The Philadelphia Phillies haven’t had a winning season since 2011, a fact that required looking up a second time because it didn’t seem possible.
But it’s true. Despite financial advantages, a beautiful ballpark, and a passionate fan base, the Phillies haven’t sniffed the postseason since the days of Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard.
Dave Dombrowski, who was named president of baseball operations on Friday, is charged with fixing that. Like he did with the Tigers and Red Sox, the job is to reboot a franchise that should be better.
“We looked at the Phillies as sort of a sleeping giant,” Dombrowski said. “They’ve got a big market; they’ve got a solid owner [in John Middleton] that wants to spend money to win. It’s a good baseball city.”
Now 64, Dombrowski is 15 months clear of being fired by the Red Sox in the middle of a game against the Yankees. His ouster came less than a year after winning the World Series.
His plan was to spend four or five more years with the Red Sox before retiring. That suddenly changed when ownership decided it wanted to go in a different philosophical direction.
“It didn’t end the way I wanted it to,” Dombrowski said. “I thought that would be in Boston. But the feelings were different. It was a hard situation.”
The Red Sox paid Dombrowski through October. He also worked as a consultant with a group of business people in Nashville trying to bring a team to that city.
Dombrowski intended to stay in Nashville until learning this past week that Major League Baseball wouldn’t consider expansion for at least another year. That opened a door to the Phillies.
“We have a chance to be really good as time goes on,” he said.
Dombrowski will identify what the Phillies need, make a list of solutions, and work to fill those holes. As so many other executives dither, he’ll act.
He won’t have the budget he did in Boston, and the Phillies have a weak farm system. But Dombrowski will act quickly and decisively in pursuit of a championship.
“I consider it a retool, not a rebuild, for sure,” he said. “There are too many good players on the club … and we have flexibility with finances.”
Free agents will want to wait to hear what Dombrowski has to say. The Phillies need pitching, a catcher, and an outfielder. As Dombrowski noted, they’re more than one player away from being a contender. The bullpen in particular needs a lot of work.
“I think it’s more important, too, that we build an organization that can be competitive year in and year out,” Dombrowski said. “That will really be the focus.
“There won’t be a lot of sleep involved over the next couple of weeks. I’ve done this before and there’s a lot to be done. I have to get up to par pretty quickly.”
Dombrowski suggested he would hire a general manager to work under him. There are several unemployed former Red Sox executives who might fit — Allard Baird and Jared Banner come to mind — unless Dombrowski promotes from within.
Dombrowski is very much a traditional executive. He said he wants the Phillies to have a closer in the bullpen and starters who can go seven innings. He likes power pitchers and star players and is an advocate of in-person scouting.
But he also approved of adding to the staff and budget of the Red Sox analytics department.
“I know you get reputations,” Dombrowski said. “When I went to Boston, we incorporated analytics basically everywhere. When I went there at first, the analytics department — which was up front when it first started — had really kind of fallen behind.
“It really hadn’t made many adjustments in recent years. Not as many people as they normally did, hadn’t been advanced in some areas. We really built that back and I was all encouraging in that regard. I think you get whatever information that you possibly can.”
Dombrowski credited assistant GM Zack Scott in leading that effort.
The Phillies have a lot of cooks in their kitchen. Team president Andy MacPhail is a former GM. Medfield’s Matt Klentak was fired as GM in October but remains with the organization. Assistant GM Ned Rice has been running the team since.
Hall of Fame GM Pat Gillick works for the team as an adviser, as do former managers Larry Bowa and Charlie Manuel.
Based on his work in Detroit and Boston, Dombrowski will get the Phillies where they want to go. It’ll be interesting to see which team gets there first, the Red Sox under Chaim Bloom or the Phillies with Dombrowski.
Dodgers, Turner seeking a deal
Justin Turner is seeking a three-year deal with the Dodgers, and the team would like to have him back. But he’s 36 and his OPS has dropped three years in a row. The Dodgers also have internal candidates to play third base.
Turner has value in the market given his still potent bat and strong performance in the World Series. Dave Roberts and Mookie Betts have said Turner is the key to what has been a strong team culture.
Betts said several times during the postseason that Turner sets the tone in the clubhouse. Intangibles, however valuable, are unlikely to merit a three-year commitment. But indications are a compromise can be reached.
▪ GM Jed Hoyer on the possibility of the Cubs retaining Jon Lester: “We’ve been very consistent in our communication with his representatives and will continue to be. If things could work out, we’d love to have him back.
“We have to figure some things out first. That kind of goes without saying, because otherwise, something would be done by now. There’s some things we want to work through first.”
One of those decisions the Cubs want to settle is Kris Bryant’s status. Chicago seems intent on moving its third baseman, who is expected to make $18 million via arbitration.
“We know that we’re headed in this direction, where we know what these guys are headed toward the end of their arbitration years,” Hoyer said.
That the Cubs have some difficult decisions to make that will affect their roster long term was part of the reason Theo Epstein stepped down a year earlier than he planned so Hoyer could run the team.
▪ Brian Cashman is happy to tell you he very much wants to bring D.J. LeMahieu back at second base. When the Yankees prioritize a player, they usually get him.
That LeMahieu is attached to a qualifying offer also hurts his value as a free agent.
Reports that the Nationals are after LeMahieu are not accurate, according to several sources.
▪ The Reds are so intent on dropping payroll that they traded closer Raisel Iglesias to the Angels for former Red Sox righthander Noe Ramirez and a player to be named later.
Iglesias is signed for $9.1 million next season.
▪ The Mets struck out on some prominent candidates to be GM under Sandy Alderson before hiring Jared Porter. But he’s no consolation choice.
Porter came up through the Red Sox, starting out as an intern and learning from Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, and Mike Hazen along the way.
Porter was the scout who dug Daniel Nava out of an independent league and pushed for Eduardo Rodriguez when Andrew Miller was traded in 2014.
Whitlock joins Sox ready to contribute
Garrett Whitlock was aware he could be taken in the Rule 5 Draft. But the righthander wasn’t expecting to go from the Yankees organization to the Red Sox.
“Extremely excited,” Whitlock said via telephone from his home in Alabama. “It’s kind of crazy to go from being with the Yankees for four years to the Red Sox. But I’m glad to get the opportunity.”
Whitlock had Tommy John surgery in July 2019, which led to his being unprotected by the Yankees. His recovery is essentially complete, to a point he has faced Royals prospect Tyler Tolbert in a controlled setting.
“I’m fully healthy,” Whitlock said. “I’ve gone through the progression. I need to talk with [Red Sox pitching coach] Dave Bush about what’s next. But when I get to spring training I’ll be ready to earn my spot. I’ll compete my butt off.”
The Sox feel Whitlock can help them as at least a multi-inning reliever, if not as the No. 5 starter. He has not pitched above Double A but is relatively polished.
Whitlock pitches to contact with a mid-90s sinker. His pitching coach at Alabama-Birmingham, Josh Hopper, preached getting quick outs, and that stayed with him. In what’s increasingly a game of high fastballs and low offspeed pitches, Whitlock attacks the plate.
“If you can get outs and stay in the game, somebody will always give you a uniform,” he said.
Whitlock inadvertently helped his cause by posting three videos of his post-surgery mound work on Instagram. Red Sox pro scouting director Gus Quattlebaum said the team factored that into its analysis.
“I didn’t know that,” Whitlock said. “My last video was in November. I’m better than I was then.”
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Both Rogelio Moret and Dick Allen died on Monday. It brought to mind the Aug. 21, 1974, game at Fenway Park when Moret threw a one-hit shutout against the White Sox and struck out 12.
Allen had the only hit, a single with one out in the seventh. The Red Sox won, 4-0, in 2 hours 4 minutes.
Moret was 41-18 with a 3.43 ERA in 116 games for the Sox from 1970-75. His best season was in 1973, when he was 13-2 with a 3.17 ERA for a team that finished second in the division.
The thin lefthander had several off-field incidents that helped lead to a trade to Atlanta after the 1976 season.
▪ Nobody ever cared more about a lawn than longtime Fenway Park groundskeeper Joe Mooney, who died on Nov. 29.
The Red Sox used to host the New England College All-Star Game every spring. A team of Division 1 players would face players from Division 2 and 3. As you can imagine, it was a thrill for the players.
Not so much for Joe. He didn’t allow for a lengthy batting practice or infield and even chased off anybody who tried to get a photo in front of the Green Monster. He zealously guarded every blade of grass.
So if your first major league game was at Fenway and you still remember how green the grass was, thank Joe.
Mooney later became a confidante to current Sox groundskeeper Dave Mellor.
▪ Rusney Castillo is playing for Mexicali in the Mexican Pacific Winter League. Now a free agent at 33, Castillo has played in 17 games and hit .246.
Say this for Castillo, he must like baseball. He made $72.5 million with the Red Sox and is still trying to find a way back to the majors. His last big-league game was in 2016.
Untimely end for great Allen
Dick Allen’s death came a day after what very likely would have been his election to the Hall of Fame.
He missed election by one vote of the Golden Days committee six years ago but almost certainly would have been on the ballot again this year and had a good chance of receiving enough votes and finally getting in.
But that vote was postponed until 2021 because of the pandemic, the Hall saying it wanted the committee to meet in person. Given how all of us have adjusted, you’d think a Zoom meeting would have sufficed.
Perhaps Allen will be posthumously elected next year. But that won’t offer much solace to his family given the delays.
The Hall has broken up what was once called the Veterans Committee into subcommittees that evaluate particular eras. Allen has long been considered among the better players not in the Hall — he had a .912 career OPS — but never worked his way through what can be a cumbersome and frustrating process for players who missed on the BBWAA ballot.
Many executives now believe spring training (and then the regular season) will be pushed back by at least a month in the hope of having fans allowed in ballparks for the regular season. In Massachusetts, the plan is for the COVID-19 vaccine to be made available for the general public in April. For the moment, the Red Sox home opener is scheduled for April 1. The Players Association is sure to push back on any delay. It remains uncertain if fans will be allowed into spring training games. The Florida Everblades, a minor league hockey team in Estero (next to Fort Myers), are allowing fans into the arena despite cases being on the rise in Lee County and other parts of the state … As the Red Sox seek a graceful exit for Dustin Pedroia, the Orioles are wrestling with a much bigger problem in Chris Davis. The first baseman, who turns 35 in March, has two years and $46 million remaining on what will be remembered as one of the worst contracts ever. Davis has hit .169 with a .550 OPS the last three seasons with a negative 5.7 WAR. “As far as my contract is concerned, it is what it is. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not giving up,” Davis told reporters. Davis, like Pedroia, has every right to collect his money. Both sides assume risk in a long-term deal. Releasing Davis would instantly improve the Orioles, but it appears the Angelos family is waiting in the hopes a shortened season and prorated pay scale will save them some money on his deal … The Dodgers lost eight players in the major league and minor league phases of the Rule 5 Draft. The Yankees and Rays lost seven. The Red Sox were one of four teams who didn’t have any players deemed worth taking. The Brewers, Nationals, and Mariners were the others … Daniel Bard was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year after returning to the majors for the first time since 2013 … Happy birthday to Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins, who is 78. He was 22-21 with a 3.47 ERA in 58 games for the Red Sox from 1976-77. The Sox acquired Jenkins from Texas for infielder Juan Beniquez and two prospects. Then they traded him back to Texas for lefthander John Poloni. Joe Christopher is 85. The outfielder from the Virgin Islands played 12 games for the Red Sox in 1966.