In August of 2015, members of the Red Sox organization seemed dazed, in a state of disbelief and uncertainty in the wake of the departure of general manager Ben Cherington and the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as the president of baseball operations.
Yet the possibility of drastic change instead gave way to a far more limited one. Aside from Cherington and pro scouting director Jared Porter, the baseball operations department remained almost entirely intact. Frayed nerves were settled in no small part by the hiring of Mike Hazen as general manager, the second-highest ranking member of the department.
On Sunday, the sense of dizziness returned to longtime members of the Red Sox front office with the news that Hazen was departing to become GM of the Diamondbacks. In Arizona, despite assuming a nearly identical title, Hazen will have an entirely different role in a position of ultimate decision-making authority in baseball operations.
Hazen’s impact was in literally just about every aspect of the Red Sox baseball operations over the last 11 years, and particularly the last five after the departure of former GM Theo Epstein. His influence could be felt not just in roster decisions but in staffing from the major league level (Hazen was viewed as a critical draw for the hiring of John Farrell, Torey Lovullo, and Chili Davis) down to the Dominican.
He recognized what it meant to create an organizational culture, reaching out to several player development staffers to congratulate them on the fruits of their labors when a minor leaguer would get called up. Colleagues were in awe of his commitment to the Red Sox and his role as a leader, perhaps most significantly when he addressed all of the team’s minor league players and coaches after Ryan Westmoreland’s diagnosis with a cavernous malformation on his brain stem.
When players arrived in the big leagues, they continued discussions with Hazen that had started two, five, eight years earlier. The same was true of fellow front office members.
In many ways, even as the subordinate to Cherington and then Dombrowski, Hazen had represented the connective tissue of the front office. He offered a familiar presence who’d been enmeshed in contracts, roster decisions, player development, scouting, and analytics, all while exhibiting an uncommon competitive intensity that resonated.
His colleagues felt a void upon hearing of his departure.
Yet just as the fallout of Cherington’s departure ended up being lesser than anticipated, there is a chance that Hazen’s departure won’t significantly alter the Red Sox’ internal landscape, in part for the same reason that it made sense for Hazen to leave for Arizona. While Hazen had the title of general manager, ultimate decision-making power rested with Dombrowski, and still does.
Dombrowski described the critical role that Hazen played in helping to familiarize him with the Red Sox when he joined them in 2015, but those introductions are now behind him. He now knows the departments, understands how they operate, and respects the people who work in them.
For that reason, while there was an initial suggestion by Bob Nightengale of USA Today that Frank Wren — formerly an assistant GM under Dombrowski in Florida, more recently a GM with the Braves, and current Red Sox senior VP of baseball operations after being hired by Dombrowski last year — represented the leading candidate to be GM, that notion seems off.
The Red Sox have valued continuity since adding Dombrowski. They wanted Cherington to stay as Dombrowski’s GM. When that didn’t happen, team owners and Dombrowksi himself were thrilled that Hazen stayed on. The organization wanted to maintain its working relationships, not redefine them.
Wren spent the last year working out of his home in the Atlanta area while handling specific big league scouting assignments. Dombrowski clearly values his input on big league personnel decisions. But it remains unclear whether Wren would want to relocate, and even if he harbored such a desire, he hasn’t been part of the Red Sox’ office culture, hasn’t had day-to-day working relationships with members of the departments in a way that would lend itself to a seamless transition.
Dombrowski said continuity “is something that I think is important, yes. I think it’s something you’d ideally like to have. But when I say that, I think you want continuity of good people. You want continuity of something that’s worked.
“The organization has done a lot of good things — we’ve talked about player development, scouting, Latin American operations, analytics, contract negotiations, I think have done a very fine job. Keeping continuity is great to have.”
Dombrowski went on to say that continuity wasn’t a goal in its own right, but his positive view of the state of the organization across departments points to someone who isn’t looking to make sweeping changes. The mere fact that Dombrowski is organizing his search to talk with internal GM candidates before he makes a determination about whether it’s necessary to meet with people outside the organization lends itself to an obvious conclusion.
Hazen’s departure means that some change is unavoidable — particularly given the possibility that he’ll look to hire bench coach Torey Lovullo as his manager and he might request permission to hire other members of the Red Sox front office. That said, the changes may once again be capped — much as they were with Hazen’s promotion last year — if Dombrowski hires Hazen’s replacement from someone who has experience working on Yawkey Way.