- In the wake of the Red Sox parting ways with Dave Dombrowski, WEEI’s Rob Bradford sat down with Giants’ special advisor (and former Blue Jays’ GM) J.P. Ricciardi to discuss how the position has changed in recent seasons. Ricciardi pointed to a number of differences in heading a front office now versus the 2000’s, when he was running things north of the border. Perhaps most interestingly, Ricciardi opined that front offices in 2019 have become extremely averse to trading young players, which he attributes partially to fear of being second-guessed with fans and media more attuned to the transactional landscape. Ricciardi’s thoughts are worth checking out in full for fans interested in how the role of MLB executive has changed over the past decade.
- One person who won’t be taking over for Dombrowski is former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, reports Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald. Cherington and the organization parted ways after Dombrowski was brought aboard in August 2015. Nevertheless, as Mastrodonato explores in detail, Cherington deserves some credit for the Sox’s 2018 World Series roster, which certainly had the imprints of the vaunted farm system he and his staff had put together before his exit.
Red Sox Rumors
- Bob Hohler of The Boston Globe had the privilege of interfacing this week with retired Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who made his first public comments to an English-language publication since being shot in a near-fatal June 9 incident in the Dominican Republic. “People need to understand, this isn’t a movie where you get shot in the street and you’re back two minutes later,’’ Ortiz said in the wide-ranging piece, which covers the events of that fateful night and his ensuing recovery process. “I got shot and almost died. I only have one life to live. I can’t just go to the pharmacy and buy another one.’’ As Hohler’s piece goes on to delineate, justice has still been hard to come by for the future Hall of Famer, as detectives in the DR are still yet to pinpoint a motive behind the attack that seems coherent to Ortiz; the former Boston great has since hired former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis to investigate the case.
- Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen was a speculative target for the Red Sox after they fired president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski on Sunday. But Hazen, who worked under Dombrowski in Boston before going to Arizona in 2016, is officially out of the picture after signing an extension Friday. Even before Hazen agreed to that deal, the Red Sox didn’t reach out to the Diamondbacks to request an interview, Alex Speier of the Boston Globe reports. Extension or not, Hazen was already under contract with the D-backs, so they could have shot down the Red Sox had they approached the Snakes with interest in talking to him.
- Jhoulys Chacin has thrown well with the Red Sox since signing a minor league deal there, writes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, who wonders if the righty could be making a case for a job next season. The Red Sox’ lack of pitching depth proved to be a significant flaw in 2019, and Chacin would represent a low-cost option who has fit in well with his new teammates. Abraham recounts the story of how Chacin came to be with the Sox, outlining a pressure-filled bullpen session that served as an audition for the veteran righty. “They wanted to see me pitch and said maybe they would give me an opportunity,” Chacin recalls. “I had 30 pitches to show them what I could do.” Since passing that test and landing a roster spot, Chacin has tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings with two hits, three walks and seven strikeouts.
- After firing president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski on Sunday, the Red Sox are in the market for a new leader of that department. However, it’s not a lock Dombrowski’s successor will have the same title, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports. Dombrowski was the first executive in franchise history to earn president of baseball ops honors, and the club might not be as eager to go that route again this time. The Red Sox could instead name a general manager and have that person report to team president Sam Kennedy, Bradford notes.
It has only been a little over five weeks, so it’s too soon to judge with finality how this year’s trade deadline maneuvers will play out. That said, we’re already half of the way through the period — the regular season portion, at least — for which rental players were acquired. Even players with future control are usually added first and foremost for their immediate contributions (though there are some exceptions). It’d be awfully premature to say anything conclusive about the prospect side of any deals, but we do now have some additional information with which to work.
So, that’s why we’re going to take a glance back over our shoulders at the moves (and major non-moves) that organizations made in the run-up to this year’s trade deadline. We already covered the AL Central and NL Central; now we’ll go to the American League East …
The Yankees did their shopping ahead of time, as it turned out. They first picked up Cameron Maybin (link) and Kendrys Morales (link) early in the season. Maybin’s stunning productivity has obviously been a boon for the Yanks, who’ve weathered countless injuries with a slew of surprise performances.
Over the summer, the New York club ultimately replaced Morales with Edwin Encarnacion in a mid-June swap and went on to pick up pinch runner extraordinaire Terrance Gore in a minor move. The Encarnacion deal gave the Yankees another fearsome slugger on a roster chock full of them. He has missed some time and hasn’t been at his absolute best, but still carries a strong .246/.320/.514 slash in 194 plate appearances with the club. Young pitching prospect Juan Then has had a nice showing since moving to the Seattle organization in the EE deal, reaching the Class A level and throwing a combined 48 1/3 innings of 2.98 ERA ball with 48 strikeouts and 13 walks.
That all seemed to be prelude to a bigger deadline strike. Surely, the thinking went, the Yanks would be ready to do whatever it’d take to fully load their roster in an attempt to win the World Series for the first time since 2009. Pitching, particularly of the starting variety, was obviously in need. As it turned out, the Yankees held pat on deadline day. While they nearly landed a big relief arm in Ken Giles, they ultimately decided to roll the dice on internal options.
So, are there any regrets? The Yanks are cruising in the division, so in that sense it’s hard to argue with the way the line was drawn. But the club doesn’t feature an imposing postseason rotation. It may be supposed that the team will try to make up for the lack of high-end starters with a fearsome relief mix, but that’s still somewhat dependent upon the recovery of injured hurlers Luis Severino and Dellin Betances. The uncertainties were well-known in the run-up to the trade deadline, so the Yankees are sleeping in the bed they made. There’s immense talent on the roster, but it’ll be interesting to see if the quiet deadline ultimately haunts the club.
There weren’t any headline-making moves, but that doesn’t mean the Rays weren’t busy at the deadline. The organization’s mid-season acquisitions didn’t jump-start a run at the Yanks, but have subtly altered their array of talent and helped the club stay out in front of the AL Wild Card race.
Parting with Nick Solak helped clear the deck on the position-player side while bringing in interesting righty Peter Fairbanks. Both have turned in impressive initial showings at the MLB level — 78 plate appearances of .949 OPS hitting and 5 1/3 innings of pitching with just one earned run — and could play significant roles on their respective new clubs in 2020.
The Rays then sent out Hunter Wood and Christian Arroyo for faraway outfielder Ruben Cardenas and $250K of international signing capacity. This seemed primarily to be a roster-clearing move, but it cost the team a cost-efficient reliever who has turned in solid results on both sides of the swap. That’s also what happened with lefty Adam Kolarek, who has made 17 scoreless appearances since being traded to the Dodgers. Outfielder Niko Hulsizer, acquired in return, remains a long-term project. In another roster-management deal, outfielder Joe McCarthy went to the Giants for youthful pitching prospect Jacob Lopez. The former has struggled at Triple-A; the latter has been successful n limited action both before and after the deal, but hasn’t yet moved past the low-A level.
Having parted with Solak and Arroyo, the Rays turned around and added a veteran in the same essential utility mold. Eric Sogard has hit well since coming down to Florida, turning in a .284/.348/.431 slash in 112 plate appearances. Indeed, he’s out-slashing fellow acquisition Jesus Aguilar, who’s hitting competently but hasn’t returned to his slugging ways since coming from the Brewers. That deal, too, saw a big-league-capable hurler leave the Tampa Bay org, though Jake Faria hasn’t yet distinguished himself in Milwaukee.
That was all prelude to the team’s biggest swap. Solid reliever/opener Ryne Stanek was packaged with quality outfield prospect Jesus Sanchez in exchange for righties Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards. The long-term key to this deal is Sanchez, who hasn’t yet turned on the jets but is seen by some as a future regular. Despite his relatively high-profile role in Tampa Bay, nobody has missed Stanek, who has struggled since moving south. Any thought of what has departed has been overwhelmed by what the Rays have gotten back. Richards has been excellent in a Raysian swingman sort of role, throwing 19 1/3 innings of 2.33 ERA ball. And Anderson? He has quietly racked up two strikeouts for every one of his 15 innings pitched with nary a free pass. Anderson is already 29 years of age, but his remaining control rights — he won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2022 — look to be quite valuable.
Not unlike their bitter New England rivals, the Red Sox acted early and then went quiet. But the situations weren’t the same: there was greater need in Boston, but also less cause to press the issue given the team’s perilous place in the standings.
It had been hoped that acquiring veteran Andrew Cashner would represent a low-cost means of shoring up a leaky Red Sox pitching staff. He was intended to start, with Nathan Eovaldi heading to the bullpen. As it turns out, both have pitched poorly while spending time in both starting and relief roles.
There’s no question that adding to the bullpen would’ve boosted the chances for the Red Sox. It’s tempting to believe that a bold strike might even have jolted a turnaround. But the Boston organization had largely played its cards in the offseason. Ultimately, a roster weary from the prior season’s World Series run just wasn’t up to the task. It’d be hard to say a different deadline approach would likely have changed the outcome.
It was always clear how this deadline would go for the Blue Jays, who’ve almost fully turned over their roster over the past few years and are now looking to build around premium young talent. It remains a bit surprising that the club couldn’t find a home for Justin Smoak and Freddy Galvis — the latter ultimately departed via waiver claim — but the Jays did swing several sell-side deals.
First came the surprising Marcus Stroman swap. It was all but inevitable he’d be moved, but the destination came as a surprise. Some observers were underwhelmed by the return, but the Toronto organization seemed excited to add pitching prospects Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson. So far, so good. Kay turned in seven quality outings at Triple-A and recently made his MLB debut, with eight strikeouts against three walks and two earned runs on the board over 5 2/3 solid frames. And the 18-year-old Woods Richardson has thrived after receiving a promotion to the High-A level, compiling 28 1/3 innings of 2.54 ERA ball with 9.2 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9.
The Jays also dealt away another once-featured hurler in Aaron Sanchez. He went with fellow righty Joe Biagini to the Astros in exchange for outfielder Derek Fisher. This has the feeling of a trade that could be a complete non-factor in the long run … or one that could turn out to be quite significant in retrospect. Sanchez showed a brief spark but is now down for the year with a shoulder injury, while Biagini has struggled badly. Fisher will get a longer look, but the former first-rounder has struggled to a .167/.277/.403 slash to this point in his Blue Jays tenure.
Two more relievers went out the door as well. David Phelps has been a big contributor for the Cubs since he was dealt. But the deal brought the Jays back a potentially useful piece in righty Tom Hatch. He finished off his season with a strong 35 1/3 inning run at Toronto’s Double-A affiliate, over which he pitched to a 2.80 ERA with an exceptional 34:2 K/BB ratio. Finally, there was the swap that sent veteran reliever Daniel Hudson to the Nationals. Unlike the other deals, this was a classic rental scenario. It’s anyone’s guess what the team will get out of 23-year-old Kyle Johnston, the hurler added in return. He took a sharp turn for the worse upon arriving in his new org, allowing 22 earned runs with a terrible 13:20 K/BB ratio in 19 2/3 innings of action, but will have a chance to go back to the drawing board in the upcoming offseason.
It turned out to be quite the quiet deadline for the Orioles. On deadline day itself, the club simply shipped Dan Straily to the Phillies in a minor move. Before that came only the aforementioned Cashner deal, which brought in a pair of 17-year-old Venezuelans. Elio Prado and Noelberth Romero. Those recent signees continued to play in the Dominican Summer League after the trade; whether they’ll ultimately deliver value to the Baltimore organization won’t be known for quite some time.
So far as the O’s were concerned, the most notable aspects of the deadline were the moves not made. It seemed that reliever Mychal Givens would draw interest, as he was carrying strong peripherals despite an ugly ERA. No doubt the Orioles received offers, but they ultimately elected to hold him in hopes that he’d boost his value. That’s just what has happened so far: opposing hitters have mustered only seven singles and two walks against him over his past 13 appearances, during which time Givens has racked up 19 strikeouts.
Otherwise, the non-moves weren’t terribly surprising, but there are a few of note. There was never much of a build-up surrounding young outfielder Trey Mancini. It’ll be interesting to see whether that occurs this winter. He’s also an extension possibility. The O’s also elected to hang onto infielders Hanser Alberto and Jonathan Villar. Both have hit quite well since the deadline, are on track to be tendered contracts, and could be traded away at any point moving forward.
With former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski now out of the organization, the Red Sox are on the hunt for a new front office chief. Dombrowski’s successor won’t have the right to choose a manager, though, as Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy confirmed Tuesday on WEEI’s “Ordway, Merloni and Fauria” that Alex Cora will return in 2020, as Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com relays.
It was already surprising enough that Boston fired Dombrowski on Sunday just under a year after winning its latest World Series title. And although Dombrowski hired Cora, it perhaps would have been even more stunning had the club moved on from the latter. The well-respected Cora has helped the Red Sox to a record of 184-122, including a 76-69 mark this season, during almost two years at the helm of their dugout. The club won’t return to the playoffs this year, though, which is surely among the reasons it ousted Dombrowski.
Kennedy on Tuesday wasn’t wiling to delve into why the Red Sox moved on from Dombrowski, however (per Cotillo). Rather, he complimented Dombrowski on his performance with the organization, saying, “We won a world championship, a couple division championships. On a personal level, I enjoyed working with him.” But Kennedy did add, “Obviously, you don’t make a change unless you’re ready for new leadership in that specific department.”
Unsurprisingly, there were issues behind the scenes, as Evan Drellich of The Athletic and Buster Olney of ESPN detail (subscriptions required). Dombrowski sought a contract extension multiple times in the wake of the team’s championship season, but its higher-ups wouldn’t oblige, according to Drellich. Ultimately, it doesn’t seem as if the Red Sox believed the aggressive Dombrowski was capable of putting them on a path toward sustained success. Dombrowski’s former bosses even wondered whether he was the right person for the job late during the 2018 regular season, when the Red Sox were on their way to a 108-win campaign, Olney reports.
Thanks to Dombrowski’s exit, the Red Sox are currently operating with a group consisting of a few of his former underlings – Eddie Romero, Zack Scott, Brian O’Halloran and Raquel Ferreira – atop their baseball department. It’s possible they’ll end up replacing Dombrowski from outside, though, with Olney naming Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen as a speculative successor. Hazen’s a Boston native who worked for the Red Sox for 11 years before joining the Diamondbacks, who have been generally successful since he began running the ship in October 2016.
While it’s easy to see the appeal of a Hazen-Boston reunion on paper, the Diamondbacks aren’t concerned they’ll lose him, as CEO Derrick Hall told Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic via text message: “I have no reason to think they are going to ask. He is under contract.”
Hazen seems to have another two years left on his deal, though it’s unclear whether the D-backs have added more seasons to the pact, Piecoro notes. Regardless, because he’s under contract, Arizona would be able to stop Hazen from speaking to the Red Sox should they express interest in him.
- Red Sox left-hander David Price is “feeling better, little by little,” as he works back from a wrist injury, manager Alex Cora said Tuesday (via Steve Hewitt of the Boston Herald). Although the Red Sox’s playoff hopes are dashed, Price still plans to pitch again this season. After that, though, he may need to undergo a minor surgery to repair the issue, Hewitt reports. Price’s wrist has been a problem since last month, having limited him to two appearances and a combined 4 2/3 innings since the end of July.
Sept. 9: The Red Sox have issued a press release on the shakeup, announcing that a search for a new baseball operations leader will commence “immediately.”
“Four years ago, we were faced with a critical decision about the direction of the franchise,” principal owner John Henry stated within the release. “We were extraordinarily fortunate to be able to bring Dave in to lead baseball operations. With a World Series Championship and three consecutive American League East titles, he has cemented what was already a Hall of Fame career.”
Sept. 8: In a shocking development, the Red Sox announced that they have parted ways with president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. Assistant GMs Eddie Romero, Zack Scott, and Brian O’Halloran, and senior VP of Major League and minor league operations Raquel Ferreira will take over as the heads of the baseball ops department for the remainder of the season (MLB.com’s Ian Browne was among those to report the news of the assistant GMs in the interim roles, while Alex Speier of the Boston Globe reported Ferreira’s involvement.)
It was just last fall that the Red Sox captured a World Series championship with one of the best teams in recent baseball history, winning 108 regular-season games and then rolling through the playoffs with an 11-3 record. It marked the club’s first title since Dombrowski took over the job in August 2015, and his second World Series in over three decades as one of the game’s most respected front office bosses. Dombrowski also put together the Marlins team that won the 1997 Series, and his resume also includes two American League pennants with the Tigers in 2006 and 2012.
With such a track record of both past and recent success, it’s hard to believe that Dombrowski is so suddenly out of a job, though there had been some whispers that ownership took a dim view of Boston’s underachievement in 2019. Tonight’s loss to the Yankees dropped the Sox 17.5 games out of first place in the AL East, and eight games behind the Athletics for the last AL wild card slot, making a postseason return all but impossible.
Multiple issues surrounded the 2019 Red Sox, which were seemingly enough for upper management to decide that a change was needed. For one, the team exceeded the upper level of the luxury tax ($237MM) in 2018, and are again in position to exceed the new upper threshold of $246MM this season. As per Roster Resource, the Red Sox have a projected luxury tax number of over $257.7MM, putting them in line to face another maximum penalty — a 75 percent tax on the overage, as well as a drop of ten spots for their highest pick of the 2020 draft. (MLBTR’s Jeff Todd explored some of the financial ramifications for the Red Sox and the Competitive Balance Tax back in February.)
This cash crunch left the team unable to truly add new pieces to the roster, particularly a bullpen that seemed thin after Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly departed in free agency. Still, Boston’s offseason focus largely centered around re-signing key members of their 2018 roster (Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce), while also extending Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts, both of whom would have been free agents after the 2019 campaign.
Unfortunately for the Sox, a large chunk of their 2019 expenditures went for naught. Eovaldi (signed to a four-year, $68MM deal) and Pearce (one-year, $6.25MM) have both been ineffective or injured for much of the year, with Eovaldi shifted into bullpen work rather than his expected role in the starting rotation. Sale has endured a career-worst season after signing a five-year, $145MM extension that runs through the 2024 season (unless Sale opts out after 2022, which seems unlikely at this point).
Past Dombrowski acquisitions have also started to show their age this year. Eduardo Nunez and Mitch Moreland have combined for -0.4 fWAR at a combined cost of $11.5MM. David Price has put up generally good numbers since signing his seven-year, $217MM contract in the 2015-16 offseason, but his production hasn’t matched the big expectations that came with what is still the biggest deal ever handed to a pitcher in terms of total dollars.
If this analysis of Dombrowski’s misfires seems too centered around the results of the 2019 season, there’s really no other way to explain his firing, since at this time last year the baseball world was praising Dombrowski’s creation of a super-team. (Beyond the 2018 Series, Boston also won AL East titles in both 2016 and 2017.) Known for bold trades of prospects for star talent, it was Dombrowski who brought Sale and Kimbrel to Boston in major deals with the White Sox and Padres, respectively. The extensions for Bogaerts and Christian Vazquez both look like big pluses, and the J.D. Martinez signing was a major win.
It should also be noted that if the luxury tax overage was such a big strike against Dombrowski, that wasn’t entirely his doing. The Red Sox could have made just a minimal CBT payment if it wasn’t for the roughly $46MM in salaries paid out to Pablo Sandoval, Rusney Castillo, and Dustin Pedroia, all on contracts inked during the regime of previous general manager Ben Cherington. Pedroia’s career is in jeopardy due to chronic knee problems, Sandoval hasn’t played for Boston in over two years, and Castillo is stuck in minor league limbo until his deal is up.
In fairness to Cherington, he was also not far removed from a World Series title (less than two seasons) when he himself was replaced by Dombrowski midway through the 2015 season. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal recently explored the possibility of a Dombrowski firing, and pointed out the extraordinarily high standard that seemingly any Red Sox general manager will have to meet, given that not even recent championships were enough to spare Cherington or Dombrowski. As Rosenthal rhetorically asked, if Sox ownership is “frustrated with Dombrowski’s spending and his use of prospects as trade fodder, well, what exactly did they think they were getting? Dombrowski hasn’t broken from character in Boston, has never disguised his M.O.”
Boston’s farm system has been thinned by both Dombrowski’s trades, but perhaps moreso by the graduation of several of the top young prospects to the big leagues, so it isn’t as if the Red Sox are drastically short on premium young talent. Rafael Devers is still a pre-arbitration player, after all, while Andrew Benintendi is only arb-eligible this winter and Eduardo Rodriguez has two arb years remaining.
Even Mookie Betts has one final year of arbitration eligibility, and while his future in Boston was already a big question, it has become of even greater import in the wake of Dombrowski’s firing. Betts told reporters (including Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald) tonight that the front office change “is proof that it’s still a business.” While reiterating that “I love it here [in Boston],” Betts also said “it’s going to be the same answer” in regards to his plan to test the free agent market following the 2020 season.
It will be fascinating to see what direction Red Sox ownership takes in their search for a new baseball operations head. Since John Henry’s ownership group bought the franchise, they famously promoted young executives from within (Theo Epstein and Cherington) before going in the opposite direction with Dombrowski, a veteran baseball man from outside the organization. As Rosenthal noted in his piece, rebuilding doesn’t appear to be an option in Boston, so a new front office boss will have to creatively replenish the minor league system while still keeping the Sox in contention for another championship.
The next GM will inherit, after all, a team that is still talented — the Red Sox have a 76-67 record, and their offensive core of Betts, Bogaerts, Devers, and Martinez is as good as any in the sport. But with Martinez potentially opting out of his deal and some major work needed for the rotation and bullpen, offseason business could explore trades of players a year removed from free agency (such as Betts or Jackie Bradley Jr.) in order to refurbish the roster. Quite a bit of salary will also be coming off the books, so there’s a possibility the Sox could duck under the $208MM luxury tax threshold altogether and reset their penalty status.
Dombrowski was under contract though the 2020 season, and turned 63 in July. The exec hadn’t had many public ruminations on his future, though he wishes to continue working, one would imagine several front offices would be interested in bringing him on, at least in an advisory capacity. Or, it’s also not hard to imagine a team perhaps deciding to make a front office change now that Dombrowski is available.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
- Amidst the speculation about whether or not J.D. Martinez will exercise the opt-out clause in his Red Sox contract after the season, Ken Rosenthal (in his latest video report for FOX Sports) points out that Martinez doesn’t necessarily have to decide right now if he wants to leave Boston. The slugger also has opt-out clauses after both the 2020 season and (assuming he can avoid another Lisfranc-related right foot injury) 2021 season, so he could perhaps wait one more year to see if his market evolves. Despite Martinez’s hitting prowess, there aren’t too many obvious suitors for a mostly DH-only player….unless the National League were to become involved, as Rosenthal wonders if Martinez would stay in his contract to see if the NL adopted the designated hitter in the next collective bargaining agreement.