Dave Dombrowski Is the Wrong Man for the Red Sox
Dave Dombrowski left behind a team in Detroit with a bloated payroll and deplorable pitching staff that has massively underachieved this season.
The Red Sox announced late Tuesday night Dombrowski has been hired as the club’s new president of baseball operations. General manager Ben Cherington declined the opportunity to continue in his role, but will assist Dombrowski throughout the transition.
This is the second major shakeup in the Red Sox front office this summer. Earlier this month, the club announced Larry Lucchino will leave his role as team president and CEO by the end of the year.
It’s rare to see an organization undergo this much change just two years after winning a World Series, but it was needed. The Red Sox are on pace for their third last-place finish in four seasons, spending more than $520 million in all three years combined.
Dombrowski, 59, is one of the most experienced executives working in baseball today. He was general manager of the Expos and served as GM under John Henry with the Marlins before jumping to Detroit in 2002. The Tigers lost an American League-record 119 games in 2003, but reached the World Series just three years later under Dombrowski’s leadership. The Tigers have won the AL Central for four consecutive seasons, though that streak is going to end this year.
But despite spending almost $718 million on payroll from 2010 to 2014, Dombrowski failed to get the Tigers over the hump. Detroit consistently had one of the worst bullpens in baseball over those four years, and is now mired with a plethora of potentially albatross contracts. The Tigers relieved Dombrowski of his duties August 4.
Perhaps the two worst contracts on the Tigers belong to Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, who could be owed as much as $462 million combined as they enter their mid- to late-30s. Whatever logic Dombrowski used to green light those deals would seem to contradict what Henry told Bloomberg Business last spring about it being foolish for teams to overpay players older than 30.
And therein lies the most befuddling aspect of the Dombrowski hire: his philosophy appears to be diametrically opposed to everything the Red Sox supposedly stand for.
Since Henry purchased the team in 2002, the Red Sox have been one of the most analytically inclined organizations in baseball. Henry hired the godfather of sabermetrics, Bill James, as an advisor within one year of taking control of the club. A lengthy Sports Illustrated feature story in 2011 revealed that one of former GM Theo Epstein’s most trusted consultants was a computer software system named Carmine.
Dombrowski, meanwhile, is regarded as one of the least analytical executives in the game. New Tigers GM Al Avila said earlier this month he feels Detroit has “a ways to go” before it catches up with the rest of the industry.
This Red Sox front office needed new blood. The organization has suffered a brain drain in recent years, as Epstein and many of his confidantes have moved on. It is time for a change.
But it’s unclear whether Dombrowski will move the Red Sox forward or back. He deserves credit for building the Tigers back into a contender, and is lauded as one of the best wheelers and dealers in the game. In his tenure as Tigers GM, he traded for a Triple Crown winner (Cabrera), Cy Young winner (Max Scherzer), and ERA leader (Anibal Sanchez). Dombrowski also had the foresight to dump Rick Porcello and his ghastly 5.81 ERA on the Red Sox last winter.
Though Dombrowski assembled a championship-caliber nucleus in Detroit, he also left the team woefully short in several key areas. The Tigers’ bullpen, for example, has been one of the sixth worst units in baseball over the last three years. The Red Sox ousted Detroit in the ALCS in 2013, at least partially thanks to the Tigers’ inability to close out games (the Sox had two come-from-behind wins in the six-game series).
Dombrowski also presided over the worst farm system in baseball according to Baseball America, which doesn’t bode well for the number of top prospects who are just beginning to taste the big leagues here in Boston.
The Red Sox already have more than $100 million committed in payroll for 2017. Unless they’re going to become completely handicapped financially, it would behoove them to hold on to some of this young, cost-controlled talent that they have developed.
But that doesn’t mesh with Dombrowski’s history of moving prospects rather than keeping them. In fact, very little between the Red Sox and Dombrowski appears to mesh.
That doesn’t mean this partnership is destined to fail, but it is peculiar. It’s been a long time since the future of the Red Sox has been this uncertain.