When a baseball organization struggles the way the Boston Red Sox have it is only a matter of time before changes are made. Boston’s ownership did not wait until the offseason to make the changes that they hope will get them back to the playoffs. The Sons of Sam Horn staff offers their Dave Dombrowski opinions and hot takes all in one place.
Like all Homo sapiens, Dave Dombrowski and Ben Cherington each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Dombrowski has a reputation of a poor drafter, excellent trader and top-notch old-school player evaluator. On the other hand, Cherington has proven adept at acquiring and developing minor league talent. His successes in free agency and trades have been far less notable.
Dombrowski has been an MLB general manager for the last twenty seven years: Three seasons with the Montreal Expos, ten years with the Florida Marlins, and fourteen years with the Detroit Tigers. He won a World Series with the Marlins in 1997, dismantled the team under direction of ownership, and set them up for another title in 2003 ‒ by which time he had already moved on to Detroit.
Pictured: Dave Dombrowski
Proving that the Red Sox aren’t the only ones who can pull a seismic shift out of nowhere, SonsOfSamHorn.com whips the ball around to see what our team of writers thinks of the Dombrowski hire:
Rick Rowand: You didn’t need to consult the Oracle at Delphi or your local tarot card reader to see this coming. First, the Sox announced on August 1 that President and CEO Larry Lucchino was stepping down at the end of the year, leaving a void at the top of the baseball operations food chain. Then on August 4, the Tigers announced that President and CEO Dave Dombrowski was being released from his contract. And then (drum roll please) last night the Sox announced that their new President of Baseball Operations was none other than…. Dave Dombrowski!
What is surprising is that no one had any idea that this was actually happening except for the participants. In an industry that thrives on rumor, there wasn’t even an inkling of this being on the horizon, let alone a done deal. All reports had Toronto as the likely landing spot for him.
What was surprising, to me anyway, was the second part of the announcement: Cherington resigning, along with many (if not all) of his lieutenants. Granted, he is sticking around to help with the transition, but that also means he has to keep watching the Red Sox this season.
You can understand Cherington not wanting to work under the thumb of yet another boss after years of Lucchino. After all, Cherington witnessed what Theo went through during his maturation here with Lucchino, and more than likely didn’t want to go through that again with Dombrowski.
Cherington probably felt that he had earned more autonomy than what he’d have with Dombrowski. No one but the team knows who made the final call on the signings of Sandoval and Ramirez, or with some of the other decisions that have been made. How much blame should be assigned to Cherington and how much should be assigned to Lucchino is just pure guesswork at this point. I lean towards Lucchino myself. I hope Cherington gets the job he feels he deserves and at least Cherington won’t be leaving the offices in a gorilla suit.
Now, on to the search for a new GM. Let the rumors fly!
Ian York: It’s easy to develop a good baseball team. All you need is good scouting, good statistical analysis, and then lots and lots of luck. If you have all three, you’ll have a team that can contend year in and year out. With two of the three, you might occasionally win a World Series, and then finish in last place in the surrounding years.
Ben Cherington is now officially the goat for Boston’s run of last-place finishes, and Dave Dombrowski is to be their savior. There’s no denying Cherington’s 2013 World Series team had lots of luck; all the coin tosses he made with free agents (such as Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli) went his way. Since then, too many of his decisions have depended on luck, and most of his coin tosses haven’t worked out. As I said at the beginning of this season, when speaking of the starting rotation:
Even if we generously assume that each possibility, individually, has a 90% chance of coming true, that means there’s only about a slightly better than 50-50 chance of all of those working out.
There’s no avoiding luck in baseball. But stats and scouting can help reduce the reliance on luck, and it seems that Cherington’s scouting outcomes may have been his weakest point. (By “scouting”, I mean general old-school baseball evaluation: the ability to predict future performance by visual analysis of a player.) I say that even though I think the signings that are probably perceived as his greatest failures ‒ Rick Porcello, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval ‒ are all defensible both statistically and from a scouting point of view. Note that a “defensible decision” does not mean “the right decision”.
The second half of 2015 is starting to show off some of Cherington’s undoubted strengths in player development. Mookie Betts is consistently good. Xander Bogaerts is a very good player, who is improving almost daily. Jackie Bradley Jr. has recently shown flashes of the player we all hope he will become. Eduardo Rodriguez’s starts are becoming must-see performances. Rusney Castillo is shaking off the rust and becoming an exciting and dynamic outfielder.
But with the exception of Rodriguez and Betts, all of these players had slow and painful starts to their major-league careers. This is where Cherington’s scouting weaknesses have shown up most: the introduction of minor-league players to the majors. Bradley, Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks, Rubby de la Rosa, Alex Wilson and Anthony Ranaudo fall into this category. Some were brought up too soon (Bogaerts without a doubt, Bradley almost certainly); some should not have been brought up at all (Middlebrooks); some may have been misjudged and then cast off when they failed to meet inflated expectations (de la Rosa, Ranaudo).
Cherington and John Farrell have both accepted that some of these players were brought up too soon, but blamed the general environment of modern baseball, with Cherington saying that they need to perform a “recalibration” of expectations for their rookies, and Farrell (quoted by Peter Gammons) claiming that “the gap between Triple-A and the Majors may be wider than it’s ever been”. But this increased gap seems to be mainly true for only the Red Sox; baseball-wide, rookies are not performing any worse than at other times in history.
This is a scouting failure; over-rating players due to their performance in the minor leagues without adequate analysis to predict how they will perform against a higher level of competition. Even though the overall assessment of the player’s potential may well have been correct, the detailed assessment of their readiness failed.
Dombrowski is not just an old-school general manager. He has been through the transition from the scouting-dominant period of baseball analysis through the stats era. But he does have more solid old-school scouting credentials than Cherington, and that may be what this organization needs now to help its powerful farm system translate to consistent major-league success.
As well as lots and lots of luck.
Justin Gorman: The hiring of Dave Dombrowski comes at an interesting pivot point for the Red Sox organization. Even the casual observer wondered what direction this franchise was headed in when Larry Lucchino announced his retirement, but I would bet that nobody would’ve guessed the moves would come so swiftly. That being said, with the Sox having an apparent death-grip on last place in the AL East, it’s hard to argue that rebuilding shouldn’t start as soon as possible.
Many Sox fans fear that Dombrowski will decimate the team’s stellar minor league system. Fans are excited to see what these kids are going to contribute at the major league level, presuming they get there. Ben Cherington deserves loads of credit for helping to build this top notch farm system, and that should not be forgotten. However, the reality still exists – the Sox are a MAJOR market baseball team and have the budget and payroll to act as such. They put together a perfect storm in 2013 to win the World Series, but finished dead last in 2012, 2014 and will again this year.
Dombrowski does not lack for experience, and has a very successful track record to back that up. He is entering a much different organization than those he’s worked for in the past. Hiring him before the September call-up period while the team is in a clear rebuilding mode may turn out to be a savvy move. The ownership group has decided to go in a different front office direction, and I am equally excited and terrified to see what comes from it.
Damian Dydyn: The timing of Dombrowksi’s hiring may seem odd to some, but in light of reports that Toronto was pursuing him as well, it makes sense that the Red Sox would pounce and not risk losing him if they had decided he was their man. It also makes sense to get the new baseball ops team in place while there is still time to make a waiver-wire trade or two, as well as before any of the kids are called up in September for evaluation. So I’m not surprised they didn’t wait.
What I am surprised by are the reports that Cherington was offered a chance to stay, and that inspires a glimmer of hope that Dombrowski won’t be decimating the farm system. Cherington would have provided a perfect balance to Dombrowski’s strengths and weaknesses. If Dombrowski realizes this, then perhaps his choice of new GM will be similarly equipped to provide that balance. Depending on who replaces him, the moment I expect to miss Cherington most is next June when the Sox are on the clock in the first round. Dombrowski’s track record in the draft isn’t strong, so a GM with a strong draft record or a heavy scouting background would be ideal. Regardless, I am hoping that Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers and Anderson Espinoza are as close to untouchable as prospects get and however it shakes out I think the Red Sox are at a point where they need to start converting their pile of prospects into major league assets.
With that in mind, I am hoping we will see Jerry Dipoto moved from his consultant position into the general manager’s chair. He has proven quite adept at converting overvalued veterans into young assets on the verge of contributing to a major league club, so perhaps he will provide that counterbalance to Dombrowski’s weaknesses. He turned Mark Trumbo into Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago and Howie Kendrick into Andrew Heaney. His draft record includes C.J. Cron and Sean Newcomb and he was, of course, smart enough to not trade away prospects like Mike Trout, Kole Calhoun or Garrett Richards. He’s shown some skill at identifying which prospects to keep as well as which veterans to move for younger assets, and that is exactly the kind of thing the Red Sox need right now. Add in Dombrowski’s track record for building a strong major league roster and I think you have a winning combination.
Tony Kosinski: In many ways, Ben Cherington’s career in Boston has been almost the polar opposite of Dombrowski’s in Detroit. Cherington has been with the Red Sox since 1999 working as an area scout, baseball operations assistant, coordinator of international scouting, assistant director and then director of player development, interim co-general manager (while Theo Epstein was attending children’s parties in a gorilla costume), vice president of player personnel, and assistant general manager. After the departure of Epstein in 2011, he was promoted to general manager. Needless to say, his experience in building a MLB team through the minors is extensive, and he’s been an integral executive in the team’s three World Series Championships.
In almost four seasons as general manager of the Boston Red Sox, Cherington has helmed the team to three last place finishes (assuming they hold on in 2015), a .479 winning percentage (average of a 78 wins per season), 1 playoff appearance, and one glorious World Series Championship. He does not have Dombrowski’s continued success in the regular season, but he did raise a banner at Fenway Park.
Under Ben Cherington’s watch, the Red Sox have promoted promising young players such as Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart and Eduardo Rodriguez. He’s also built the #1 minor league system in baseball with top notch prospects Rafael Devers, Yoan Moncada, Manuel Margot, Andrew Benintendi and Anderson Espinoza. Unfortunately, after striking gold in the 2012 offseason (Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Stephen Drew and Koji Uehara), Cherington’s MLB moves have not been as inspiring. Through one season, the signings of Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Rick Porcello have not been successful. Their 2015 rotation and bullpen have been disasters.
It is reasonable to assume that ownership knew that hiring Dombrowski would push Cherington out the door. So the question becomes – was the decision to replace Cherington with Dombrowski and the eventual General Manager a wise one? Only time will tell and the results will certainly be obfuscated by the inherent luck (both good and bad) with player acquisition.
The Red Sox have a cornucopia of exciting young MLB players and prospects. Over the next 5-10 years, these players will form the core that will hopefully compete for multiple World Series Championships. Dombrowski may just be the right man to augment this core with successful free agent signings and to spin off prospects unlikely to contribute for veterans that will contribute now. The Sox are entering the portion of the winning cycle where, in a year or two, it’ll be time to start consolidating their assets at the MLB level and to compete for more World Series titles.
Brandon Magee: Dave Dombrowski walked away from a failing situation in Detroit, with an older team and no farm system to speak of, into a different situation in Boston. While the future looks bleak in Boston after three last place finishes in four seasons, nothing could be further from the truth.
Dombrowski inherits a farm system ranked as the best in baseball by multiple organizations, including MLB.com and Baseball-America. The system is likely to continue helping the parent club as soon as next season with Sam Travis. Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi also look to be quick movers up the ladder, potentially impacting Boston in 2017.
My only hope is that when the Red Sox win the World Series in 2017, Ben Cherington is remembered more than Dan Duquette was for his contributions to the 2004 World Championship.
Dan Ennis: Dombrowski has been around, that’s for sure. Trebbia, Novi, Dirschau, Berezina–one can’t say he’s not prepared for the front office knife-fighting at Yawkey Way. The man can swing a sabre, even if he isn’t a doctrinal sabermetrician. You don’t get your mug on the Arc de Triomphe without the resume to back it up.
Pictured: Not Dave Dombrowski
But this situation smacks of the time when Dombrowski took over for Marshal Poniatowski. The elements are there – underperforming organization, yet another disappointing finish. Early in his career Dombrowski showed an ability to operate amidst chaos, but it has been a long time since he’s been effective, and you have to wonder why he was suddenly available. Grabbing him might be a coup, but it could well be our chance to see up close why Dombrowski seems to periodically wear out his welcome.
As for Cherington, I’m proud the Red Sox stuck with him as long as they did, given his performance. Whether Dombrowski can solve the many problems Cherington left behind, and whether Chering….wait, what?
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