Under the right circumstances, Dave Dombrowski, one of the most accomplished executives of his era, has interest in taking over the Philadelphia Phillies’ front office.
Scott Lauber of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the 64-year-old is interested in leading the Phillies baseball operations, but it would require another shake-up in addition to former general manager Matt Klentak’s reassignment:
“Dave Dombrowski, architect of two World Series winners, is more interested in the Phillies job than the Los Angeles Angels’ GM vacancy, according to two sources, but only if he has complete autonomy. That wouldn’t be the case with Andy MacPhail in the role of team president.“
When managing partner John Middleton met with the media last month to discuss Klentak stepping down and being reassigned within the organization, he said that MacPhail would remain in his position as team president for the time being.
“He is still the team president, and he’s got – as I think you know – one more year left on his contract…his contract will be up at the end of 2021,” Middleton said. “He and I have been talking for two years…frankly, since he signed his extension…about what the world looks like when he steps down. And we’re not sure exactly when he’s gonna do that, but it’s a conversation that he and I have had multiple times and we’re talking about it even now.”
However, Lauber lated reported that “Middleton’s preference is for MacPhail to relinquish the club presidency a year early or at least to cede his baseball-related duties, thereby enabling the Phillies to hire both a president of baseball operations and a general manager.” There’s no indication that MacPhail, 67, plans to step aside on his own. We don’t know if Middleton would be prepared to demote MacPhail if he felt that it would allow him to hire another accomplished team president, such as Dombrowski.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that Dombrowski is intrigued by the possibility of working for the Phillies. Shortly after the 2019 season concluded, Jayson Stark of The Athletic suggested Dombrowski may have some level of interest, but ultimately the Phillies elected to keep their front office intact for another year.
In this case, it would appear that Dombrowski’s interest again comes with conditions, though perhaps those demands would be more likely to be met this winter. Klentak is gone, at least from the general manager position. If Middleton made clear to MacPhail that he wanted to hire Dombrowski, would MacPhail really dig his heels in and force Middleton to either keep him for an extra year or fire him?
Dombrowski has an interesting record. He presided over World Series Championship teams in Miami and Boston. Wedged in between those positions two was an extremely successful 14-year stint as the general manager of the Detroit Tigers, where the team won two American League pennants. He’s been in the game so long, that Dombrowski’s first job as the head of a front office came with the Montreal Expos, serving as the team’s general manager for parts of four seasons.
The flip side of the success in his two most recent stops – Detroit and Boston – is that while the teams had high peaks, he seemingly didn’t leave either team in great position to match that success in the future.
For as much success as the Tigers had between 2006 and 2016, the team lost 98 or more games every year from 2017-2019. Dombrowski was fired in August of 2015, but the team is still saddled with the eight-year/$244 million deal that former MVP Miguel Cabrera was inked to before the 2014 season, despite being 31 and still having two seasons remaining on a previous deal.
Dombrowski’s record in Boston is even more interesting. He was hired as the team’s president of baseball operations on Aug. 18, 2015, just two weeks after parting ways with the Tigers. The Red Sox won a franchise-record 108 games in 2018, and the World Series. Less than a year later he was dismissed by the team. The seven-year/$217 million deal that Dombrowski signed Price to did help the team to win the World Series in 2018, but largely wasn’t a very good signing. The five-year/$145 million deal that Dombrowski signed former All-Star Chris Sale to in March of 2019 looks like a disaster.
Signing Sale, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts to huge extensions may have also put the team in a position where they felt it was too much of a risk to keep Mookie Betts for the final season of his arbitration eligibility and try to re-sign him. Of course, that may simply fall on cheap ownership, and we don’t know if Dombrowski was aware of the organization’s plans to cut costs when he signed said deals.
In both of the last two stops that Dombrowski has had, the organizations have relied as much or more on external additions than developing from within. Sure, the Tigers drafted Justin Verlander in 2004, but they acquired the aforementioned Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Max Scherzer, Victor Martinez, Price Fielder and Ian Kinsler, among others, via trades or free agency. In Boston, both Martinez and Price were signings – after having been acquired externally by Dombrowski in Detroit, as well – and so were Sale, Craig Kimbrel and Rick Porcello. Betts, Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Jackie Bradley Jr. were all in the organization before Dombrowski arrived.
There’s seemingly something to be said for being an executive that’s able to acquire elite talents that become available or spot underperforming players (like Scherzer) from other organizations and tap into their potential. But if Middleton is hoping to build a sustained contender largely predicated on a consistent pipeline of young talent coming through the team’s farm system, Dombrowski may not be the best fit.
Since Klentak stepped down on Oct. 3, just one candidate – Kansas City Royals’ vice president and assistant general manager of player personnel J.J. Picollo – has emerged for the general manager position. There’s no indication that Picollo or anyone else has actually interviewed for the spot.
That leaves you to believe that interim general manager Ned Rice, along with some mix of Middleton, MacPhail, Pat Gillick and Joe Girardi may be tasked with building a strategy for how to retain both J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius this offseason, while attempting to repair a historically-inept bullpen.
It also leads you to believe that it wasn’t a slip of the tongue in Middleton’s most recent press conference when he suggested that Rice could be in the interim role for up to a year. The Phillies may not want to hire a general manager before hiring a president, a process that is complicated by MacPhail still having one year left on his contract. Middleton has also suggested that it could be difficult to form new connections and make decisions on such key positions in the COVID-19 world, pointing out that Zoom meetings have limits in their effectiveness.
If you wait a year – or even just into the 2021 season – to hire a new president of baseball operations and/or general manager, you do risk wasting another peak year of Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, while potentially allowing an interim general manager to play a key part in making a franchise-defining decision on Realmuto.
However, if you wait some time, Dombrowski, currently part of a group trying to bring a Major League team to Nashville, likely will still be available. There’s fairly strong evidence that Theo Epstein could become a free agent next offseason as well. And lord willing, there will be a vaccine for COVID-19 sooner rather than later, allowing the world, the Phillies included, to get back to some sense of normalcy.
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