Dave Dombrowski looked out the window and counted eight construction cranes across the Nashville skyline.
“That’s just looking at one part of the city. There’s growth everywhere,” he said. “There are so many great opportunities here.”
One of them, Dombrowski hopes, will be adding a major league team to a sports landscape that already includes successful NFL and NHL franchises.
It has been 10 months since the Red Sox fired Dombrowski in the middle of a game against the Yankees. He remains under contract through October but was able to join Music City Baseball as a consultant.
As his 64th birthday approaches later this month, Dombrowski is back in baseball.
It could be a quixotic quest. Baseball has no active plans for expansion and the team best suited for relocation, the Tampa Bay Rays, is interested in Montreal on at least a part-time basis.
“We’re of a mind that we want to be prepared if Major League Baseball decides to do either one,” Dombrowski said.
The group also needs a principal owner who could afford the hefty entry fee baseball would seek for an expansion team.
The Rays and Diamondbacks agreed to a $130 million fee in 1995. The price now would be at least $1 billion considering the NHL landed $650 million for its expansion team in Seattle.
That represents Nashville’s best hope. Given the revenue losses because of the pandemic, owners could see adding two expansion teams as a quick way to recoup their losses. A proposal is expected at the 2021 Winter Meetings.
Nashville also would need funds for a ballpark, preferably one with a retractable roof that could serve as a year-round entertainment venue.
The best-case scenario would be having a team by 2024 or ’25.
“It’s not going to be easy. There’s a lot of work involved. It’s high risk and may not happen. All those things,” Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski has experience building a team from scratch. He was the first baseball operations employee of the then-Florida Marlins in 1991 and put together a team that won the World Series in 1997.
“One of the things that becomes apparent is you have to get good people on board, have great communication, and get involved in the community,” Dombrowski said. “From a baseball operations standpoint you have to build. You’re not going to win right away. You have to take a long-term view.”
Nashville has a strong lineup of backers. Alberto Gonzalez, who was attorney general under George W. Bush, is chairman of the board of Music City Baseball. John Loar, a real estate entrepreneur who moved to Nashville last year, is the managing director.
Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who Dombrowski hired as an assistant with the Red Sox, is an adviser, along with agent Dave Stewart, the former All-Star pitcher and Diamondbacks GM.
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin and former MLB pitchers R.A. Dickey and Barry Zito are involved, too.
The team, if it comes to fruition, would be named the Nashville Stars in honor of the Negro League team that played in the city. Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., is a board member of Music City Baseball, and the franchise plans to embrace diversity at all levels — including ownership.
Dombrowski broke into baseball while still in college when the White Sox hired him as an administrative assistant. Professionally, it’s all he has ever known.
When spring training started, it was the first time in more than 40 years Dombrowski wasn’t involved with a team.
“I don’t know to this moment that I’ve come to grips with that,” he said. “It’s an unusual feeling. The season is supposed to start in a few weeks and since 1978 I’ve been with a team.”
That is part of what made Nashville attractive to him.
Dombrowski and his wife, Karie, sold their home in Boston in June and will soon relocate to Nashville, a sign of how committed he is to the idea of bringing a team there.
“I didn’t want to not work, by all means. They approached me back in November. It’s an exciting opportunity,” Dombrowski said.
The Red Sox averaged 94½ victories in Dombrowski’s four seasons, winning three division titles and a World Series.
After two consecutive last-place finishes and a series of high-priced roster blunders, Dombrowski brought a needed sense of urgency to Fenway Park that resulted in a 108-win season and a championship.
That he was fired 10 months later remains shocking and wasn’t something Dombrowski cared to discuss.
But he did reflect on his tenure with the Sox.
“It was a great experience in my career,” Dombrowski said. “I had a chance to work in Boston with one of the most prestigious franchises in professional baseball and we won a world championship. For me, it was a great experience and you can’t take away that World Series. I still hear from a lot of people in the organization.
“Owners have a right to make decisions, but I’m proud of what we did there.”
Dombrowski knew that Major League Baseball’s investigation into improper sign stealing by the 2018 team wouldn’t turn up much. That the Red Sox were docked a second-round draft pick felt perfunctory.
“The commissioner’s office made the decision they did. For me, even when I read the report, I don’t really know they knew what was going on,” Dombrowski said. “It was probably just time to turn the page. I would have been surprised if anything major was going on. I don’t think there was.”
MLB pinned the blame on coaching staff assistant J.T. Watkins, who was suspended for this season.
“I know him very well,” Dombrowski said. “The only thing I would say is J.T. Watkins is somebody I have a great deal of trust in. He’s a quality individual; he worked hard for us.
“He’s intelligent; he followed the rules to my knowledge. He’s a graduate of West Point. He was an Army Ranger. I don’t look at him as being somebody I would have thought would break the rules.”
Dombrowski took a long vacation with his family after he was fired, leaving Christmas night for a 17-day trip to Africa, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi.
“The phone wasn’t ringing, that part of it was really nice, and the trip was fantastic,” he said.
Now the goal is to help Nashville land a team, and if he does, restart his career as an executive, whether it’s in baseball operations or on the business side.
“I want to work,” Dombrowski said. “Baseball is what I do.”
Is Devers’s future at third?
The Blue Jays are moving 21-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to first base and DH. He’s too bulky to play third and the defensive metrics proved it.
The Red Sox have to be careful 23-year-old Rafael Devers doesn’t follow the same route.
Devers had minus-10 defensive runs saved last season, last among American League third basemen. Guerrero was at minus-9. Devers has a lot more value to the Red Sox as a third baseman than he would at first or as a DH, but he has to work on his conditioning to stay there.
The Sox already have a better third baseman in Bobby Dalbec, but we don’t yet know if he’ll hit at the highest level.
Some other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ The Sox should look for additional revenue opportunities given how unlikely it is that fans will attend games at Fenway Park. If their research shows they’ll make more with NESN by playing home games at 7:30 p.m. as opposed to the usual 7:10, so be it.
But will their data hold true with more people working from home or having shorter commutes? Asking viewers to stay up even later than usual may be asking for trouble, especially if the team doesn’t contend.
▪ Making a trade during a pandemic seems difficult at best, if not callous. But with Eduardo Rodriguez and Collin McHugh running out of time to be ready for Opening Day, the only sure starting pitchers the Sox have are Nate Eovaldi and Martin Perez.
Brian Johnson has 26 major league starts. From there you go to Brandon Workman (18), Ryan Weber (11), Matt Barnes (2), and Jeffrey Springs (2).
▪ First-round pick Nick Yorke signed this past week. The Sox can only hope he’s as good as his mom. Robyn Yorke was a four-time All-American at Fresno State who hit .435 for her career, including .481 as a senior.
People in that part of the country still remember how good she was.
YourCentralValley.com, which covers Fresno State, had this headline on the recent news: “Robyn Yorke’s son, Nick, signs with Red Sox.”
Timing is everything
As MLB tries to launch a 60-game season in the middle of a pandemic, one unfortunate byproduct is that it has created two classes of players.
Ian Desmond, Felix Hernandez, Mike Leake, Nick Markakis, Buster Posey, David Price, and Ryan Zimmerman are among the players who have opted out of the season. They all have earned at least $91 million in their careers.
They cited understandable concerns for their health and that of their families. But they also have huge financial cushions to fall back on. They don’t need 60 games of prorated pay.
Mike Trout reported to the Angels but has acknowledged he is considering returning home because his wife, Jessica, is expecting their first child in August.
Trout has already made $152 million with a contract that extends to 2030.
Then you have Mookie Betts, who needs this season to give him six years of service time and the right to become a free agent for the first time. That’s also true for Trevor Bauer, Jackie Bradley Jr., Joc Pederson, George Springer, J.T. Realmuto, and Marcus Semien, among others.
Younger players, such as Rafael Devers, need the service time to become arbitration eligible, a process that would raise their salaries significantly.
Brock Holt, who received a chilly reception on the free agent market last winter, told reporters in Milwaukee that he believed he had to play. He left his son and pregnant wife behind in Boston to join the Brewers.
“I’m not in a position to opt out of a season,” Holt said. “I feel like if I didn’t play this year, my baseball career would be over. If I didn’t play, it would be hard for me to find a job next year.”
Betts, as usual, was matter-of-fact about the situation. He said he was fully supportive of Price doing what he felt was best for his family.
“I’m in a different spot,” Betts said. “My decision is obviously going to be different.”
Betts has already made $32 million in his career. But even in what figures to be a severely depressed market for free agents, he’ll be in line for a significant deal.
It probably will not be the reported $300 million he turned down from the Red Sox. But even if it’s a third of that, it’s worth the risk.
“The market will be what the market is. We’ll just cross that bridge when we get there,” said Betts, who would make $10 million this year if the season were completed.
In the deal made between MLB and the Players Association in March, players would receive a full year of service time even if the season gets canceled.
So while they would surely never admit it publicly, there are surely players who would be relieved if the season were shut down and they could go home.
Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel allowed a home run by Willson Contreras in an intrasquad scrimmage on Tuesday. No big deal, it was the first time he had faced hitters since spring training. But home runs are an increasingly bigger problem for the 32-year-old Kimbrel as his velocity drops. Counting the postseason, he allowed 0.52 home runs per nine innings from 2010-17. Since then, also counting the postseason, that number has swelled to 1.73. It was a cool moment when Chris Sale closed out the World Series for the Red Sox in 2018, but he was out there because they had lost confidence in Kimbrel … As of Friday, all but two of the 37 first-round and supplemental first-round draft picks had signed. The expectation is all 160 draftees will sign before the Aug. 1 deadline as teams were careful not to waste their handful of picks on players they weren’t sure would commit … Remember the famed Gyroball Daisuke Matsuzaka was supposed to have in his repertoire and never actually did? Cubs righthander Yu Darvish has a pitch he calls the Supreme. It’s a two-seam fastball that moves like a split-finger fastball. The ball fades down and in against a righthanded hitter. Good luck hitting that … Longtime umpire Joe West, who is 67, told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that he would work this season, having turned down MLB’s offer of full pay to sit it out because he was in a high-risk category. Sounds commendable. Then West said, “I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus. I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths.” MLB must have been thrilled to read that considering umpire crews will travel on some team charter flights this season … Daren Willman, who created the indispensable Baseball Savant website, did the math and figured out the Rangers would travel 14,706 miles this season and the Brewers only 3,962. Both teams are in the Central time zone, but the Rangers are in the AL West and the Brewers in the NL Central. Milwaukee’s longest road trip will be to Pittsburgh. The Rangers have 12 games in California and seven in Seattle … With the All-Star Game canceled for this season, the game will be played in Atlanta in 2021 then go to Dodger Stadium in 2022 to make up for this season. So the next available slot the Red Sox could pursue would be 2023. The All-Star Game hasn’t been at Fenway Park since 1999, and the Sox are interested in bringing it back … Pat Rapp, who pitched 37 games for the Red Sox in 1999, turns 53 on Monday. Rapp was signed as a free agent and opened the season as part of a rotation that included Pedro Martinez, Bret Saberhagen, Tim Wakefield, and Mark Portugal. Rapp was 6-7 with a 4.36 ERA in 26 starts, going to the bullpen in July. He appeared in only one playoff game, throwing a scoreless inning in Game 3 of the ALCS. It was the only playoff appearance of a 10-year career.