Red Sox: 2018 will define Dave Dombrowski’s Boston legacy

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 03: Dave Dombrowski and Pedro Martinez attend the 2nd Annual Pedro Martinez Charity Gala at The Colonnade Boston Hotel on November 3, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images for Pedro Martinez Charity)
BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 03: Dave Dombrowski and Pedro Martinez attend the 2nd Annual Pedro Martinez Charity Gala at The Colonnade Boston Hotel on November 3, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images for Pedro Martinez Charity) /

2018 will be Dave Dombrowski’s toughest challenge yet with the Red Sox , and he only has a few weeks left to assemble a championship contender…

Since joining the Red Sox in August of 2015, Dave Dombrowski has been immediately successful as President of Baseball Operations. He inherited a last place team, then won two consecutive division titles, with 93 wins both seasons. To put this accomplishment in perspective, his predecessors never won two AL East titles during their entire tenures with Boston. Ben Cherington’s Red Sox had an emotionally charged, 97 win season in 2013. However, it was sandwiched by three last place finishes in 2012, 2014, and 2015. Even Theo Epstein’s Red Sox only won the AL East in 2007.

Unfortunately for Dave Dombrowski, regular season success does not create legacies in Boston. The Red Sox were a wild card team in 2004, but they are often regarded as the greatest Red Sox team of all time. Boston sports fans have seen 10 championship titles since 2002, more than any other city. After one playoff win in two seasons, Red Sox fans are expect more. Dave Dombrowski needs to make moves that position the Red Sox to win in October. The division titles matter, especially with the wild card game, but playoff wins mean the most. Playoff success is partially about luck, but last October made it clear the Red Sox are a step behind the Indians, Astros, and Yankees.

The Yankees are back, and they are not going anywhere

The Yankees have been in a “rebuilding” phase for the past two seasons, paving the Red Sox a much less competitive path to the top of the AL East. This is not the case anymore, acquiring Giancarlo Stanton armed the Yankees’ lineup with the two most feared power hitters in baseball. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projects the Yankees to win 96 games, with the Red Sox 9 games behind at 87. These projections are not perfect, but they are still typically very accurate, and 9 games is a substantial difference. The Yankees also have one of the best farm systems in baseball, which will allow them to trade for a star player if they need to. Meanwhile Dave Dombrowski has depleted a large portion of the farm system in trades during the last two years.

Despite the shift of power back to New York, there are still some reasons to be optimistic about the Red Sox. One could argue they have a managerial advantage over the Yankees, which is a factor the PECOTA projections do not account for. New Red Sox manager Alex Cora was highly regarded as the bench coach in Houston. The Yankees’ new manager, Aaron Boone, has no Major League coaching experience. However, good managing does not help teams as much as bad managing hurts teams. Aaron Boone is inexperienced, but he has the persona of a player’s manager, so don’t expect him to be the next Bobby Valentine. Alex Cora should provide the Red Sox with the spark they seemed to lack in 2017, but overcoming a projected 9 win deficit will need more than that.

Red Sox fans need more to get excited about

Typically, the beginning of a new season is enough for any fan to be excited. However, since the start of last season, the buzz surrounding the Red Sox has been underwhelming. The Red Sox still have star players, but the departure of David Ortiz marked the end of an era. A 93 win season was overshadowed by the absence of a Boston icon, and the lack of power in a lineup that needed its anchor. Most fans would seem to agree that the 2017 Red Sox were a bit boring for such a successful team. Last week, BoSox Injection’s Brandon Carusillo pointed out that Red Sox jersey sales could plummet this season, which is another sign of the lack of excitement over the 2018 season. Failing to replace Ortiz in 2017 not only hurt the offense, but also left a lasting impact on fan perception of the Red Sox.

While losing Ortiz had drawbacks, the decision not to spend money on his replacement allowed the Red Sox to stay under the luxury tax threshold in 2017. They now have the financial flexibility to make moves that will ignite their lineup, and regenerate fan excitement before Opening Day. Dave Dombrowski needs to send a clear message to the fans, the players, and the rest of the league that the Red Sox will be contenders in 2018. Signing J.D. Martinez is the most likely way of sending such a message, but signing him isn’t the only option. Dombrowski may decide to move on from Martinez, but he still needs make acquiring an elite hitter his top priority.

Dombrowski needs to help the young core

While signing a free agent is the most likely route Dombrowski will take, resuming trade talks with Baltimore about Manny Machado would at least be worth considering. The other option is for Dombrowski is to sign a more affordable free agent, such as Logan Morrison, then wait until the trade deadline to make a big splash. Sluggers such as Josh Donaldson, Adrian Beltre, and Nelson Cruz could be made available if their teams are not in contention. Deciding to wait has benefits, but 4 months without a power threat in the lineup could be too long for the Red Sox to stay within reach of the Yankees. A trade deadline acquisition also requires gambling on who will be available, and risks further depleting the farm system for a 2 month rental. Chances are, the Red Sox will be in a better position if Dombrowski chooses to make his moves before Opening Day.

The Red Sox already have the players necessary to build around. Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and Chris Sale represent the core players that will lead the next era of Red Sox baseball. Dustin Pedroia will remain the assumed leader of the clubhouse, but his time as a core player is dwindling. Sale and Betts will demand big contract extensions, but once Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rusney Castillo, and others are off the payroll, keeping them in Boston will be possible. With an established young core, the Red Sox are close to becoming contenders again, but they will still need more. Dave Dombrowski knows this, and is prepared to invest over $100MM on additions to the Red Sox roster.

Next: Diamondbacks competing for J.D. Martinez

Dave Dombrowski has done a great job of turning a last place team into consecutive division champions. However, he wants to be remembered in Boston for more than a few winning seasons. In Dombrowski’s eyes, he is just getting started, and the time is now to make a big splash that establishes the Red Sox as a team to be feared.