There is a reason coaches and executives sport nervous smiles when deemed to be the best in the business after a particularly successful season.
They know the glimmer will soon fade, that a bump or two in the road that follows can fracture their smile and suddenly expose them to the fate that eventually devours them all.
Did anyone in Major League Baseball do a better job constructing a team in 2018 than Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski? The Sox won a franchise-record 108 regular season games and captured their fourth World Series championship since 2004.
But the 2019 season has proven more much problematic. Sunday’s loss to the New York Yankees dropped them 17 ½ games out of first place and eight games back for the final American League wild card.
And because of that, the Red Sox have decided to fire Dombrowski. The move will be formally announced on Monday.
“This is a guy that gave me a chance to come here and be a big league manager,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told the media after Sunday’s 10-5 loss. “It’s one of those things that caught me. They just told me, so I’m not ready to talk about it.”
Dombrowski will be succeeded by a quartet of his lieutenants, led by the promotion of senior vice president Raquel Ferreira. She is now the highest-ranking woman ever to run an MLB team.
Like the Yankees, the Red Sox do not tolerate flat or rebuilding seasons, even though they’ve won four divisional titles and two World Series since 2012. They are always in the win-now mode and the disappointments of this season quickly conspired against Dombrowski, despite his accomplishments in building a championship team so quickly after his hiring in August 2015.
If there was a problem, it’s likely the escalation of the team payroll caused by the investments in key players that have underperformed, like pitchers Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi.
Price is owed $96 million. Sale is due $145 million and has a bad elbow. Eovaldi signed a four-year $68 million deal before the season and has spent most of it on the injured list. That breaks down to approximately $240 million invested over the next three seasons on just three pitchers.
The Red Sox now face the specter of trying to extend Mookie Betts and convince J.D. Martinez not to opt-out of the final three seasons of his contract. According to Spotrac.com, Boston’s payroll is already over $245 million.
“It doesn’t really matter who’s there,” Betts said Sunday. “Nothing is going to change. This is proof that this is a business. I love it here, but definitely still a business.”
Boston’s farm system, once considered one of the deepest in the game, has been thinned by Dombrowski deals. And despite developing infielders Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers and outfielders Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Andrew Benintendi, it appears much of their new talent will have to be imported at a significantly greater cost.
“It’s unfortunate. Anything outside of player moves and things like that that translate to what we’re doing on the field, you take an ounce of guilt; but as a player, you’re the one that can make or break things. That’s the part that hurts. At the end of the day, it’s a business decision and completely over my head,” pitcher Rick Porcello, who also pitched for Dombrowski in Detroit, told ESPN.
Dombrowski’s firing comes on the heels of the dismissal of manager John Farrell after the 2017 season following two straight American League East titles. Of course, that move panned out when Dombrowski hired the popular Cora to replace him.
Aside from the massive payroll and questionable starting pitching, the Red Sox have also been undermined by their bullpen. Dombrowski could not – or would not – replace the departed Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly and that really hurt the team.
While the Red Sox have remained competitive, and have the depth and talent to compete with the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays for the long-term, the end of Dombrowski may signal a new direction for principal owner John Henry. Perhaps he feels the bloated payroll needs to be substantially trimmed and he preferred someone else do it.
“I don’t want to say too much about it, “but I am surprised. At least a little bit. I mean, we did win three divisions and a World Series,” Dombrowski told USA Today in August about the rumors his job was in jeopardy. “But I get it. This is a tough market. It’s been known as that. Growing up in this game, I was always told there are three markets that are different than everywhere else: Boston, New York and Philadelphia. And I’d have to say it’s probably lived up to be true.
“If you don’t have thick skin, you’re not going to survive in this game. You won’t survive in this market for sure.’’