Dave Dombrowski is out as baseball boss of the Red Sox.
The news broke after midnight that Boston’s president of baseball operations had been fired.
Fair or unfair, this felt inevitable. I wrote last month that I would be shocked if Dombrowski was still GM next year and those words were greeted with stony silence on Jersey Street. No one came to the defense of a boss that had just won the World Series and had finished in first place in each of his first three full seasons.
Dombrowski did exactly what he was hired to do when the Sox brought him on board in the summer of 2015. He traded prospects for veteran talent. He signed big name free agents. He threw around contract extensions like fun-sized Halloween candies. He ignored draft and development. And he ignored a lot of the people who worked at Fenway Park.
The Sox won every year until this year. And each season, Dombrowski became more isolated inside the walls of Fenway. He holed up with his buddies Frank Wren and Tony La Russa. He insisted that Sam Kennedy have zero input on all baseball decisions and never clicked with the “new” CEO. Dombrowski was not particularly close to the people in baseball ops. Or Tom Werner.
In the end, Dombrowski did not have much support from Alex Cora. No one in a Sox uniform was happy last week in Anaheim when Dombrowski failed to bring major league arms to California after a 15-inning win on a Friday night at the Big A. The next night, Cora was forced to call on weary, worn-out Ryan Brasier in relief of a critical game. Brasier blew a 4-3 lead, giving up six runs in the eighth inning. It was front office malpractice. Things were coming to a head.
When the team came home from the coast to play the Twins and Yankees, Dombrowski wanted clarity on his situation, and that clarity came after the Sox’ 10-5 loss to the Yankees late Sunday night.
Dombrowski and John Henry know one another well. They worked together with the Florida Marlins many years ago. But when the Sox flopped this season — despite having the top payroll in all of baseball — somebody was going to have to pay. You cannot have the top payroll in baseball and fail to qualify for a playoff field of 10 teams. Dombrowski winds up taking the fall.
Dombrowski has one year left on his contract. In Fort Myers in February, Henry said a contract extension for Dombrowski would probably happen this year. It never did. And as the team stumbled, it became apparent that Dombro would not be the man to oversee the next phase of Henry’s baseball operation.
There are a lot of big decisions on deck as the Sox stagger to the finish. They have to decide if they are going to trade Mookie Betts if they can’t extend his contract. J.D. Martinez has an opt-out clause that can be triggered at the end of this season. Rick Porcello is going to be a free agent. Everybody knows that Jackie Bradley Jr. should have been traded a year ago. It would be folly to have a lame-duck GM making decisions of this magnitude. So now the Sox will find a new guy to make those moves.
Henry has earned a reputation as a tough boss. Theo Epstein left in 2011 after winning two World Series. Ben Cherington was sandbagged in the middle of the 2015 season, less than two years after winning a World Series. And now Dombrowski is gone a little more than 10 months after winning a World Series in an historic 119-win season.
It will be interesting to see whom the Red Sox hire to replace Dombrowski. They still have a team that is built to win now, but the window is closing and big decisions have to be made.
Dombrowski left the Tigers in disarray after he was fired in Detroit in 2015. Boston’s farm system is badly in need of replenishment, but the Sox cannot afford to tank the way Detroit is tanking.
Meanwhile, Dombro has saddled his successor with an aggregate $75 million per year in salaries to three pitchers — Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi — all of whom have arm trouble.
Running the Red Sox is never easy. Dave Dombrowski just found out the hard way. When you outspend every team in baseball, you’d better make the playoffs or you are gone.