7th Inning Stretch: With challenging offseason around the corner, Red Sox seek new leadership

Mookie Betts summed it up best: “I love it here, but this is proof that this is a business.” When an organization drastically underperforms, someone needs to answer for it. Heads roll.

For the Boston Red Sox, that had to be President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski.

Less than a year after hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy in celebration of his team’s fairytale World Championship season, Boston’s top baseball official was fired late Sunday night following a 10-5 loss to the New York Yankees. A trio of assistant general managers, Eddie Romero, Brian O’Halloran and Zack Scott, will assume leadership of baseball operations in the interim.

Dombrowski joined the Sox front office in August 2015, and until recently, was a popular figure in the Boston baseball world. As many before him could attest, that is no small feat. 

Dombrowski left quite a mark on the Sox, with his long list of acquisitions including David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale and J.D. Martinez. He made key midseason moves too, bringing Brad Ziegler, Eduardo Nunez, Addison Reed, Steve Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi aboard to bolster playoff runs in 2016, 2017 and 2018. 

Not to mention, perhaps his biggest addition of all was manager Alex Cora.

Dombrowski also deserves credit for refusing to budge when teams attempted to pry Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers in trade talks for Sale and Kimbrel. He may have largely emptied the Sox farm system, but Dombrowski stood his ground when the future of his then-new organization was on the line.

So why the Sunday Night Massacre at Fenway? The move is as much about the previous 12 months as it is about the next few. First and foremost, the Red Sox have proven to be a colossal disappointment this season. 

With just a couple weeks left in the 2019 campaign, the chances of the Red Sox making the playoffs are slim. And even if they somehow finagle a Wild Card spot, they are not positioned to beat the New York Yankees or Houston Astros.

Dombrowski wisely chose to let Kimbrel walk last offseason, but elected not to replace him with a viable closer, and the 2019 Sox bullpen has suffered as a result. The 2018 club had 46 savesand 20 blown saves, compared to 28 and 27, respectively, in 2019. Even when it became clear early in the season that the no-closer approach had failed, Dombrowski refused to budge.

After the July 31st Trade Deadline passed without any action, Dombrowski explained his decision, “I think if we were closer to first place I would have been more open-minded to some of the other things. When I say that, the club here needs to play better on a consistent basis. That’s the way I look at it.”

Basically, if the Sox were better, it would have been worth it to make a move. The only issue with that thought process, however, is that it’s largely on Dombrowski in the first place that the team wasn’t better. Boston’s offense remains elite – their .272 team batting average is second in the MLB – while the pitching staff struggles, with a team earned-run average of 4.65, 19th in the majors. Dombrowski’s inaction cost the Red Sox the chance to truly complete this season.

But beyond Dombrowski’s specific gameplan in 2019, there is also a sense in Boston that he no longer remained the best-suited leader for the franchise. When he arrived in 2015, Dombrowski accomplished exactly what he was hired to do: he signed and traded for big-name players, operated with a win-now mentality, and set the team up for three consecutive division titles and a World Championship.

But that phase has come and gone. With the offseason around the corner, the Red Sox front office must be painstakingly careful. Betts is set to become a free agent after 2020 and Martinez has the ability to opt out of his contract this winter. With the Sox payroll as astronomically high as it is ($240 million), the team lacks the flexibility to retain all of its talent. Some very difficult, potentially decade-defining decisions must be made and the consensus among the team’s brass was that Dombrowski was not the man to lead the franchise into this new territory.

Ultimately, the move was inevitable. With the largest payroll in the game, a third-place finish would not cut it. You can’t outspend 29 organizations and miss the 10-team postseason.

What was shocking, however, was the timing. Nobody seemed to see it coming.

The news broke of Dombrowski’s ouster after midnight on Sunday, with nearly 20 games remaining in the regular season. Cora and many players expressed shock at the move and offered messages of gratitude for Dombrowski’s four years on the job. But at the end of the day, as Betts said, it’s a business. And it was time for a fresh start.

Dave Dombrowski will unquestionably have his plaque hung in Cooperstown one day. He is a uniquely intelligent and pragmatic baseball mind, and his tenure in Boston was filled with success. His overall record with the Red Sox ended at 396-277, a .588 winning percentage.

With the Red Sox offseason just weeks away, the work for the 2020 team has already begun. One big move was announced Sunday and more are sure to come. There are many questions that the team will need to answer in the coming months. Now atop the list: who’s in charge?

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