Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise. When the Red Sox brought in Dave Dombrowski to be their president of baseball operations, they did so with a sense that their front office infrastructure was strong, but with a belief that the former Tigers president/GM/CEO represented the right person to lead the operation at that time, even if it meant change.
A year ago, surprisingly little altered, with Dombrowski retaining virtually every member of the staff he inherited. The same can no longer be said.
Change has come, in a way that is altering some of the organization's pillars. On Monday, another key engineer of the Red Sox' scouting and player development machine — a term coined by Theo Epstein at his introduction as Red Sox GM in 2002, and that in many ways was coming to fullest fruition with the division title of 2016 — departed. VP of amateur and international scouting Amiel Sawdaye, who joined the team as an intern working in the amateur scouting department in 2002, is leaving to become assistant GM of the Diamondbacks under former Red Sox and current Arizona GM Mike Hazen.
Sawdaye had been, in many ways, the logistical mastermind behind the Sox' amateur scouting overhaul.
"Because of Amiel's intellect and administrative capability, his humility, and his street smarts, a lot of the task of building the nuts and bolts of that process, even as an intern and then as a staff assistant, fell on him," said former Sox GM Ben Cherington, now the Blue Jays VP of baseball operations. "He was able to do that working for strong, successful people, and be part of that change in a way that was still really productive and non-threatening and was able to do that and really strengthen the relationships with the people he was working for, even though those changes were at times difficult.
"That really stood out to me, the ability to be a part of change and pushing to find better ways to do things while still really embracing the wisdom and experience around him and developing strong relationships with those people," said Cherington. "He was able to do both, which I saw as a strong sign of his leadership abilities from a very early point."
Over time, his presence in the organization and his ability to forge comfortable connections with members of the organization from ownership and veteran scouts to the internship level made him one of the most respected voices in the front office.
"We used to call him the front-office [Dustin] Pedroia. We used to say, 'You're so far out over your skis.' But he had a ton of confidence in himself and his abilities, but could laugh at himself and take ribbing," explained former Sox director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod (now a senior VP with the Cubs). "He was just a rock — very dependable and reliable. He didn't have an ego where something was beneath him to do it. He just would make sure it got done and done right."
When the Sox wanted to overhaul their statistical profiling of amateurs, they sent interns to Indianapolis to Xerox decades of NCAA stats. Sawdaye spent countless hours, according to McLeod, "more or less by himself, just locked himself in a room" while turning those numbers into useful, accessible data in Excel.
In the middle of the 2006 scouting season, Sox officials spitballed the idea of becoming the first organization to have all of their amateur scouts use video to capture players. McLeod thought the idea might come to fruition by the 2007 scouting season. Instead, within 10 days, Sawdaye had cameras in the hands of the entire staff and had created the necessary information architecture to make the video useful. Within years, virtually every organization followed suit. Sawdaye likewise helped to overhaul the way the Sox evaluated risk and medical information among amateur players, in a way that connected him to numerous departments and made him a candidate for a growing organizational role.
After four years as director of amateur scouting (including oversight of the franchise-changing 2011 draft that yielded Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart, Matt Barnes, Travis Shaw, and Henry Owens), his promotion to VP of amateur and international scouting suggested as much.
"We always felt like at some point, if he wanted to, he could move into some other area of baseball operations," said Cherington. "He had the intellectual capacity, the humanity, the leadership ability, the curiosity to move into really any area of baseball operations if that opportunity presented itself."
Many in the baseball community saw Sawdaye as the logical successor to Mike Hazen as the Red Sox GM under Dombrowski once Hazen took over as Diamondbacks GM, but while the Red Sox made clear their desire to keep Sawdaye, they offered him an assistant GM position that likely represented less of a growth opportunity than a position of the same name in Arizona.
That Sawdaye left to join Hazen — who likewise chose to leave Boston for a position of the same title but very different responsibilities — raises questions, among them:
■ Are the Red Sox at risk of suffering a competitive disadvantage? The tendency in recent years has been towards front-office expansion, with the dual president of baseball operations/GM role becoming the industry standard. Indeed, all four of the teams in the League Championship Series – Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Toronto – feature that dual structure. So what are the implications if the Sox do not take such an approach?
■ Given that Hazen and Sawdaye both felt their best chances for career growth were to leave the Red Sox organization, are the Red Sox under Dombrowski at risk of either a brain drain or, longer-term, a situation where executives look more aggressively for other opportunities, in a way that will impact the ability to sustain philosophical continuity at all levels of the organization?
■ Will the Sox' preparations for the 2017 draft be adversely affected? While director of amateur scouting Mike Rikard — whose first two drafts in that role have received high marks – remains, between the departures of former amateur scouting director Sawdaye and assistant director of amateur scouting Steve Sanders (who was hired as Toronto's director of amateur scouting), the Sox have lost key personnel.
■ With Cherington, Hazen, and Sawdaye — all strong advocates of a player development-centric model of roster-building — having left in a span of roughly 14 months, will the Sox' approach to trades and the short-term vs. long-term calculus alter?
Against the backdrop of those many questions, a disclaimer is necessary: It's early. Officially, the offseason hasn't started yet, and those uncertainties quickly may give way to a renewed air of stability once the Sox clearly define roles — particularly given Dombrowski's sense of his own increased sense of comfort with the inner workings of his front office.
"The need to know the internal workings isn't quite as much as it was before," Dombrowski said recently of his efforts to replace Hazen now as compared to his search for a GM in September 2015. "Knowing the people here, getting to know them, there are so many good people within the organization. Now I know who they are, what they do, what their specialties are. I don't mean to reflect that in that one year you know everything, because you don't. But my knowledge is much more now than it was a year ago at this same time."
On Tuesday afternoon, the Red Sox announced that they would not fill their GM vacancy at this time. The team announced a promotion of Eddie Romero — who has overseen the team's international amateur scouting efforts over the last five years — to assistant GM.
No one knows how the Sox' front-office machinations will impact the organization. The only clarity can be drawn from the facts, chiefly that whereas Dombrowski made the decision to preserve as much of what he inherited as possible after he joined the Sox last August, he now faces a host of decisions about what form he wants his front office to take.