Red Sox firing Dave Dombrowski signals team moving in new direction
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox firing Dave Dombrowski means that they don’t view him as the right man to oversee the new direction they intend to move in.
Dave Dombrowski did his job. He did exactly what he was brought here to do, gutting the farm system and splurging on free agents in a series of win-now moves to put a contending team over the top. The result was three consecutive division titles, a franchise-record 108 win season and a World Series title for the Boston Red Sox.
The urgency to win came at a cost, one that ultimately cost Dombrowski his job.
A disappointing season that will almost certainly keep the Red Sox out of the playoffs for the first time since 2015 means changes are on the horizon. With a depleted farm system and MLB’s highest payroll, Dombrowski didn’t have the resources to make the necessary mid-season upgrades to recover from the team’s slow start. In other words, Dombrowski wasn’t able to do what he does best – mortgage the future for the sake of the present.
This team has hit a ceiling, hamstrung by the deals Dombrowski made last winter. The Xander Bogaerts extension appears to be a genius decision but Chris Sale‘s new contract threatens to become a disaster. The team would have faced a fierce backlash if they failed to reward Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce for their postseason heroics yet re-signing both players clearly backfired. These contracts left very little room in the budget to bolster the bullpen or upgrade the back end of the rotation.
His mistakes may have played a part in his downfall but the writing has been on the wall since spring training when the Red Sox didn’t offer Dombrowski an extension. Ownership appreciates what he did to bring them a title but they weren’t willing to commit to him building their future.
During Dombrowski’s reign as president of baseball operations, we saw him trade for Sale and Craig Kimbrel. He signed David Price and J.D. Martinez to lucrative free-agent deals. Dombrowski is one of baseball’s best executives when it comes to pulling off a blockbuster. He’s aggressive and isn’t afraid to take risks. He did a masterful job of building a championship team but now that he’s out of resources to spend, the Red Sox are backed into a corner.
It’s time for the franchise to move in a new direction, one Dombrowski isn’t suited to take them in. While Dombrowski is inclined to trade his top prospects, the Red Sox desperately need to rebuild a farm system that ranks among MLB’s worst. Dombrowski’s instinct is to spend money but Boston needs to trim their payroll in order to carve out space to retain their talented young core.
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Boston will shed more than $55 million from their payroll with Rick Porcello, Brock Holt, Mitch Moreland, and Pearce hitting free agency, in addition to Pablo Sandoval‘s contract finally falling off their books. A significant chunk of those savings have already been spent on extensions and raises for arbitration-eligible players but we shouldn’t expect the Red Sox to rush out to spend the leftovers. The Red Sox will aim to trim the payroll and that’s not in Dombrowski’s nature.
Dombrowski lived up to his reputation as an executive willing to sell the farm to upgrade the major league roster. He gave up several of the organization’s top prospects in various deals yet none of them have come back to haunt us and there are few trades that he wouldn’t do again if given the chance. The Tyler Thornburg trade will be pointed out as one regret but it’s hardly Dombrowski’s fault that the right-hander got injured and never recovered his previous form. Besides, it’s not as if Travis Shaw would have an everyday role with this team.
While he’s always been eager to trade prospects, Dombrowski doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to developing them. His habit of dealing away his best chips isn’t the only reason that FanGraphs rates the Red Sox farm system as the worst in baseball. Triston Casas is the organization’s best prospect and he barely cracks the top-100 list at No. 96 overall.
The Red Sox need new leadership that will put an emphasis on restocking the farm system to provide a pipeline of cost-controlled talent or ammunition for future trades. The draft hasn’t been one of Dombrowski’s strengths and his replacement will need to be someone who excels in that area.
Fans don’t want to hear the term “bridge year” but that’s what we’re heading for. Of course, we want our team to win every year but that’s not realistic. It won’t require a full rebuild – there’s no need to burn it all down. There’s plenty of young talent on this roster that can serve as centerpieces for the team’s long-term future. The next general manager should listen to offers for any of their expensive veterans in an effort to trim the payroll and replenish the farm system but most of the team’s core will remain intact.
This strategy may very well mean missing the postseason again next year but the drought won’t last much longer. Not if they hire the right architect to lead the franchise into the future. Dombrowski was the right man for the job when the Red Sox brought him here and he did what he was supposed to do. He’s not the best option for what needs to come next.