and postseason and will not be able to retain his role as replay room operator until the conclusion of the 2021 postseason.

Along with former manager Alex Cora, who was handed down a one-year ban for what he did as Astros bench coach in 2017, Watkins was the only Red Sox employee, player or staff, to be disciplined by Manfred.

Per the commissioner’s report, Watkins “was responsible for attempting to decode an opposing team’s sign sequences prior to and after the completion of the game, which was (and is) permissible under the rules. Watkins conveyed the sign sequence information he learned from his pregame work to players in a meeting prior to the game, or sometimes during the game. The issue in this case stems from the fact that Watkins—the employee responsible for decoding an opponent’s signs prior to and following the game—also was the person stationed in the replay room during the game to advise the Manager on whether to challenge a play on the field. (It was not uncommon for those two roles to be combined in this manner by Clubs in 2018). Therefore, Watkins, who was an expert at decoding sign sequences from video, had access to a live feed during the game that he could have—if he so chose—used to supplement or update the work he had performed prior to the game to decode an opponent’s signs.”

There’s a lot to digest in the report, which you can read in full here, but I did find it interesting that, “Of the 44 players who provided information, more than 30 stated that they had no knowledge regarding whether Watkins used in-game video feeds to revise his advance sign decoding work. However, a smaller number of players said that on at least some occasions, they suspected or had indications that Watkins may have revised the sign sequence information that he had provided to players prior to the game through his review of the game feed in the replay room.”

Despite losing Watkins as video replay coordinator for the next two seasons, it is fair to say that the Red Sox got off lightly here. So much so that Alex Cora will probably be back as manager in 2021.

All in all, it’s just nice to say that after three-plus months of speculation and waiting, it’s nice to say that this league-led investigation into the Red Sox is, at least to my knowledge, complete. They were punished for their actions, now it’s time to move on.

 

 

Red Sox Sign-Stealing Penalties Revealed: Second-Round Draft Pick Stripped, Alex Cora Handed Down One-Year Ban, and Replay Operator Deemed ‘Rogue Employee’

At long last, the results of the MLB-led investigation into the 2018 Red Sox have finally been revealed, and according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the penalties are light.

As mentioned in the tweet above, the Sox were docked just a second-round pick in this year’s draft, while team replay operator J.T. Watkins was handed down a ban through the 2020 postseason in addition to not being able to return to the same position in 2021, and perhaps most importantly, Alex Cora was also handed down a one-year ban through the 2020 playoffs, but only for his conduct with the Astros, not for what he did as manager of the Red Sox in 2018.

Per Rosenthal, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred “found that Watkins, on at least some occasions during the 2018 regular season, illegally utilized game feeds in the replay room to help players during games” and “acted as a rogue employee” in doing so. In other words, what the Red Sox did was not as egregious as what Houston did in 2017.

Despite illegally utilizing the video replay room throughout the 2018 regular season, “The league did not find that Boston’s impermissible conduct continued during the 2018 postseason or 2019 regular season.”

In a formal statement, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy addressed the results of the investigation Wednesday, saying that “As an organization, we strive for 100% compliance with the rules. MLB’s investigation concluded that in isolated instances during the 2018 regular season, sign sequences were decoded through the use of live game video rather than through permissible means.

“MLB acknowledged the front office’s extensive efforts to communicate and enforce the rules and concluded that Alex Cora, the coaching staff, and most of the players did not engage in, nor were they aware of, any violations. Regardless, these rule violations are unacceptable. We apologize to our fans and Major League Baseball, and accept the Commissioner’s ruling.”

The Red Sox and Cora agreed to mutually part ways back in January shortly after Manfred handed down his punishment to the Astros, which included the docking of first and second-round picks in this year’s draft, as well as a $5 million fine and one-year suspensions for then-general manager Jeff Lunhow and then-manager A.J. Hinch.

Compared to what the Astros got, what just got handed down to the Red Sox does not seem all that bad. In fact, it does not seem out of the realm of possibilities that Cora could return to manage the Sox once again in 2021.

For now, it will be interesting to see how long it takes Boston to remove the ‘interim’ tag from interim manager Ron Roenicke’s title.

UPDATE: Well I guess that answers that.