When Dave Dombrowski took over as the Red Sox president of baseball operations, with GM Ben Cherington stepping down, the potential for upheaval seemed real. Curiosity throughout the baseball industry was considerable: Was Dombrowski going to clean house? Would he gut the front office that had been built under Cherington and, before him, Theo Epstein?
Dombrowski offered a resounding rebuttal to those lines of inquiry. Instead of a gut-and-renovate, he recognized a solid foundation and decided to supplement rather than wreck it, for a very good reason: It takes years to build the foundation of a solid organization.
The most direct path for the Red Sox to be good again involved continuity rather than rupture. The alternative – a wrecking ball – might leave years of repair in its wake, a notion underscored by this year’s two World Series teams.
The Mets hired Sandy Alderson as their GM after the 2010 season. He remade their front office, which in turn led to turnover in the manager’s office and on the coaching staff. It took many hard years as a back-page piñata for the Mets to create their organization in the image it wanted – four straight losing seasons and a number of arrows. It was, Alderson told Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, a “torturous route,” but its duration seems nearly unavoidable when shaking up an organization.
The Royals, likewise, spent the better part of seven years after installing Dayton Moore as GM in 2006 in creating an organization that worked from top to bottom – with a clear philosophy in team-building strategy that spreads down through the team’s scouts to the coaching staff and players. The Royals became competitive in 2013, then performed at an almost-championship level in 2014, and now are once again in the Fall Classic.
The culmination of those years and years of organization-building could be seen in what the team did in the ALCS, where the intense efforts and acumen of behind-the-scenes members of the Royals yielded unforgettable rallies punctuated by Lorenzo Cain’s incredible game-winning dash from first to home on a single in Game 6. Tom Verducci of SI.com explains the making of the Royals as a championship organization.
The challenges of trying to build a winner while remaking an organization may have been evident in an organization like the Dodgers, where a $300 million payroll yielded disappointment at a time when the franchise seemed to experience transitional growing pains while adjusting to life under new president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
As for the Red Sox: Dombrowski has proven capable of adapting to different operational circumstances throughout his career. That, in turn, seemingly positions him to work with a wide range of individuals and a wide range of philosophies. He recognized systems that were working effectively – the amateur scouting infrastructure (domestic and international) that has yielded one of the top farm systems in the game, along with the farm system that has permitted the development of those talents and navigated them closer to the big leagues. A willingness to work with those structures, rather than tear them down and start anew, offered a more efficient way to build an organization that can win.
After all, Dombrowski knows the alternative. He’d been part of building the Marlins from scratch, a process that yielded a championship after six years. He’d been part of a teardown in Detroit, something that required a five-year process (from his hiring in 2001 to a loss in the World Series in 2006) to achieve success.
Sometimes those teardowns are indeed necessary. But not always. Sometimes there is a foundation in place that merely requires patience and the right sort of complementary additions. Amidst an idle October, as they watch the Royals and Mets, the Red Sox can perhaps take solace that multiple years of disappointment are sometimes the necessary price for better days ahead. That is a bet that most in the Red Sox organization would have made prior to Dombrowski’s hiring, and it appears to be a bet that Dombrowski himself is willing to make now that he is in charge.
More by Alex Speier
Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.