Can Dave Dombrowski replicate what he did for the Red Sox in Philly?
The Philadelphia Phillies have hired Dave Dombrowski as their president of baseball operations, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. While he found success in that role with the Boston Red Sox, the challenges that Dombrowski will face with the current state of the Phillies makes him a questionable choice.
Dombrowski has a long history as a respected executive known for building winning franchises. He built up the Florida Marlins from an expansion team to a World Series champion. He rejuvenated a long-suffering Detroit Tigers club by turning them into perennial contenders. The latest feather in his cap was becoming the architect of a Red Sox team that won a franchise record 108 games on their way to championship glory.
The Red Sox hired Dombrowski in August of 2015 as they were wrapping up their second consecutive season at the bottom of their division. Over the next few years he shelled out lucrative free-agent contracts to David Price and J.D. Martinez. He gutted the farm system in trades for Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi.
Dombrowski did what he does best – spend money and make blockbuster trades. The series of win-now moves paid off when the Red Sox were crowned champions in 2018 but he left them with a bloated payroll and a depleted farm system when he was let go last year, leaving Chaim Bloom quite a mess to clean up.
Flags fly forever so the moves that brought another title to Boston were well worthwhile no matter how painful the ensuing rebuild is now.
The Phillies certainly want to win now and they are hoping that Dombrowski is the right leader to bring them that coveted championship. The question is whether or not they have the resources to allow Dombrowski to work his magic.
Philadelphia hasn’t been shy about spending money in free agency in recent years, luring Bryce Harper with a massive contract and adding Zack Wheeler to their rotation. They also dipped into their pool of prospects to pry J.T. Realmuto away from the Marlins. Those are the types of moves Dombrowski would make but the result was a losing record this season. Now they expect Dombrowski to save them by doing the same thing?
The free-spending Phillies might need to cut back on their rapidly rising payroll according to a report from ESPN’s Buster Olney, which indicates the franchise is facing a financial crunch. Owner John Middleton adamantly denied rumors that he was shopping Wheeler to save money but all other signs suggest the loss of revenue from a pandemic-shortened season has put the Phillies in a position where they need to tighten their budget.
Realmuto seems likely to bolt in free agency and if the Phillies can’t afford to pay him, we can count them out of the mix for any of the other top free-agents. If they can’t keep their All-Star catcher then one of the league’s most disappointing teams takes a significant step back and they might not have the money to fix their issues right away.
The trade market is another area that Dombrowski is no stranger to but the Phillies aren’t giving him much to work with there either. MLB.com ranked Philadelphia’s farm system No. 23, barely ahead of the Red Sox (No. 25).
Their best prospects, corner infielder Alec Bohm and right-hander Spencer Howard, have already graduated to the majors so dealing either of them would create another hole on the roster. Their next best prospects, shortstop Bryson Scott and right-handed pitcher Mick Abel, barely cracked the top-100 rankings list. They were the club’s past two first-round selections, setting them years away from reaching the big leagues. The Phillies system gets pretty thin after that.
Dombrowski inherited one of the best farm systems in baseball when he took over the Red Sox front office. He was willing to give up the best prospect in baseball to get Sale because Yoan Moncada plays the same position as Rafael Devers. Philadelphia doesn’t have that type of expendable blue-chip prospect to use as bait for a superstar.
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The Phillies hiring Dombrowski is a head-scratching move if they aren’t going to give him the freedom to spend money or a farm system he can raid. That would be like telling Lamar Jackson to stop scrambling and be more of a pocket passer or asking Stephen Curry to ease up on the three-point shooting. Those guys are talented enough to get the job done in other ways but they wouldn’t be nearly as effective.
Boston parted ways with Dombrowski because they wanted to escape luxury tax hell and desperately needed to rebuild one of the league’s worst farm systems. Dombrowski wasn’t the right guy for the job. He’s the guy who helps put you over the top when you’re ready to win but his methods inevitably leave the team in a tough spot at some point down the line with bloated contracts and a barren farm system.
The Phillies are at an uncomfortable crossroads. They should be getting their budget in order and rebuilding their farm system but they also promised Harper they would do whatever it takes to make this team a contender. In order to keep their star happy, Philadelphia is pushing all their chips into the middle by bringing in Dombrowski.
Perhaps the Phillies will ignore the financial hardship they face due to the pandemic and let Dombrowski loose, in which case he’s proven capable of taking a team with resources to the promised land. If they put the clamps on his spending habits to limit his options for improving the roster, Philadelphia risks getting caught in a cycle of mediocrity.