Dave Dombrowski: A Victim To His Own Process

The Boston Red Sox were a well-oiled machine last season. They won 108 games and pummeled their way to win their fourth World Series title in the last 15 years. 

The mechanic that made the machine run effectively over the past few seasons? Dave Dombrowski. 

No more, though. 

After the Red Sox 10-5 loss to the New York Yankees two nights ago, Dombrowski was relieved of his duties, with senior vice president Raquel Ferreira and assistant general managers Eddie Romero, Brian O’Halloran and Zack Scott all being promoted to jointly lead the baseball operations together. 

A shocking turn of events, to say the least. However, one major factor can be seen as to why this happened. But what, exactly? 

Unfortunately for Dombrowski, that culprit was his own blueprint that shaped the Red Sox into a consistent playoff and World Series contender over the past three seasons.

Let’s wind the clocks back to four years ago. The Red Sox, in the middle of another down season after winning the World Series two years prior, announced Dombrowski as new president of baseball operations. In the offseason, Dombrowski got to work. He traded for young closer Craig Kimbrel in exchange for four prospects and signed left-handed ace David Price to seven years and over $200 million. 

The Red Sox record in 2016? 93-69 and a division title. Unfortunately, the Red Sox would promptly get swept by eventual American League pennant-winning Cleveland Indians. 

Back to the drawing board. 

In the corresponding offseason Dombrowski traded for Chris Sale, and in the trade gave up the number one overall prospect in baseball at the time in Yoan Moncada. 

Yet again, the Red Sox would finish 93-69 but suffer another loss in the division series against the would-be World Series champion Houston Astros. 

Back to work again. A brand-new coaching staff was brought in, spearheaded by the addition of World Series-winning bench coach Alex Cora. Mitch Moreland was re-signed to a two-year deal for $13 million. And then there was the splash in netting J.D. Martinez for five years and over $100 million. 

And so, the 2018 season unfolded. We all know the story. Great starting pitching, a solid bullpen and an electric offense, led by MVP Mookie Betts, carried Boston to another successful postseason run, with them hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy. 

Then, this season. Contract extensions for over $100 million were given to Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts over the past six months, further showing the Red Sox were spending to keep the World Series core together. 

Back to Dombrowski. He implemented the plan he wanted. He got the coaching staff and players he wanted. He gave Boston another ring. How could his own blueprint be seen as his downfall? 

To get the players he wanted he had to make some trades; big trades. A farm system that was deep in high-ceiling prospects several years ago is now super thin due to getting the likes of Sale and Kimbrel. Sacrifices had to be made, and Dombrowski made them. 

Then, there is the payroll. From 2016 through 2019, the Boston Red Sox were top three in payroll, varying from $209 million to nearly $230 million. The luxury tax threshold is worse with the Red Sox being over it during Dombrowski’s entire tenure, thus forcing the organization to not only pay fees to offset this but also having to give up draft position. With the money tied up to big-time players such as Price, Bogaerts and Sale, along with arbitration raises to Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., the Red Sox have had and will continue to have little room to maneuver financially.  

Everything comes to fruition in September, with the Red Sox having to bite and claw their way to even get a sniff of a playoff spot. For other teams in this position, they could trade for a player to hopefully take them over the hump, but the Red Sox have neither the prospects to trade for such a player, nor do they have the payroll flexibility to even take on the salary of one. 

When you add this to David Price not performing to his contract, Chris Sale having injury issues and narrowly missing Tommy John surgery, a bullpen which has not been able to adjust with no Craig Kimbrel, a competitive division in having to deal with the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, along with having to deal with the pressure of the Boston market expecting their sports teams to compete for championships year after year, you have a blueprint that is coming back to bite. 

Dave Dombrowski should be celebrated by Boston fans for being the mechanic that assembled another championship season for their city. The process to get there was all him. The blueprint had his fingers all over it. 

Despite this, that process would, for better or worse, make him lose his job. 

Photo via AP/Michael Dwyer

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The St. Louis Cardinals are Back

Around this time four years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals were golden. 

On this day, four years ago, the Cardinals were sitting pretty at 87-48; 6.5 games up on the Pittsburgh Pirates, and 9.5 games up on the Chicago Cubs. By the end of the season they would end up at 100-62, the ninth time in their franchise history they would win 100 or more games. They looked to be in a prime position to win their third World Series title over their past ten seasons. 

Unfortunately, for the team that calls the “Gateway to the West” home, the postseason would end right when it started, as division rival and wild card winning Chicago Cubs would come out on top against them in the National League Division Series three games to one. 

Over the past three seasons since, St. Louis has posted an 86-76, 83-79, and 88-74 record. Solid records overall, but not enough to garner a postseason spot. The last time St. Louis missed the postseason for three straight years was from 1997 through 1999. A true testament to the winning consistency of the franchise over the past two decades, but to Cardinals fans, what matters right now are postseason berths. Postseason wins. World Series appearances. And of course, hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy when it is all said and done. 

The good news for Cardinals fans? They are golden again. 

If you told me this at the start of June, July, or even August I would have disagreed. At the start of each month, they were 28-28, 41-41, and 57-50 respectively. Hardly the record of a team that is “back” to the glory it once saw.

But what this team has done over the past 50 games has been impressive. 

Let’s start with the win-loss record. Over their past 50 games, they have gone 34-16, vaulting themselves from simply a wild-card contender to a team looking to win the division for the first time since 2015. For comparison’s sake, the Los Angeles Dodgers have gone 32-18, the New York Yankees have gone 33-17, and the Houston Astros have gone 34-16. 

Do not look now, but the St. Louis Cardinals, over the past 50 games, have had a better winning percentage than two of the three top teams in all of baseball, and have tied with the other. 

The hitting during this stretch has ironically been relatively pedestrian, with a team OPS slightly above .760, which is the MLB average. However, when compared to their offensive numbers in the first half, it is a remarkable improvement, as collectively the team OPS was .717 during that span. The jolt from the bats can be attributed to big-ticket offseason trade acquisition Paul Goldschmidt, who is slugging over .540 with 23 extra-base hits. Additionally, homegrown bats in Kolten Wong and Yadier Molina, have together, averaged an OPS over .970 during that stretch. Even Paul DeJong, who is batting under .230 during that stretch, is slugging nearly .500 and has 13 homeruns.  

While hitting the ball has led to serviceable results, the starting pitching is what has pushed this team into prime position for playing October baseball again. The rotation has been led by 23- and 24-year-olds Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson, respectively. Flaherty, over the past 50 games, has pitched to a 0.85 ERA, struck out over 11 batters per nine innings, and has given up less than one home run per nine innings. Hudson, meanwhile, has also held his own, pitching to a sub-3.60 ERA in that span. Perhaps the most significant piece to the rotation was someone many did not expect to have as huge of an impact. Adam Wainwright, who was brought back on a one-year $2 million-dollar deal in the offseason, has pitched to a 4.28 ERA, has struck out over eight batters per nine innings, and has also given up less than one home run per nine. While not having eye-popping numbers like he did in his younger days, he has been the veteran presence the younger starters have needed to take the next step.

And of course, you have the bullpen. An area that was and has been seen as an Achilles’ heel in years past has bent, but not broken over the last 50 games. Giovanny Gallegos, the forgotten player in the Luke Voit trade with the New York Yankees, has pitched to a 1.71 ERA. Andrew Miller and John Gant have combined to pitch below a 4.00 ERA, improvements from stretches in the past for both. The total collection has been able to weather the storm without flame-throwing sinker-baller Jordan Hicks pitching to one batter since mid-June. 

The Cardinals bread and butter to success has been good enough hitting and great pitching. Both in the past and the present. 

And they are currently getting both, along with a unique blend of talented youth and experienced veterans.

How they will perform in the postseason, should they get there, remains to be seen. 

But they are back. They are golden again. Watch out, National League. Better yet, watch out, everyone. 

Photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics: A Dark Horse World Series Contender

(Photo by Jason Watson/Getty Images)

Let’s do a quick exercise. 

When you think of the Oakland Athletics, what do you automatically think of? 

A common answer could be the 2011 film Moneyball, which starred Brad Pitt as Athletics general manager Billy Beane. “He gets on base” is perhaps one of the most simplistic, yet significant lines that resonate to baseball fans who loved the movie and the Michael Lewis book it was based on, which came out eight years prior. 

Another answer could be their payroll, which consistently ranks among the bottom five in all of baseball. 

Perhaps it even is even their home, RingCentral Coliseum, which is showing its age to the point of arguably being the worst stadium in all of baseball. 

These are all fair answers. However, you should also think of this team as a dark horse World Series contender. 

In a high-powered league consisting of the run-producing New York Yankees, resilient Cleveland Indians, homer-happy Minnesota Twins, and American League West rival (and super-team) Houston Astros, one could easily overlook them. 

Let’s talk about their record. The Oakland Athletics have had two different seasons. Going into the All-Star Break they sat at 50-41, good enough for second in the division and 1.5 games out of the second Wild Card. Since the All-Star Break, the Athletics have gone 26-15, good enough for a .634 winning percentage. When compared to American League teams in a playoff spot right now, that would be better than both the Twins (.581) and Indians (.622). Although the Yankees (.660) and Astros (.681) both have better win percentages, Oakland has held their own against both teams as of late; they swept the Yankees in their first series this season last week and right after took three of four from Houston. Oakland outscored both opponents by a margin of 36 runs to 25 runs. A common saying in sports is “what have you done for me lately,” and in the case of the Athletics, they went 6-1 against teams with the first and third-best record in all of baseball.

In regard to the offense, since the All-Star Break, the collective offensive numbers from Oakland have been serviceable, with their team OPS ranking sixth in the AL at .792. While homegrown players Matt Chapman and Matt Olson have been good, they have not been the ones carrying the lineup. Instead, career years from Mark Canha and Marcus Semien have been the driving force, with Canha posting a 1.010 OPS and Semien posting a .979 OPS in the second half. What makes this team scary? Center fielder Ramon Laureano, who was also having a career year, has been on the injured list since July 29th. What makes this team even scarier? Khris Davis has yet to truly heat up, having had the worst year offensively of his career so far. 

The starting pitching has also held its own. Oakland’s 4.02 starter ERA in the second half is 4thin the AL and third among teams in a playoff spot, with only the Astros and Indians posting better numbers. Chris Bassit and Mike Fiers, their most dependable pitchers, have taken the rotation on their backs, have both posted a sub-2.60 ERA in the second half. What makes this team scary? Their best starter, Sean Manaea, who pitched a no-hitter against the would-be World Series-winning Boston Red Sox, has not yet pitched this season. What makes this team even scarier? Their bullpen, which was huge to their success last season, has scuffled as of late having pitched to a 4.64 ERA in the second half, good enough for fifth-worst in the entire AL.  

Defensively, Oakland has been sharp, with their .986 Fielding Percentage being second in the entire AL, with only Houston being more efficient. Additionally, they have only committed 69 errors, best for third in the AL and second among AL teams in a playoff spot (Houston). What makes this team scary? They possess one of the best infield defenses in all of baseball. What makes this team even scarier? Third baseman Matt Chapman could not only be a gold glove winner, but also a platinum glove award winner.

What this team has done is impressive. What this team could do should they put it all together is downright terrifying.

Perhaps it is by design that this team is overlooked. Then again, maybe it is not.