What will Red Sox do to correct mistakes from previous regime?


Dave Dombrowski has his work cut out for him. The new president of baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox inherits a roster that requires a drastic overhaul for the starting rotation, bullpen and defense.

One of the most challenging aspects of Dombrowski’s job will be cleaning up the mess left behind by the previous regime. Ben Cherington did a lot of great things for this organization, but some of his more recent decisions have saddled the Red Sox with expensive veterans that haven’t panned out.

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The most glaring of Cherington’s mistakes was the decision to shell out a lucrative 4-year, $82.5 million extension to Rick Porcello before he ever took the mound in a regular season game for the Red Sox. Cherington was following a philosophy that paying a 26-year old pitcher the market rate for an ace carries less risk than doing the same for an over-30 starter, with the idea being that they will be paying for their prime years rather than past performance. It makes perfect sense, except that Cherington whiffed on evaluating Porcello as the potential ace of the staff.

Dombrowski clearly doesn’t see Porcello as a pitcher of that caliber worthy of the contract that was lavished upon him, which is why he traded him to the Red Sox last winter for Yoenis Cespedes when he was the general manager of the Detroit Tigers. However, that doesn’t mean that he believes Porcellos is a lost cause.

"“First of all, Rick Porcello has the ability to be a very solid pitcher,” Dombrowski said during Wednesday afternoon’s press conference. “A young pitcher who’s been through a lot and has always been a tough competitor.“I really don’t know what happened to him over here. I haven’t seen him pitch very often. I’m surprised that he hasn’t done better. I’m not really sure why [he hasn’t]. It’ll be interesting to find out what people’s observations are. We always thought he’d be a good big league pitcher and still do.”"

That doesn’t sound like the comments of a man that is sold on the idea of Porcello being a front of the rotation starter, but it also doesn’t sound like one ready to give up on him either. Even if the Red Sox were able to move his albatross of a contract (which would certainly require ownership to agree to eat a significant chunk of that salary), Dombrowski isn’t content to dump him for nothing. Not without seeing if he can salvage Porcello’s career first.

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Was Porcello crushed under the expecations of his hefty contract? Was it the pressure to make the leap toward becoming the ace of a staff that critics were quick to point out didn’t have one? Is it a mechanical flaw that the Red Sox coaching staff has failed to notice yet? Dombrowski can’t be sure yet, but he intends to find out.

Unless Dombrowski can somehow find a team to dump Porcello’s contract on, we have to assume he’ll be a part of next year’s rotation. That doesn’t mean he’ll be expected to be an ace, no matter what his contract suggests. Expect the Red Sox to be active in the free agent and trade markets this winter with Dombrowski hellbent on bringing in a legitimate front line starter. Perhaps pushing Porcello further back in the rotation to reduce expectations is just what he needs for a bounce back campaign.

The other massive mistake that will continue to haunt Cherington’s legacy in Boston was inking two high-profile free agent bats to expensive new deals without knowing where to put them on the field. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval have been two of the worst defensive players in the game at any position this season. Sandoval no longer seems to have the range or agility he showed in San Francisco, while Ramirez’s transition to left field has been an utter disaster.

Despite their defensive struggles, Dombrowski says that he won’t ask either of them to switch positions this year. It’s too late in the season to force a player to learn a new position, which presents too much risk of the move backfiring by the player not taking well to their new position or getting injured while trying.

That doesn’t mean he’s ruling it out for next year. Dombrowski doesn’t seem convinced that left field is the right spot for Ramirez. The problem is, he hasn’t had enough time to evaluate where he should put him instead.

"“I’m not sure at this point,” Dombrowski replied when questioned about Ramirez’s future in left field. “I haven’t seen him play left field very much. One thing you have to be careful about — and I’ve had some experience with this with some good athletes — you can’t just assume they can play another position.”"

Dombrowski recalls a segment on MLB network in which Ramirez was ranked as the No. 1 left fielder heading into the season. He thought to himself, how can people make that statement when they don’t know if he can play left field or not? We now know that he can’t, but where else can they fit him on this roster?

Red Sox fans are clamoring for the team to move Ramirez to first base, but we don’t even know if he can be a capable first baseman. It’s not as easy to learn as people assume. First basemen have to worry about scooping poor throws out of the dirt, focus on their footwork around the bag and are involved in far more plays than a left fielder.

Ideally the Red Sox will trade Ramirez or Sandoval after the season, with the one that remains settling in at one of the corner infield spots. They can use spring training to attempt a transition to first base, but they can live with sticking whichever one of them remains at third if that move isn’t working. As long as it means no longer having multiple glaring weaknesses in their defense.

One of the primary benefits of having Dombrowski take over is that he carries no allegiance to any of these players. He can make changes as he sees fit, whether that means shipping them out or finding them a new role on the team.

Don’t expect any drastic changes regarding these three players before the end of this season, as Dombowski will use this time to evaluate them. What we can expect is for some changes to be made by the time the 2016 season rolls around. By then we won’t see Porcello as one of the team’s top starters, nor will we see the tandem of Sandoval and Ramirez making up the left side of the defensive alignment.

It was a mistake for the 2015 Red Sox to think they could get away with these decisions. Dombrowski won’t allow for those same mistakes to derail another season.