It seemed crazy for Dave Dombrowski to be fired in Detroit. The last decade was the most successful in terms of wins, revenues and attendance in club history.
His trusted associates with the Tigers, many of whom went back with him to Florida, all thought from the outset that Boston was where he wanted to go. “John Henry felt him out about the job when he was buying the team,” says one of those associates, “but Dave didn’t want to work with Larry (Lucchino). But that was a long time ago.”
And the Red Sox are a far different organization and philosophy now, as the game is distinctly different. What is interesting is that Henry is analytics driven, in all walks of business. He hired Billy Beane for a few hours. He hired Theo Epstein. He hired Bill James.
And when the Tigers let Dombrowski go, his replacement, Al Avila, said the team wanted to improve its analytical staff and approach. So how Dombrowski meshes with the current organization will be interesting. And while the Tigers wrapped up Dombrowski’s top aides to longterm deals—Avila, David Chadd, Scott Bream—if he brings in his old school friends, will this send Mike Hazen, farm director Ben Crockett, international scouting director Ed Romero (who one NL GM calls “the biggest star in that field in our business”), Brian O’Halloran, scouting directors Amiel Sawdaye and Mike Rikard, pro director Jared Porter and Allard Baird onto the market, where they would all be snatched up. Not to mention Brian Bannister, one of the most creative minds in the industry.
Cherington is, in Beane’s words, “just about the most honorable person in the business.” He started as a scout, his heart has always been in scouting. He’s made errors. Hanley Ramirez has been a disaster. Rick Porcello has been a disappointment, but Carl Willis, like Brad Ausmus, believes he will, at 26, come back to league average. Cherington probably erred in the whole Stephen Drew fiasco, which cost him Jose Iglesias and almost cost him Xander Bogaerts.
But Cherington had owners to whom he had to answer. When Henry decided to lowball Jon Lester—which, knowing Lester, would make him unsignable—Cherington had to go along, and then had to trade John Lackey because of the Lester situation. When Baird wanted to sign Jose Abreu and swore by him, ownership wouldn’t sign off (hello, Hanley).
Now ownership may listen to Dombrowski, and if David wants to go after Johnny Cueto and use Pedro Martinez to attract him and mentor Anderson Espinoza, they’ll have to waive their 30-and-over restrictions. But if he wants to hire Frank Wren as general manager, filling positions up and down an organization MLB.com, Baseball America, the Houston Astros and others feel is the best in the game, could have dramatic longterm impact after the initial bask in the sun. They can get Sonny Gray… for Yoan Moncada, Espinoza, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi…
“The Red Sox have a great leader,” one Tiger front office official said Wednesday morning. And Dombrowski is smart enough to not play to the public cry for the next Lou Gorman, and to work with the infrastructure that is in place, adding what he thinks he needs.
The most logical move is to make Hazen the GM, and grow with Dombroswki’s experience, wisdom and background. That would seemingly tie Dombrowski to the organization that Epstein and Cherington built to win three world series, and would further advance the ideas Henry brought to Boston.
But logic doesn’t always rule baseball. The Ilitch family could have insisted on Dombrowski adding an analytics department; maybe not one as creatively comprehensive as the Rays, Pirates, Indians, Dodgers or Mets, but one built for the world of 21st Century baseball. The Red Sox could have redeveloped the relationship between ownership and baseball operations with Mike Gordon, Sam Kennedy and someone like Pat Gillick.
Dombrowski was raised in baseball by Roland Hemond, one of the finest of the fine, and has always reflected Roland. His wife Karie was the anchor the first time I ever did an in-studio Sports Center, in 1988. Tremendous person, great parents.
Hopefully for their family, this is their final landing spot, and the right place to finish out an extraordinary career. It will not be easy, but David has battled through difficult situations like being purged by Ken Harrelson, and now is faced with integrating with a new front office and redirecting what he feels he needs redirecting, and restoring normalcy to an organization that—even with the 2013 glory—has never been the same since that ball landed in front of Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria hit the home run that sent Terry Francona to the booth and Theo Epstein to more friendly confines.