The franchise-altering decision the Red Sox made early Monday morning will be called a strategic news-dump after the Patriots raised another banner and stomped the Steelers to open the NFL season.
To which we say, who cares? The timing hardly matters.
Did Dave Dombrowski deserve to be fired? That debate is probably an equally wasteful use of time.
The only question the Red Sox needed to ask themselves was this: Is Dombrowski the best person to lead the franchise into a complex window, one in which they won’t be buyers or sellers but both at the same time?
John Henry ultimately decided no, Dombrowski isn’t the guy. And at 12:07 a.m. on Monday morning, the Red Sox told a handful of reporters at Fenway Park that the organization had made its choice.
With most of New England’s attention on the over-achieving Patriots, who continue to set a new standard for excellence on a yearly basis, the Red Sox said goodbye to the architect of the winningest team in franchise history.
There will be those who are befuddled by the move. Most of those people do not live in, nor hail from any of the New England states.
Let’s quickly put away the idea that New England sports fans are all snobs, too used to winning and unable to appreciate Dombrowski’s work for building the Dream Team of 2018.
What most people forget is that baseball fans in New England had suffered more than those anywhere else until 2004. Championship seasons are never forgotten around here. There are countless personal stories about what those seasons meant to so many different individuals, and those stories will be passed down from generation to generation.
This isn’t about being unappreciative. This is about keeping the winning going and pursuing excellence on a permanent basis. This is about not accepting anything less.
Dave Dombrowski did his job. He came to Boston in August of 2015 after a suspicious exit from Detroit, where he could never bring a title to a Tigers franchise that went all-in during his final years (and is still suffering for it today).
Merideth, N.H., native Ben Cherington had won a title less than two years earlier and was hailed as the best GM in baseball for finding value veterans in free agency and combining them with a homegrown roster.
But Cherington wanted nothing to do with Dombrowski’s reign. He declined a chance to stick around in a lesser role, saying over and over that he had a vision for the franchise and refused to dishonor that vision by carrying out somebody else’s.
Dombrowski made no genius moves. He spent Henry’s money and traded Cherington’s prospects. Chances are, we won’t look back and say, ‘how the heck did he trade for Player X while only giving up Player Y?’
The Chris Sale trade wasn’t a coup. It was simply what it needed to be. The Craig Kimbrel trade, too.
Signing J.D. Martinez and reading the market correctly ahead of the 2018 season might’ve been Dombrowski’s wisest move. Chalk that one up to experience and understanding.
Hiring Alex Cora to run that team was a no-brainer, but one that deserves credit too.
The midseason trades, Dombrowski’s speciality, were handled perfectly. He said no to the Orioles on Zack Britton and instead focused on acquiring Nathan Eovaldi from the Rays. He released Hanley Ramirez and replaced him with Steve Pearce.
The rest was history, history that won’t be forgotten around here after the Sox rattled off 108 wins and treated us to a convincing postseason in which Cora squeezed every last drop out of an already-talented roster.
Who’s to blame for the debacle in 2019, then?
Cora will deservedly catch some heat for a laissez faire attitude in April, which he treated like an extended month of spring training. He continued to manage his team the same way he did in 2018, expecting the same results despite building evidence that change was necessary.
Dombrowski messed up, too.
Extending Sale without being absolutely convinced that his shoulder was a non-issue could end up being a monstrous mistake, one that costs this team for a long time. Re-signing Eovaldi, who has been anything but reliable in his career, to be the backup plan in a starting rotation full of injury questions was a risky gamble. Wasting money to re-sign Pearce and ignoring the needs in the bullpen proved fatal.
We can go on and on, adding up the good decisions and subtracting the bad ones. No matter how you do the math, he’s going to end up not far away from zero.
Dombrowski screwed up. He also won them a World Series. Let’s call it even.
What happens next, though, is what’s most important. This is a matter of fit. And the new challenges facing this franchise call for a new style of leadership. The next GM will need a more deft touch. It must be someone capable of nuance at a time when the team won’t be simply adding or subtracting All-Star talent, but doing both at the same time.
Entering 2020, the Red Sox will lose just about exactly as much money off their payroll (around $50-55 million) as they’ll likely add in raises to players already under contract. That leaves them with razor-thin financial flexibility if they’re intent on limiting spending and remaining under the highest luxury tax threshold.
There’s little doubt that some of the Red Sox’ best players will need to be shopped and perhaps traded this winter. But because they’re the Red Sox, and because this is New England, 2020 can’t be a rebuild.
It must be a retooling, of sorts.
With Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers looking like a pair of MVP candidates under contract for the next five years, the Red Sox have a great base to work with.
The pitching staff is a mess.
The farm system is almost completely empty, having entered the year ranked 30th by Baseball America but is now 22nd after Dombrowski did nothing at the trade deadline.
There are big challenges ahead and the Red Sox should and will search for a new leader.
We don’t have to blame Dombrowski for those challenges. We don’t have to blame New Englanders for craving success.
We just have to acknowledge that there are prices for winning and be thankful that the Red Sox want and will continue to pay top dollar for it, even if it means firing the president 10 months after hoisting a World Series trophy.