The Red Sox parting ways with Dave Dombrowski — last night’s announcement came at the bewitching hour — is somewhat surprising. Then again, it really isn’t. Questions about his future have been circulating for a few months, and while a death knell has yet to sound on Boston’s season, any hopes of a postseason berth are now on life support. Last October is but a memory, and as the saying goes, “What have you done for me lately?”
To say it’s been a disappointing season for the defending World Series champions would be an understatement. But that’s only part of the reason Dombrowski, the team’s president of baseball operations since August 2015, was let go. What matters is the future, and much as when Ben Cherington was jettisoned four years ago, the time had come for new leadership. For now, assistant GMs Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero Jr., and Zack Scott, along with Senior Vice President Raquel Ferreira, are expected to fill that role on an interim basis.
The extent to which Dombrowski and Red Sox ownership were no longer on the same page is unknown as of this moment. More may be learned when the involved parties address the media (though the team has elected not to hold a press conference regarding the decision), but even then questions will remain unanswered. In all likelihood, we’ll be left to speculate as to whether loggerheads had been reached with the important near-term personnel decisions that will shape the team’s future. Based on his track record, Dombrowski would presumably be averse to anything resembling a rebuild, while his two predecessors — Cherington and Theo Epstein — placed a high premium on player development and building from within. That divergence is reflected in Boston’s farm system rankings; the Red Sox system is currently dead last.
Since coming to Boston, Dombrowski has signed free agents such as J.D. Martinez and David Price, and traded well-regarded prospects for the likes of Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel, Ian Kinsler, Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Nunez, and Tyler Thornburg. Harkening back to his Detroit days — acquiring Miguel Cabrera in exchange for multiple top-rated prospects is especially notable — Dombrowski has rarely shied away from bold, win-now moves.
Contrast this with Cherington having unloaded Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez — all of whom had monster contracts — in August of 2012. Equally bold, albeit for completely different reasons, Epstein protégé Cherington’s build-for-the-future gambit helped spur several highly-successful Red Sox seasons.
That type of scenario is unlikely to be repeated, regardless of who ultimately replaces Dombrowski on a permanent basis. Given Boston’s young core and deep pockets, a complete rebuild isn’t in the cards. Even so, expect to see more than a modicum of tinkering with the roster in the months to come. Heavily-influencing potential moves are the contract situations of J.D. Martinez (an opt-out clause following this season), Rick Porcello (a free agent), and Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. (free agents a year from now). How to balance the contracts and futures of Martinez and Betts looms especially large; retaining both seems extremely unlikely, given the team’s other payroll commitments, many of which were penned by Dombrowski.
Dombrowski won’t be the one making these calls. Who that responsibility will fall on remains to be seen. It could be one of the interims — Romero is definitely a possibility — or it could be an outsider with a vision that ownership opts to embrace. Regardless, Dombrowski had a good run with the Red Sox. But while flags fly forever, a change was needed and step-one came last night. It will be interesting to see what comes next.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.