Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (April 16, 2016 – Source: Rich Gagnon/Getty Images North America)
With the trade deadline fast approaching, we are once again reminded that there may not be a more controversial figure in the Red Sox organization than general manager Dave Dombrowski. Dombrowski supporters will cite the teams current 71-32 record, while detractors will say he’s mortgaged the farm system and sacrificed the franchise’s long-term future.
So which depiction of Dave Dombrowski is more accurate? Is he the savvy genius responsible for building the powerhouse that is the 2017 Boston Red Sox? Or is he the guy who artificially builds up wins by mortgaging the future for short-term success?
Dave Dombrowski’s Red Sox Trades
Let’s take a look at how Dombrowski has run the Red Sox ever since he first joined the organization. While he’s known for trading away a large portion of the farm, let’s look at the players he chose to keep way back in 2015.
At the time of his hiring, Dombrowski had several big-name prospects he could have traded for a fortune. Xander Bogaerts was in just his second full year in the majors, Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, and Eduardo Rodriguez were in their first, and several other players like Jackie Bradley Jr., Matt Barnes, and Christian Vazquez had bounced around the majors. Each player was viewed as an incredibly valuable trade chip at one point, yet Dombrowksi held on to all this young talent. Part of the reason the farm system is barren now is that those aforementioned players are no longer prospects, they’re starters.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at all the major trades Dombrowski has made with the organization, starting oldest to newest.
2015: Craig Kimbrel for Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Carlos Asuaje, and Logan Allen
Dombrowski’s first major trade with the organization brought bullpen security to the Red Sox. Craig Kimbrel was one of the best closers in baseball with the Braves and Padres, and he has continued his excellence in Boston. Since joining the Red Sox, Kimbrel owns a 2.19 ERA, 2.27 FIP, 14.9 K/9, and a 0.87 WHIP. He’s been arguably the best closer in baseball, and the Sox bullpen would be lost without him.
In exchange, the Red Sox gave up Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Carlos Asuaje, and Logan Allen. Allen, age 21, is still in AA. Guerra, age 22, has underwhelmed during his time in the Padres organization. While he still has plenty of time to turn his career around, he’s hitting just .203/.245/.369 with the Padres AAA affiliate. Asuaje, age 26, hasn’t shown much as a player, hitting just .254/.322/.348 with an 85 wRC+ in 548 plate appearances.
However, Margot was the key piece in this trade, and he’s been solid with the Padres. However, he hasn’t been the extraordinary player he was supposed to be. Through 882 plate appearances, Margot is hitting .256/.309/.395 with an 89 wRC+. He brings a lot to the table defensively and certainly has room to grow as a hitter.
However, there’s really no place for him had he stayed in the Red Sox organization. Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are both vastly superior players, and Jackie Bradley Jr. is probably better right now also. Quite frankly, Margot was expendable, and keeping him in the farm system would have been something of a waste. In exchange for Margot and some throwaway pieces, the Red Sox got one of the best closers in baseball.
2015: Carson Smith and Roenis Elias for Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro
This is the ultimate example of giving up nothing to get nothing. Wade Miley is the definition of a journeyman starter, and Jonathan Aro never had any type of future in the majors. Dombrowski traded these two for a journeyman starter in Roenis Elias and a promising reliever in Carson Smith.
While Smith hasn’t worked out, this is a trade you do every time. Elias and Miley are essentially the same guys, and Smith’s upside is vastly superior to Aro. While Smith and Elias didn’t give the Red Sox any production, Miley and Aro didn’t give the Mariners any either. In the end, this trade was a wash.
2016: Anderson Espinoza for Drew Pomeranz
The 2016 Boston Red Sox had a need for starting pitching, so Dombrowski once again turned to the San Diego Padres. This time, Dombrowski sent former top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza to the Padres in exchange for Drew Pomeranz.
While Pomeranz was inconsistent in 2016 thanks to an elbow injury, the lefty had a very strong 2017. Health has always been an issue with Pomeranz, but he’s still been a solid addition. However, does Pomeranz production justify giving away a big-name prospect like Espinoza?
The answer: sort of. Espinoza’s career has been in a constant spiral ever since the trade. The talented righty hasn’t pitched since 2016 and has yet to get above A ball. Injuries appear to have derailed his once-promising career, and it would be a surprise to see him in the majors any time soon.
Dombrowski had a chance to reverse this trade in 2016 but opted against it. It turned out the Padres organization had withheld information on Pomeranz, and the Red Sox could have reserved the trade, or sent over a lesser prospect. Dombrowski opted not to, which highly implies he wasn’t high on Espinoza as a prospect.
While Espinoza didn’t turn into anything, Dombrowski could have gotten a better player than Pomeranz at the time. However, he did manage to get a solid enough pitcher, so this ranks as an ok trade.
2016: Tyler Thornburg for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon, Josh Pennington, and Yeison Coca
Dombrowski haters point to this trade more than any, and with good reason. By literally every possible measure, this trade was a disaster for Boston. Tyler Thornburg only recently returned to the bullpen after missing a season and a half. While it’s still early, he hasn’t looked that great in his return.
However, even if he captures his old form, he’ll never justify the extreme price to acquire him. Travis Shaw has turned into a power hitting machine, launching 49 runs in the last year and a half. Mauricio Dubon is still in the minors but is absolutely tearing up AAA to the tune of a .343/.348/.574 slash line and a 133 wRC+. It’s only a matter of time before he becomes an impact player with the Brewers.
Talking about this trade makes me sad. If there were a lower grade than an F, this trade would earn it.
2017: Chris Sale for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz
It cost something to get something, and this trade was a definition of a win-win. The Red Sox acquired Chris Sale, arguably the best pitcher in baseball and the frontrunner for this years Cy Young award. The dude has been amazing by just about every measure, and the Red Sox would be lost without him.
In exchange, the White Sox received Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz. Moncada has spent the 2018 season in the majors but appears to still be a year or two away from realizing his potential. The second baseman is hitting .231/.308/.412 with a 98 wRC+. He strikes out 33.9% of the time, which is higher than you’d like. Still, at age 23, he’s still set to be a star, just not quite yet.
Kopech is still in AAA, and the jury is still out of him. While his velocity is incredible and he has an impressive 12.50 K/9, he struggles with control. His 5.53 BB/9 is not good enough for a major league starter, and there’s been talks of moving him to the bullpen. Additionally, he currently owns an unimpressive 4.29 ERA. He’s still just 22, but he still has work to do before becoming a reliable major leaguer.
In all, the Red Sox received the best pitcher in the American League in exchange for some players who could be great someday. For a team that still has Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr. playing on the cheap, this is a move you make every time.
Outside of the Thornburg trade, all of Dombrowski’s major moves have worked out pretty well. This doesn’t even factor in smaller trades like obtaining Brad Ziegler, Addison Reed, and Eduardo Nunez for essentially nothing. No general manager bats 1.000. While Dombrowski makes big moves, he usually gets a solid return on investment.
The Prospects He Didn’t Trade
With a solid group of young talent in the majors, Dombrowski knew he had assets to sell. While some would argue he sold too aggressively, Dombrowski clearly had a plan in mind. Throughout his time as general manager, two players were always off-limits: Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers.
Of all the aforementioned prospects, Benintendi is probably the best of them all. The current Red Sox left fielder has been an absolute phenomenon, skipping AAA in 2016 and becoming one of the best outfielders in the game. He’s a true franchise cornerstone, and will probably remain the best of all the recently dealt prospects.
Devers, meanwhile, has a serious claim for second best of the bunch. Just 21 years old, Devers already boasts enviable power to all parts of the field. While his subpar defense limits his overall value, there’s no ceiling to how good a hitter he can be.
Honestly, if you could only pick two prospects to hold on to, you’d probably pick Benintendi and Devers. While Moncada is certainly in that discussion, it’s hard to argue with the results. Dombrowski inherited a talented roster and farm system and turned it into one of the best teams in the major leagues. While poor drafting has led to a weak farm system, this roster is still set up for longterm success.
Overall, Dombrowski has done a good job inheriting a good situation. He’s only made one truly awful decision as general manager, which is impressive considering how many moves he’s made. Were it not for Dombrowski’s trades, the bullpen would likely be a disaster and the Sox wouldn’t have an ace.
Overall Grade: B