BOSTON — Almost two full years into his tenure as the Red Sox’ top baseball executive, Dave Dombrowski has done what he was brought here to do: Turn the Red Sox around.
His trades have been net positives to this point, and his best move will likely go down as the deal for the expected 2017 American League Cy Young winner, Chris Sale.
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“I have no feeling one way or the other on it,” Dombrowski said of his nickname ‘Dealer Dave.’ “It’s been used for such a long time period. It makes no difference to me.”
As Dombrowski sees it, the farm system is starting to regrow. The Sox president of baseball operations noted that new talent has come “behind the scenes” at the lower levels.
“Really, starting to build that back-end where they can continue to grow, that, if some of these players here at the major-league level a few years down the road decide to go free agency, or you end up contemplating making trades, I think you’re in a spot where right now you’re starting to get more of those players back within the system,” Dombrowski said on the CSNNE Baseball Show podcast. “This past year, once we got through the winter meetings — and of course we made the big trades, and traded a lot of players — I thought at that point we had pretty much done what we needed from a big perspective.
“And I think what’s incumbent upon you, if you’re doing things the way you want to in charge of the baseball operations — and again, sometimes you have to make adjustments because ownership’s at a different spot — you’re not only worried about winning now, we want to win a world championship right now, but you are looking into the future.”
The day of the trade deadline, Dombrowski noted there were some players “we chose not to trade, really is what it came down to.” He’s been talking this way for a while.
Per a report from Boston Sports Journal last week, Dombrowski was told by his bosses not to deal the organization’s top prospects. Dombrowski denied the event occurred, but the report noted a most plausible reality: There was no philosophical tension between Dombrowski and his bosses.
The topic leads to a broader question of control in the Red Sox organization, one that was prevalent in the Theo Epstein-Larry Lucchino years.
Think back to some words from Ben Cherington in early August 2015, shortly before he left the organization, and right when Larry Lucchino did.
“Everybody has got a boss,” Cherington said. “Unless you’re the owner, everybody has got a boss.”
That never really changes. The concept of autonomy is far-fetched. Execs never act alone when it comes to big choices.
It’s certainly possible Dombrowski doesn’t have to jump through as many hoops as Cherington did. No one’s going to overrule Dombrowski if he says, “Hey, we like Eduardo Nunez more than Jed Lowrie.” But Dombrowski himself noted ownership’s involvement in the decision to cut Pablo Sandoval — and that should be how it works. Sox president and newly named CEO Sam Kennedy runs the organization’s overall budget and is in constant communication with Dombrowski.
“I think I’ve probably have had as autonomous a career you can have as a general manager, president of baseball operations, whatever your title may be,” Dombrowski said. “But I think you’re always on the same page with your ownership. You need to be . . . If we were making an option of a player [to send him to the minors], I would not call [ownership] and consult with them, that’s a day-to-day operation. But if you are making a big acquisition for your club or even from philosophical perspective, what you’re going to try to attempt, you always try to keep them in the loop. They own the team. They’re interested. They entrust you to do your job, but you do keep them informed of what’s taking place. I would never make a big move, and never [have] through out my career [without keeping ownership informed] — and I’d say probably I don’t think there’s a general manager in the game that would make a big move that would be in a position where your ownership wouldn’t be aware it was taking place.”
Dombrowski said he always sits down with ownership heading into the trade deadline to say how he sees the club improving.
“I’ve done that for 30 years. And for us [this year], we needed improvement at third base, we needed a little bit of an offense improvement, thinking about a bullpen arm — great,” Dombrowski said. “And they know what’s taking place. Now, I would not and call them up and say — and never have, really — and say, ‘Well, and now Eduardo Nunez is the guy we’re thinking over x player, y player.’ They let you make that decision because that’s your job.
“But before we would announce Eduardo Nunez, I would always send them a note. So I think you just need to keep them in the loop. But as long as you’ve got your marching orders, you understand what they are, our guys let you make those types of baseball decisions on who you end up acquiring. But I think it’s incumbent upon you to make sure that they’re aware of what you’re thinking, and that’s part of your job as an employee. Even again, even though I’ve got a job that has a lot of autonomy attached and a lot of responsibility, I think that’s a responsibility of yourself, to make sure that your ownership knows what ’s going on.”
And would they ever say, ‘No, I don’t like this?’
“Yeah, maybe they would say they don’t like your plan,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had that happen. But to bring you back . . . when it comes to big-dollar decisions, if you’re adding big dollars or signing a player to a long-term contract, you always get ownership involved in those type of decisions. They need to have input into those type of things.
“A couple years ago when I was with the Tigers, and we ended up really at the trading deadline making a move to trade some players which ended up being some big moves — David Price, Joakim Soria, Yoenis Cespedes,” he said. “At that point, well, I wouldn’t do that on my own without bringing them into play and saying, ‘This is where we are, this is where it goes, this is some of the impact,’ and then I’m given the blessing.’”