Three stunning announcements that impact the present day Red Sox and much more importantly their future have come in the first eighteen days of August.
Two had been at least whispered about on some level, while the second of the three came out of the blue to all including the person involved. But the timing of all three announcements were sudden and unexpected at the moment of the word breaking.
On Saturday night, August 1, the word came out that Larry Lucchino was stepping down as Red Sox President/CEO. It was also announced that Sam Kennedy would be promoted to President on the business side only. But no plan was formalized to replace Lucchino's voice on the baseball operations side of the equation. Immediately there was speculation the Sox would hire a President of Baseball Ops, a format used in recent years by the Cubs (Theo), Dodgers (ex-Ray GM Andrew Friedman), D-backs (Tony LaRussa), White Sox, and Phillies.
Rumors had swirled since at least spring training if not sooner, that Lucchino was being phased out. But the sudden Saturday night timing was still unexpected. Did Lucchino plan this exit as he contended or was he pushed?
The second bombshell announcement landed as the Red Sox began their current home stand last Friday, August 14. Manager John Farrell spoke in the media room, and told everyone he had been diagnosed earlier in the week with cancer-- Stage One Lymphoma. This of course overshadows any of the other August announcements because this is a real life crisis, not a baseball related one. Farrell informed us that his doctors are very confident in his beating the disease because it was caught early. Farrell does have nine weeks of chemo therapy ahead of him, so consequently he will not manage again in 2015. Bench Coach Torrey Lovullo will be the interim manager. After months of speculation about John Farrell's job security due to the impending second straight last place finish, this is now pushed to the back burner. But the now delicate matter still will need to be addressed sometime after the season.
Last night, August 18, late in the Red Sox win over Cleveland, the next earthquake announcement hit Fenway Park. As hinted at since the Lucchino announcement, the Red Sox did indeed hire a President of Baseball Operations, and the choose to announce it during a week night game in the middle of the NESN/WEEI Jimmy Fund Telethon. Long time baseball exec Dave Dombrowski was their man. Dombrowski had built winners in Montreal and Miami years ago, and had been the President of the Detroit Tigers for over a decade until a couple of weeks ago. He will report directly to John Henry and Tom Werner and will have final say in all of baseball operations dealings. Dombrowski's hiring is effectively immediately. Within the announcement came word that Ben Cherington declined to remain as General Manager under Dombrowski and was leaving the Red Sox after helping with a transition period.
This a bold move by a franchise that needs boldness as 2015 will be the fifth time in six seasons this team has missed the post season (granted that sixth season, 2013, was a humdinger). Here are just a few random initial thoughts:
This is the end of the Theo Epstein Era. Ben Cherington was in his fourth year as GM and had actually been with the Sox since 1999, longer than Theo. But Ben and many of his men were Theo era holdovers and the expoused much of the same philosophy. Dombrowski will bring in a completely fresh set of eyes to examine this franchise and any players they may attempt to acquire from other teams. As I read today, excluding one year of interim GM Mike Port (2002) the last Sox GM not born and bred in New England was Haywood Sullivan!
Dombrowski has a well deserved rep as an excellent trader. Unless the So decide to reverse field on signing over 30 pitchers ( and that was a John Henry policy not Ben C....it may or may not change.) trading will be crucial in finding the needed pitching. The type of deal the Sox need is the type of deal Dombrowski pulled off to acquire Max Scherzer, before he was MAX SCHERZER, from Arizona.
Dombrowski has a reputation of unloading his farm system to acquire veteran big leaguers. For example he traded his top two prospects years ago to get Miguel Cabrera. Those top rated kids were Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. It is entirely possible (likely even) DD will trade one or several of the prized Sox kids. This may be because it is his style or it may be he will evaluate the prospects entirely differently than Ben. But I strongly disagree that Dombrowski unloads the entire farm or young stars all ready on the team. His reputation is for building successful teams, not raping farm systems for the fun of it. I suspect DD will be very happy to have a team built around Bogaerts, Betts, E Rodriguez, Swihart/Vazquez, Bradley, Castillo, etc. But he is a fresh eye and voice, maybe he will trade Betts or Bogaerts for a Sonny Gray type. Or maybe being a new regime with power to apply, he will deal Dustin Pedroia or some other unexpected move.
Dombowski has has a rep for not being a analytics guy, but instead an old school scouting guy. His replacement in Detroit, Al Avila, said one of his first moves would be to beef up Detroit;s numbers department. But Boston has this asset in place and John Henry himself made his millions by crunching numbers. I will be very surprised if Dombrowski takes this team back into the Dark Ages of baseball info usage.
Bullpen. The major flaw of the 2015 Red Sox (and God knows there are other flaws) was a horrid bullpen. This is the biggest worry I have about a Dombrowski administration. His Detroit teams made the post season year after year, but every Tiger team seem to have mediocre to poor bullpens. DD will have to find nearly an entirely new pen in Boston. Peter Gammons tweeted last night that DD prefers hard throwing pitchers, let's hope he finds several for the 2016 Boston bullpen.
Bringing Dombrowski in now rather than October or November will be a huge help in getting ready to overhaul the Sox. It will give the new man several weeks to evaluate the whole franchise from top to bottom.
Dombrowski's own signing will be just the beginning of major front office and staff overhaul. First a new GM to work Dombrowski must be selected. Names like Frank Wren, former Atlanta GM, Dan O'Dowd, ex- Rockies GM, and ex-Angel Jerry DiPoto ( all ready hired last week by Boston as a "consultant") are among the rumored candidates. But I would expect nearly all of the baseball ops execs who worked around Cherington to go. Dombrowski has been in the game for over 30 years, he will have numerous candidates to bring into his department.
And as mentioned in the Farrell section above, at the appropriate time (NOT NOW) the delicate matter of John Farrell remaining as manager will have to be addressed. Normally everyone would fully expect a new regime to name their own manager. But when your incumbent skipper has cancer, that complicates the issue. And who knows maybe Dombrowski wants John Farrell as his manager.
This winter's hot stove has all ready been lit in Boston, and it was ignited by using gasoline. From the inferno hopefully a contending club will emerge for 2016.