Behind the scenes, the Red Sox -- and namely chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom -- had a unique way of ringing in 2023.
It was New Year’s Eve, typically a time for festive social gatherings, yet Bloom spent much of it holed up in his home office.
The mission? To close a deal with star third baseman Rafael Devers.
Unbeknownst to the general public, the Red Sox had built momentum toward a mega extension -- the largest contract in club history -- in the preceding weeks. But New Year’s Eve represented closing time for Bloom and Nelson Montes de Oca, who represents Devers.
“If there was a breakthrough, it was probably on New Year’s Eve,” said Bloom. “It took several conversations. Zooming with these guys, they’re great guys, but it’s not how I want to spend next New Year’s Eve. And then I had some phone conversations with Nelson, and that’s where we started to see that we might be able to get something done.”
It takes two to make a deal, and Bloom’s persistence was reciprocated by Montes de Oca and his agency -- REP 1 Sports.
“We spent a lot of hours on December 31,” said Montes de Oca. “My kids weren’t happy about me being on the phone until at least 11 p.m., but it was for a good reason. We love Raffy, and this is where he wanted to be. This is a place that he loves, and he deserves to be happy.”
The terms of an extension that starts in 2024 (10 years, $313.5 million, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand) were agreed upon on Jan. 4, largely a result of those New Year’s Eve negotiations.
But the first big step came, in Red Sox chairman Tom Werner’s words, “around Dec. 14.”
That was when Red Sox owner John Henry, president/CEO Sam Kennedy, Bloom and assistant general manager Eddie Romero flew to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to meet face to face with Devers.
This was one week after Xander Bogaerts had slipped away in free agency to the Padres, angering Red Sox Nation.
But with Boston’s ownership and front office well represented on that day in the Dominican Republic, they made it clear to Devers they had no interest in seeing him get to his walk year, let alone free agency.
Manager Alex Cora, knowing from his talks with the front office that Devers was about to get an offer in the range of $300 million, decided to join in on the meeting with Devers.
“I was talking to [my partner] Angelica, and I said to her, ‘I want to be there just to hear when somebody tells you that you're gonna make all this money.’ And his reaction was great,” said Cora. “It was priceless. His eyes got as big as when he sees a fastball right in the middle. And I was right next to him, I was like, ‘Chill, bro.’ But he was great. The conversations were great.
“The fact that John was there, I think it was very important for him. And I know with everything that was going on with the market, everybody thought like, ‘One more year go out there and see what you can get.’ But he was very genuine, very transparent. He wants to be part of this, he loves it. He loves playing at Fenway Park, he loves the city. The fact that the proximity to the Dominican too I think that that helps. And obviously having Dominican icons to lead this organization in the last 20 or 25 years, I think that that helped.”
WERNER: OWNERS ARE COMMITTED TO SOX
Nearly three years ago, Red Sox ownership sat for an uncomfortable press conference at the club’s Spring Training facility to discuss the unpopular trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.
In the nearly three years that ensued, Henry and Werner didn’t take part in any group interviews with the Boston media, instead letting Kennedy and Bloom speak on behalf of the organization.
But that changed earlier this week when Werner attended the press conference for Devers. The club said that Henry had a conflicting engagement, otherwise he would have been there also.
At any rate, it was a good chance for Werner to clear up misconceptions about ownership being less involved than in the past, and to quell rumors that the group that has owned the Red Sox since 2002 could be contemplating a sale of the team.
“There are absolutely no plans [to sell the team],” Werner said. “People should know that not only [are] our brains into trying to fix the last-place finish, but our heart is with our fans. I'm 72, John's 72. We have a desire to win many more World Series here. As long as we're healthy, we're going to be hopefully improving the stewardship of the Red Sox.”
While Bloom has taken a lot of heat from the fanbase for two last-place AL East finishes in his three seasons, and even more for Bogaerts getting away, Werner made it clear that ownership remains behind the team’s leader of baseball operations.
“You [asked] what's my confidence? I think he's one of the finest general managers in baseball, or heads of baseball operations I should say,” said Werner. “He had a tough year last year. We all had a tough year. We had an excellent year the year before. I endorse and I'm excited about his long-term plan.”
That long-term plan, of course, is building through the farm system and creating a team that has a chance to win a championship every year.
STORY INJURY LEAVES SOX SCRAMBLING
A day before the grand unveiling of Devers at Fenway Park, the news was not so good. The Red Sox revealed that Trevor Story underwent an internal bracing procedure of the right ulnar collateral ligament (elbow). Dr. Keith Meister performed the surgery at Texas Metroplex Institute in Arlington, Texas.
While the recovery for such a procedure can be five to six months if all goes well, Bloom doesn’t want to bank on Story playing in 2023. It was a crushing blow, considering the Sox had banked on Story as their starting shortstop for next season.
“We're not ready to put a timetable on it yet,” said Bloom. “I certainly would not rule out a return sometime during 2023, but it's also not something at this stage that we want to bank on. It will take how long it takes. We want to make sure he's 100 percent. But certainly with this being an internal brace procedure and not Tommy John, it does leave the door open for a return this season.”
Even before the Story injury, the Red Sox were down one middle infielder, having not yet replaced Bogaerts. So where does this leave the club?
Bloom could either acquire two middle infielders, or he could get one middle infielder and one center fielder. In the latter scenario, Kiké Hernández could move to second base or shortstop.
Or could it be that the center fielder could come from within, leaving Bloom in need of just one middle infielder from outside the organization?
The Red Sox still have speedy center fielder Jarren Duran. Though he wasn’t impressive down the stretch last year after a fast start, perhaps he will make some adjustments and become the offensive player the Sox need him to be. With MLB going with bigger bases next year and encouraging stolen bases, it could make Duran more valuable.
“We haven't talked about Jarren for a while, and I think, where are we at, in this situation, it would be good for him to step up and play good baseball and be the player that we envisioned a few years ago,” said Cora. “And obviously, the front office, they're going to keep working towards the final product. Like I always said, the puzzle is not complete until that last out of the World Series. Sometimes it's one piece, sometimes it's two, sometimes three or four.”
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