Dave Dombrowski Has Done All He Can

What more can Dave Dombrowski do to help the Red Sox win in 2016? Not a whole lot. From surprising trades to aggressive promotions, the President of Baseball Operations has worked tirelessly to spark a renaissance of Boston baseball. Now, the trade deadline has passed and the dog days of summer are upon us. It’s time for John Farrell to pilot the plane Dombrowski has built. It’s time to win.

The Dave Dombrowski Project

The overhaul began last winter. Craig Kimbrel arrived in a blockbuster trade. David Price signed a humongous contract. Pablo Sandoval was relegated from the long term plan. In stunning style, the Red Sox transitioned from planning for a brighter tomorrow to fighting for a happier today. Dombrowski executed a shift in philosophy, and a new blueprint was implemented.

Dave Dombrowski

Through spring training, the Red Sox continued to do things differently. Dave continued to press as many buttons as he could reach, hoping to avoid another fruitless October. Travis Shaw became the everyday third baseman. Hanley Ramirez moved to first. A sense of urgency was injected into the Red Sox’ play. They knew the time for excuses had passed.

Time to Deliver

Yet, as the season has wore on, this team has been quite a conundrum. On the one hand, loitering in a three-team race for the division crown is deeply satisfying. It’s all many fans hoped for after three last-place finishes in five years. Yet, deep down, there’s also a nagging sense of underachievement. Red Sox fans see how good this team is on paper, and they think it should be doing better on the field.

Dave Dombrowski likely agrees. At the trade deadline, he made a flurry of moves to affirm that suspicion. Drew Pomeranz arrived to bolster a maligned rotation. Brad Ziegler came over from Arizona to solidify a streaky bullpen. Fernando Abad joined him a few weeks later, adding another veteran hurler to the staff. The Red Sox still haven’t performed to evolving expectations. They still haven’t surged ahead in a tense AL East.

As the calendar flipped to August, Dave Dombrowski played one final card. Andrew Benintendi was promoted to the Majors, skipping a whole level of minor league play to provide a Fenway spark. With that move, the front office went all in. More importantly, it sent a clear message to John Farrell and his coaching staff: we’ve done all we can, and you must now eke maximum value from this roster.

A Critical Stretch Run

The Red Sox are currently 61-50, good for third place. Toronto and Baltimore are tied for the division lead, just one and a half games ahead. Yet by first-order winning percentage –  which attempts to calculate how many wins a team should have based on its run differential – the Red Sox should be almost three wins better off than they currently are. That suggests Dave Dombrowski has done a really good job. It also suggests John Farrell is hurting this team more than he’s helping it.

I don’t want to criticize the guy overtly, because he doesn’t deserve that. A lot of the vitriol spewed about him is unwarranted. But if John Farrell cannot get this team performing to the back of its baseball card, trouble awaits. Dave Dombrowski has used every trick in the book. He’s made all the phone calls, traded a lot of chips and constructed one of the best rosters in a flawed American League. If the results don’t match the projections come October, somebody will be fired. And that somebody is likely John Farrell, who needs to get a better tune from his highly equipped orchestra.

The Continued Greatness of Theo Epstein

While some hipsters may argue for Andrew Friedman and his Dodgers think tank, Theo Epstein is still by far the most talented executive working in baseball today. The former Red Sox general manager didn’t necessarily build this current Boston team, but he certainly laid the foundations with astute draft picks and legendary signings. Meanwhile, in Chicago, he’s constructed a juggernaut that looks set to dominate for many years to come, affirming his reputation.

Theo Epstein

Epstein’s achievements in Boston are meticulously documented, to the point where people tend to forget the magnificence of his everyday maneuvering. The overarching narrative is intoxicating. Theo’s expertise in statistics and scouting delivered the first Red Sox championship in eighty-six years. As if that wasn’t enough, the wonder kid then plotted a further title run in 2007. The Red Sox were transformed from streaky contenders to serial winners.

Of course, things didn’t end particularly well between the Red Sox and Theo Epstein. Epstein felt pressure from ownership to make extravagant free agent signings that helped television ratings but hindered his vision for a sustainable baseball machine. Nevertheless, despite receiving some unfair criticism in recent years, Epstein left a strong legacy that we still see on the field every single day at Fenway Park.

The Legacy of Theo Epstein

Dustin Pedroia, the heart of this team, was drafted by Theo. So was Clay Buchholz, but hey, you can’t have them all. Theo also signed David Ortiz and Junichi Tazawa, two key pieces on the 2016 Red Sox. However, what many people don’t acknowledge is that Theo also drafted Betts, Bradley Jr., Swihart, Vazquez, Owens and Shaw. As for Xander Bogaerts, that guy playing shortstop and leading the league in hitting? Well, Epstein signed him, too.

Obviously, a lot has happened since Theo left Boston for Chicago, and Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski have made worthy tweaks to this team. But facts must be respected, and one such fact is that the fingerprints of Theo Epstein are all over this Red Sox team. Though it may pain some bitter fans, he deserves greater recognition for that.

How the Cubs Were Built

While Boston is a fine offensive ball club, the Cubs are in a different universe right now. Chicago is 44-19, and has a legitimate shot at beating the all-time record of 116 regular season wins. As a team, the Cubs get on base at a .347 clip, second only to the Red Sox, but every starter has an ERA below 3.00 and the bullpen has been solid. Oh, and the Cubs also lead the league in several defensive stats, as if they weren’t dynamic enough.

Perhaps most impressively, this team was built from scratch by Theo and Jed Hoyer, his trusty lieutenant. They inherited a mess at Wrigley Field, and decided that the best way to get better was first to get worse. Short term pain for long term game was the mantra. Epstein was given the space, time and revenue to execute his Utopian plan for the ultimate baseball team.

First, a young core was established, mostly in the minor leagues, courtesy of trades and brilliant draft choices. Then, once it had matured, external free agents that made sense were signed to compliment the homegrown nucleus. That’s how the Cubs wound up with such a formidable team, with elite players such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber primed to lead the North Side resurgence for perhaps a decade to come.

Theo’s Visions for Boston Carried Out in Chicago: What will the Future Hold?

Right now, we’re seeing at Wrigley Field what Theo Epstein once envisaged for Fenway Park and the Red Sox. Many people are quick to say that this fan base wouldn’t tolerate such an aggressive rebuild. Surely it was more purposeful than the general cellar-dwelling of recent times. Yes, the Red Sox won a World Series in 2013 while the Cubs tanked, but Chicago now has a window to win multiple rings while Boston’s future is very bright but far more uncertain.

Ultimately, Theo Epstein was the architect responsible for the two most potent offenses currently dominating Major League Baseball. While he certainly made mistakes in Boston, and developing pitching has always been an issue for his front offices, Red Sox fans must appreciate his continued influence on the team’s fortunes.

Perhaps the Sox and Cubs will meet in the World Series this year. After all, both teams are in strong positions. However, when the last generation of Theo players leaves the Red Sox, the true test will present itself. Can Dave Dombrowski match his forebear in creating a sustainable, organic winner? Only time will tell.

The Red Sox are Still Searching for a New GM

With an exciting outfield forming and Hanley Ramirez moving to first base, the Red Sox are building steadily towards being competitive under a new regime in 2016. However, one urgent piece of the puzzle is yet to be resolved: the hiring of a new General Manager to execute the vision of Baseball President Dave Dombrowski.

Red Sox

Many people see this role as inconsequential. After all, Dombrowksi will have complete autonomy over baseball operations, meaning the next GM will have limited power at Fenway Park. Yet, while the new executive may not enjoy decision-making control, he or she will certainly have considerable influence in the process of rebooting the Red Sox. This model has worked well in Chicago and Los Angeles, with Theo Epstein greatly aided by the presence of another fertile baseball mind in Jed Hoyer, and Andrew Friedman of the Dodgers relying on Farhan Zaidi to help formulate a cogent philosophy for success. Accordingly, the new Red Sox GM may not have traditional levels of control, but the chosen candidate will still be a crucial linchpin in a large front office.

So, who exactly are the candidates? Well, almost immediately after Dombrowski stated his desire to hire a new General Manager in the wake of Ben Cherington’s exit, a few names were tossed about by the national media. Frank Wren, the former Braves GM and a Dombrowksi protege in Montreal and Florida, is generally considered a leading candidate, while Dan O’Dowd and Jim Hendry have also been rumored as possible fits.

However, Peter Gammons offered an interesting insight in his latest column, opining that current Assistant GM Mike Hazen is a “stronger candidate than some realize.” Hazen was Cherington’s chief lieutenant, and he also headed the Red Sox’ Player Development and Scouting department during the Theo Epstein administration, as the organization produced homegrown stars such as Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis. Certainly, Hazen has all the credentials to one day be a Major League GM, so Dombrowski may view him as an existing conduit to a front office he is broadly comfortable with.

The Red Sox have already committed to interviewing minority candidates for the General Manager position, after bypassing that process in hiring Dombrowski. In this regard, Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox may be a possibility, while former Expos and Mets GM Omar Minaya is a very intriguing candidate. The visionary behind exciting teams in Montreal and New York, Minaya is cut from the same mould as Dombrowski in terms of being an exceptional player evaluator, as judged by the Mets’ current youth movement he helped instigate. Right now, Minaya is working as a key cog within the Players Association, but the prospect of leading the Red Sox alongside Dombrowski would surely be tantalizing.

The franchise is working without a strict timetable in its search for a new GM. At present, Dombrowski is enjoying a crash course in the Boston Red Sox, getting familiar with how things work and earmarking areas for potential improvement and change. When the time comes, likely this month to enable a full winter of roster reconstruction, he will surely appoint the person he views as having the best possible skill set to solve the identified weaknesses. Until that moment arrives, all we can do is wait and watch with great anticipation, as a new era blooms in Fenway’s front office.

Dombrowski Hire Ushers New Era for Red Sox

After a third disastrous season in four years, the Red Sox dispensed with faltering General Manager Ben Cherington on Tuesday night. More significantly, with their organization set to miss the postseason for the fifth time in six years, ownership called time on the very philosophy that underscored his position. Now, the Theo Epstein bloodline of Ivy League intellect has been severed, with Dave Dombrowski, a baseball traditionalist, seizing power on Yawkey Way.

The 59-year old will lead the Boston Red Sox into a brave new world and a distinctly different era. As President of Baseball Operations, Dombrowski will have full autonomy at Dombrowski Red SoxFenway Park, which represents a seismic shift in approach for an organization long infatuated with advanced analytics. Dombrowski, the architect of revivals in Montreal, Miami and Detroit, is a staunch believer in scouting and veteran Major League talent rather than statistics and minor league prospects, an approach that has been totally anathema to the Red Sox’ since John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team in 2002.

Indeed, Werner acknowledged a conscious change of ethos in Boston via a statement announcing Dombrowski’s arrival. “Although we had achieved tremendous success over the last 14 years, we had reached a clear internal consensus that we needed to enhance our baseball operation,” said the Red Sox chairman. “In nearly four decades in the game, Dave is a proven winner, and he can restore winning ways to Yawkey Ways and help to fulfill the Red Sox goal, every year, to be playing meaningful games into October.”

Notice the past tense when talking about prior successes. Notice the determination to move on, into a different epoch of New England baseball. The lovable Idiots have gone; Theo’s darlings have passed; Larry’s plaything is no more. Now, a new chapter has been opened, with Dave Dombrowski holding the pen. Ownership may finally take a step back, allowing Sam Kennedy to generate revenue which will then be passed on to Dombrowski, who has unlimited power to craft the next great Red Sox juggernaut.

One thing is certain: his team will be cast in an entirely different style to anything we’ve seen this century in Boston. Whereas Epstein and Cherington were long-sighted idealists content to build for tomorrow, Dombrowski is an aggressive builder who yearns to win today.

In every way, he’s an executive of big market instincts, who believes in prime-age superstars rather than homegrown neophytes. An expert trader, Dombrowski typically uses prospects as currency, as demonstrated by his deals for elite players such as Miguel Cabrera, David Price, Max Scherzer, Gary Sheffield and Mike Piazza.

 Dombrowski Red SoxAccordingly, Boston must resemble a dream scenario for the new President; the Red Sox possessing one of the best farm systems in the game, and hoarding a cornucopia of promising young talent. He will undoubtedly make trades, and plenty of them, which should excite Red Sox fans, who’ve been waiting way too long for certain prospects to figure things out. If nothing else, Dombrowski will restore the Red Sox’ credo of ambitious thinking.

One of his first tasks will likely be hiring a new GM to further solidify the Fenway think tank. Longtime executive Frank Wren is a name already being mentioned in industry circles, while former Diamondbacks and Angels GM Jerry Dipoto, currently advising the Red Sox on baseball decisions, would also be an intriguing candidate.

Dombrowski may also look to hire a new manager, though respect is due to incumbent John Farrell, who is currently battling lymphoma which makes baseball seem somewhat irrelevant. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that Dombrowski recently hired Brad Ausmus in Detroit, so a guy like Jason Varitek may be appealing for the Red Sox, though that’s just excited speculation on my part.

 

Whatever Dave Dombrowski chooses to do in the coming weeks, months and years, the Boston Red Sox are now his team. He has the keys to one of baseball’s preeminent powerhouses, and the responsibility to finally restore pride to Red Sox Nation.

The Red Sox Need a Totally New Hierarchy

With Larry Lucchino stepping down as President and CEO of the Red Sox, attention has swiftly turned to the future, with many observers keen to outline their vision for resuscitating baseball in Boston. There has been no official indication of further changes to the faltering hierarchy, but Red Sox Nation is tired of losing, to the point where ownership has little choice but to act.

Ever since Theo Epstein left town, this franchise has lurched from fleeting success to Red Soxdemoralizing failure, with last place finishes becoming the trademark of a strained and uninspiring regime. As General Manager, Ben Cherington enjoyed one miraculous season, but otherwise has been amongst the most inefficient executives in baseball history; his payroll-to-win ratio ranking with the very worst of all-time. Meanwhile, Lucchino, his boss, seemingly got lost amid the enormity of his role, leading to general chaos on Yawkey Way.

Now, with the Red Sox once again commanding the American League basement, the time for genuine change, not a showcase moving of furniture, has arrived. And, in the modern baseball environment of increased specialization, that means separating the business department from the baseball operation, and replacing Lucchino with two, not one, executives.

That’s right: it’s time for the Red Sox to adopt the model used by Theo’s Chicago Cubs and Andrew Friedman’s Los Angeles Dodgers, where one guy oversees the business aspect of the franchise, and another looms as the President of Baseball Operations, responsible for setting the roster-construction philosophy and hiring the men needed to make it reality.

For too long, Lucchino was in charge of both strands of the juggernaut Red Sox, which led to him doing neither role sufficiently well. Thus, with Sam Kennedy already earmarked as his replacement on the commercial side, the opportunity is ripe for Boston to spawn a new front office role for a chief baseball executive.

However, for it to be successful, that incoming President of Baseball Operations must have full autonomy to set the organizational ethos and draft in his own General Manager, much like Epstein did in Chicago and Friedman did in Hollywood. Merely shoving a guy above Cherington wouldn’t work, because philosophical differences may once again arise within the chain of command.

Ideally, this omnipotent baseball executive would be a young visionary, in line with the industry’s prevalent theme. A few candidates immediately spring to mind, namely Jed Hoyer, Chris Antonetti, Neal Huntington and Jon Daniels. However, if Red Sox ownership would prefer a more experienced guy, people like Dave Dombrowski, Billy Beane, John Mozeliak and even Brian Sabean would be worth serious consideration.

In my rebuilding plan, once in place, this head of baseball ops would then hire his own General Manager, replacing Cherington, who is now in an untenable position in Boston.

Ultimately, whether John Henry and Tom Werner are this aggressive in repairing a wounded franchise remains to be seen. The names may not change so suddenly and severely, but, without doubt, the team’s core philosophy, and the hierarchy that enforces it, must be altered now, or risk further turmoil in the years ahead.

Rusney Castillo is Now a Problem for the Red Sox

When the Red Sox signed Rusney Castillo to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract last August, many fans were excited. After all, teams typically reserve contracts of such length and value to cornerstone players who will be key building blocks moving forward.

However, almost a year into his exorbitant deal, Castillo has played just 36 big league Rusney Castillogames, and, at present, is suiting up in Pawtucket, as one of the most expensive Triple-A players of all-time. Accordingly, the Red Sox find themselves in a messy situation with Rusney, who, so far, looks to have been totally overpriced.

I was immediately suspicious when Ben Cherington signed the Cuban outfielder last year. At 26, Castillo hadn’t played baseball for almost two years, so the Red Sox’ decision to make such an enormous commitment was surprising. Typically, Boston has shied away from large contracts since Theo Epstein left town, even to the point of losing homegrown stars such as Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury. In this regard, it was quite disconcerting to see the team invest heavily in a totally unproven product, rather than experienced big leaguers with a strong track record.

However, once Rusney Castillo became a Red Sock, I was intrigued to see him play. To earn a seven year contract, he must be a special talent, I assumed. And, to a certain extent, that was correct. Castillo has some impressive raw tools, with the ability to hit for power and change the game with above-average speed. Yet, the more I’ve watched him play this season, the more obvious it has become that, beneath the promising tools, Rusney lacks a true feel for the game; a true understanding of what is required to excel at the Major League level. In scouting parlance, his baseball instincts leave a lot to be desired.

For instance, Castillo regularly takes unorthodox and inefficient routes to fly balls in the outfield, while, at the plate, he frequently looks oblivious as to how pitchers are trying to get him out. Earlier in the season, David Ortiz even had to lecture Castillo about giving sliding instructions to baserunners while on deck. Essentially, Rusney plays a very raw brand of baseball, more akin to the reckless sandlot version played with friends than the polished craft of the big leagues, where every minutiae is scrutinized and debated.

Now, I don’t mean to bash the guy, because he clearly possesses more athletic talent than the mortal masses could ever dream of. Just by journeying from Cuba to the U.S., he’s shown ample courage and maturity. But, quite frankly, his production so far simply hasn’t been worth $11 million per year. That’s an irrefutable fact. Of course, this isn’t necessarily the fault of Rusney Castillo, but, more seriously, it does raise questions about ownership’s overall plan, and Ben Cherington’s ability to carry it out.

Rusney CastilloSurely criticism must arise when such a costly player is performing so inadequately as to be routinely shipped between Boston and Pawtucket. Surely there must be some accountability from the executives and coaches involved. Surely there must be an answer to the same recurrent question: does anybody here know what they’re doing anymore?

Moving forward, Rusney Castillo may become a competent big league star. In which case, great, that helps the Red Sox immensely. But, right here and right now, ten games under .500 in another awful season, Boston cannot have a $72 million player, fast approaching the age of 28, lurking down in Pawtucket. It just cannot happen. Either Castillo must improve considerably and begin producing, or the Sox must admit their mistake and cut him loose from the present state of calamity and confusion.