Why Dave Dombrowski’s Tenure Was a Success
Let’s wind the clocks back to August 18th, 2015. The Boston Red Sox were 52-66 in last place in the American League East. At this rate, this would be their third last-place finish in four years. They had only made the playoffs once in the previous five years, despite having one of the largest budgets in the league. They were last in the American League in earned run average. If not for a team-of-destiny run in 2013, the Red Sox would be considered to be in a drought in terms of success.
Yet, it always felt like the next year would be better. We were seeing the quick development of rising stars like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. Not only that, but the Red Sox had one of the deepest farm systems in the league. Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Brian Johnson, Andrew Benintendi, and Michael Kopech were all highly-touted prosepects. There was also a veteran presence with offensive producer, David Ortiz, consistently delivering in the lineup. The offense was top 5 in OPS in the American League. The majority of Red Sox fans figured that an ace and a closer could make this team legitimate.
On August 18th, 2015, newly-hired Red Sox President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, took in all of these factors. The 2015 Red Sox ended up finishing in last place at 78-84 with a team ERA 14th in the American League. It was now time for Dombrowski to work his magic.
2016: Dave Dombrowski does everything asked of him
Dombrowski started out aggressively by trading for possibly the best closer in the game, Craig Kimbrel. He had a 1.63 ERA and 225 saves through his first 5+ seasons with the Braves and Padres. In order to acquire him, Dombrowski needed to trade a package of four prospects, which was headlined by Manuel Margot. Next, he filled in some necessary outfield depth by signing platoon righty, Chris Young, to a two-year deal. Two days later, Dombrowski got the hottest commodity on the market. He signed the 2015 Cy Young runner-up, David Price, to a 7-year, $217 million deal. Three days after that, he traded for Carson Smith, who was a reliever who owned a 2.31 ERA and 2.12 FIP in 2015. Dombrowski made significant improvements to the rotation and the bullpen without giving up any young stars from the Major League roster.
During the season, the Red Sox acquired Brad Ziegler for bullpen depth, which ended up being a very solid addition. Then, in a questionable move, Dombrowski traded top pitching prospect, Anderson Espinoza, for Padres pitcher, Drew Pomeranz. The Red Sox ended up winning the AL East with a 93-69 record, but were swept in the American League Division Series by the Cleveland Indians.
2017: Dombrowski Commits Further
The 2016 rotation was an improvement from 2015, but there was still a lack of depth. Most of the quality innings were coming from Rick Porcello, David Price, and Steven Wright, and it would be hard to expect the same from Porcello and Wright. So, Dombrowski, for the second year in a row, acquired the best pitcher on the market. He traded for Chris Sale, a southpaw who had finished in the top 6 in the Cy Young voting for each of the previous five years. They gave up a four-prospect-package headlined by Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. Yet, he still did not give anyone up that would impact the 2017 team. Not only that, but Dombrowski added to the bullpen by trading for Tyler Thornburg, who was coming off a year in which he had a 2.15 ERA and 2.83 FIP in 67.0 innings pitched. Later, he added left-handed first baseman, Mitch Moreland, for one year.
At the trade deadline, the Red Sox traded for Addison Reed for bullpen depth. The Red Sox, even with new addition, Tyler Thornburg, injured the whole year, were able to compile a team ERA that was 2nd in the American League. But after losing David Ortiz, there was an obvious hole in the lineup. The team was 14th in the American League in slugging percentage. They ended up winning the AL East with the same record as they had in 2016, and lost in the ALDS to the Houston Astros in four games.
2018: Dombrowski fills team’s biggest need, hires a great manager, and strikes gold with in-season trades
After two straight one-and-done’s, the Red Sox fired John Farrell. They wanted to go after a younger manager with more analytical flavor to him. Dombrowski and ownership got the best available option, which was the Houston Astros’ bench coach, Alex Cora.
After not going too aggressively after Giancarlo Stanton, Dombrowski eventually got a very similar slugger, J.D. Martinez, for about half the cost in contract. Most believed Giancarlo Stanton would have been the better acquisition, including myself, but Dombrowski saw Martinez as a better and more cost-effective option. This acquisition would help propel the team to the American League leaders in slugging percentage and OPS. J.D. Martinez had a 1.031 OPS, and a .386 average with runners in scoring position, finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting. Stanton, meanwhile, only had an .852 OPS.
During the season, Dombrowski traded for platoon first baseman, Steve Pearce, for a low-level prospect. Pearce would have a .901 OPS for the club in 165 plate appearances. In July, he traded for Nathan Eovaldi in exchange for Jalen Beeks. Eovaldi would have a 3.33 ERA for the team in 54.0 innings of work.
The Red Sox would end up going 108-54, getting the most amount of wins in franchise history. Then, they won the World Series. A lot of it was thanks to David Price, who had a 2.59 ERA in the ALCS and World Series combined through 24.1 innings. A lot of it was due to J.D. Martinez’s playoff performance, as he had a .923 OPS in the postseason, along with 14 RBI in 14 games. Of course, you can’t talk about playoff performances without talking about Nathan Eovaldi. He had a 1.61 ERA through 22.1 innings in the postseason. Yet, his and David Price’s performance in the Fall Classic could not top Steve Pearce’s, as the first baseman took home the World Series MVP. All of the players just mentioned had one thing in common.
2019: Some of Dombrowski’s moves go wrong, and players underperform
After 2018, the team lost Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly to free agency, but Dombrowski decided not to delve into the bullpen market. Instead, he signed Nathan Eovaldi to a 4-year/$67.5 million deal, and signed Steve Pearce to a 1-year/$6.25 million deal. Then in late March, he extended Chris Sale for five years at the cost of $145 million. In early April, he signed Xander Bogaerts to a 6-year/$120 million deal. Eovaldi ended up not pitching from April 17th to July 22nd. Pearce ended up with a .503 OPS through 99 plate appearances and an eventual 60-day IL stint. Sale has had his worst season of his career, posting a 4.40 ERA through 147.1 innings, and he is also out for the remainder of the season. Bogaerts’ deal is the only one looking to be a positive so far.
Meanwhile, the bullpen suffered, as their 4.97 ERA in the 9th inning through June ranked 11th in the AL. When the trade deadline came around, Dave Dombrowski decided this team was not worth adding reinforcements. Some fans were furious at this idea, but they were proven wrong. A closer on this team would not change the fact that Chris Sale and Rick Porcello were severely underperforming, and that David Price was fading. By the weekend after the trade deadline, the Red Sox were 6.5 games out of the wild card.
Sure, not getting bullpen pieces in the offseason may have been a problem. But outside of that, Dave Dombrowski did everything you wanted him to do. You wanted an ace? He got you the Cy Young runner-up from the year before, who eventually won two World Series games. You wanted a dominant closer? He got you one of the best closers that the game has ever seen for three years of control. You wanted another ace? He got you someone who finished second and fourth in the Cy Young voting in the two years after trading for him. You wanted a power bat to replace David Ortiz? He got you the man who would finish fourth in the AL MVP voting the year he was signed as a primary DH. To add to all of that, he constructed possibly the best Red Sox team in franchise history.
You can not let 2019 be Dave Dombrowski’s legacy
The bad taste left in fans’ mouths is some clear recency bias. And in hindsight, the Red Sox could have had Mariano Rivera in his prime this year and would still probably be chasing the Indians, Rays, and Athletics. It was simply underperformance, mostly from the starting rotation.
Dombrowski was an interesting President of Baseball Operations, but a good one nonetheless. He has been fired to be a scapegoat for ownership; someone to point the finger at and say “this was why this year sucked!” He did not actually do a terrible job. There were some mistakes, which happened more recently than his successful moves. And in a fast-moving market, that means you probably have to go.
Let us not forget that this team was in the midst of its second straight last place season when he arrived. He helped transform that into three straight division titles and a World Series championship. So thank you Dave Dombrowski, and good luck in your future endeavors.