Former Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski ends Phillies postseason drought
Barely three years after he was unceremoniously fired during a Boston Red Sox – New York Yankees Sunday Night Baseball game at Fenway Park and less than two years after getting hired by the Philadelphia Phillies, Dave Dombrowski has built another postseason team.
On Monday night, the Phillies clinched their first-ever Wild Card berth, ending what had been the longest postseason appearance drought in the National League.
How did they do it? They exceeded the luxury tax threshold for the first time in franchise history, fired their manager less than two months into the season, went big at the trade deadline, and withstood some devastating injuries.
It makes you wonder why the Sox cut Dombrowski loose.
When the Sox hired Dombrowski in August 2015, he inherited a last-place team with a high payroll and a great farm system that included Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi. The following year, the Sox won the division, and then repeated, and then three-peated. By 2018, they’d won a franchise-record 108 regular-season games and the World Series. To do so, Dombrowski had to fire a manager (not midseason), exceed the luxury tax, make some huge trades, and soldier on in the face of injuries.
The comparison is an oversimplification, to be sure, but the similarities are there in spades. In each case, Dombrowski inherited an underperforming team with a lot of talent and turned them into a contender. He paid superstars, traded top prospects to get proven big-league talent, and sent the payroll skyrocketing into the stratosphere. It’s now paid off for both teams.
Should the Red Sox have fired Dave Dombrowski?
Let’s consider what might have happened if the Sox hadn’t fired Dombrowski. 2019 was Rafael Devers’ breakout season; he probably would’ve gotten an extension that offseason. Dombrowski wouldn’t have hesitated to give Xander Bogaerts a raise this year, either. Mookie Betts might still be here. Maybe the Sox wouldn’t have finished two of the three seasons since Dombrowski’s departure at the bottom of the division.
Last fall, Dombrowski told the Boston Globe that he didn’t think his reputation on his way out of Boston was “accurate at all.” In response, I wrote that he is the human embodiment of the mantra, ‘You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs,’ the guy who gets results, but not the one who cleans up the mess when the party is over. I no longer believe that to be a fair assessment of his management style or skill.
Dombrowski could’ve rebuilt the Sox. After all, he made his bones constructing teams from the ground up and making over perennial duds. At 31, he was building up the Montreal Expos’ farm system as the youngest GM in the league. When he became the Florida Marlins’ first GM in 1991, he built John Henry (yes, that John Henry) a championship team in the organization’s fifth season. In Detroit, he oversaw the transformation of the Tigers from a 119-loss team to a pennant winner in only three years. With the talent he drafted, traded for, and paid, the Tigers almost kept the Red Sox out of the 2013 World Series. It’s a huge reason Boston hired him in the first place.
When Dombrowski left Boston, the organization was messy. But in hindsight, the mess was mostly surface-level. He’d traded away top-level prospects, but many of the draft picks and international signings of his tenure are now the top prospects in the Sox organization. The way he cycles through money and prospects is certainly more turbulent than how the Tampa Bay Rays do things, but there’s no trophy or prize for having the most well-stocked farm system.
Dombrowski didn’t inherit a strong farm system when he joined the Phillies in the winter of 2020. Baseball America ranked them 26th that year, and then 27th in 2021. 2022 is the first year they’ve improved in the rankings since 2017. And yet, he made it work. He traded one of the top catching prospects in the game, Logan O’Hoppe, and former first-overall pick Mickey Moniak to the Angels in exchange for 23-year-old outfielder Brandon Marsh. Last night, Marsh made the catch that sent the Phillies into the postseason.
Ultimately, it’s a reminder that everything starts and ends with ownership. The Phillies were sick of losing, so they hired a proven winner. The Red Sox wanted to go in a different, cheaper, more analytics-based direction, so they hired Chaim Bloom. Dombrowski not being who the Sox wanted for the job anymore doesn’t mean he wasn’t up to the task. He drafted some of the best MLB talent of the last few decades, built several postseason and championship teams, and pulled off some of the most unbelievable trades before he came to Boston. He did all of that for Boston, too. Now, with the Phillies in the playoffs and the Red Sox in last place, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.