You say Tomato . . . I say Bridge Year.
Almost three weeks after firing World Series winning GM Dave Dombrowski, Red Sox (and Globe) owner John Henry finally had a press conference at Fenway late Friday afternoon, before the start of the season-ending series against the moribund Baltimore Orioles.
I’d like to tell you that this session answered all of our questions about the firing of Dombro and the future of the team, but that would be an alternate reality. Accompanied by ubiquitous wingman Tom Werner and CEO Sam Kennedy, Henry (and Werner) responded to 26 minutes of inquiries, but it was a tad confusing and intentionally ambiguous. These guys rarely talk to us and, when they do, sometimes it feels like they are speaking a foreign language. It was an awkward, sometimes bizarre press conference.
We were told that there was considerable disagreement with Dombrowski regarding the depletion of the farm system and the direction of the team. We were told that the financial goal of the 2020 Red Sox is to shed payroll. Henry indicated the Sox would probably go outside the organization for their next GM . We were told that payroll alone does not guarantee success.
I asked if this meant the Red Sox are headed for the dreaded Bridge Year.
“You’d have to call Theo and ask him,’’ Henry said with a chuckle.
“I’d say absolutely not,’’ added Werner. “One of the things we observe is that there are teams that make the playoffs with half the payroll that the Red Sox have. Look at the success that Oakland has had this year. Milwaukee . . . We intend to be competitive every year, but the solution to that isn’t always having the highest payroll in baseball.’’
The third-place, no-playoff Red Sox had the highest payroll in baseball this year — $242 million. They are trying to get that down to about $208 million. Thanks to Dombrowski, they are committed to three sore-armed pitchers — Chris Sale, David Price, Nathan Eovaldi — to the tune of $80 million per year in each of the next three. Mookie Betts is going into his walk year looking for something in the $350–$400 million range. J.D. Martinez has an option to leave if the Sox don’t extend him. Rick Porcello, Mitch Moreland, and Brock Holt appear to be goners.
And Henry says, “This year we need to be under the CBT,” referencing the competitive balance tax, which is $208 million next season. “That’s the goal.’’
Swell. But how will that allow the Sox to be competitive when they couldn’t get it done in 2019 with the highest payroll in the game?
No one knows. But we do know that Dombrowski won’t be making the decisions.
“He was the right choice at the right time. . . . But things have changed quite a bit and we made a decision that we were not going to continue in that direction,” Henry said. “That afternoon [Sept. 8] was the first time I had seen Dave in quite a while. We had made the decision in the previous few days and did not want to wait.
“We can talk about what he did wrong, but I’d prefer to talk about what he did right. Right after the World Series, it became clear to me that we were not going to be on the same wavelength going forward. It was clear to me we weren’t on the same page. He and I talked about it that night [in Los Angeles]. There was a difference in how we thought we should move forward.’’
“I think it’s apparent that we need to have more depth in our minor league system, and more people coming up through the system that can be everyday baseball players,’’ added Werner.
When asked why there was no press conference when Dombrowski was fired, Henry turned toward his VP of media relations Kevin Gregg and said, “Should I tell the truth?’’ Werner cackled.
In this awkward moment, CEO Kennedy stepped forward.
“I can handle this one. Right or wrong we felt we weren’t going to answer questions about Dave’s departure. It was going to be a situation where we’d be asked a lot of questions about blame and what he did wrong, and we felt very strongly as a group that the right thing was to thank him for his time and his service,” Kennedy said. “That was the decision, and it’s fair to disagree with it.’’
“I’ve had a long relationship with Dave,’’ added Henry, who worked with Dombrowski when Henry owned the Florida Marlins. “It was painful to make a change. For me personally, it was painful. But we felt it was the right thing to do. And if we were going to have a press conference, I would love to have talked about what he accomplished while he was here. You guys all would have asked what went wrong, which is your job to do. It wasn’t as much a case of us hiding, as has been portrayed. We didn’t see the utility of going through what the differences were.’’
So instead of outlining their philosophical differences with Dombrowski when he was fired, they did it Friday night. Good luck to the Next Man Up, who will be the Sox fourth GM since 2011.
Will the new person come from the in-house, Group Of Four currently running the team?
“It’s possible,’’ said Henry, “but this is a tough job and a tough offseason, too. This is a challenging offseason. To put one of the candidates you keep bringing up [Eddie Romero Jr., we presume] in charge, that’s sort of a tough way to start your career as a general manager. So we are starting the search looking outward.’’
Look westward, toward 42-year-old Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman. Never rule out Theo. And strap yourselves in for the bridge year to 2021 and beyond.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com