Musings: Big Decisions Ahead For The Red Sox

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

BIG DECISIONS AHEAD FOR THE RED SOX

I suppose that it’s too early to speculate on what will happen with the Red Sox once the

next baseball season begins, and I know it’s too late to do anything about what took place

in this baseball season. Why don’t we just refer to 2019 as “the recent unpleasantness”

and let it go at that? The timing, however, seems right to ruminate about the off-season

because it’s already upon us and it’s here before October, much sooner than we had either

hoped or expected.

There are major decisions to be made in the months ahead, not least of which is who will

be running the show. Signing a successor to Dave Dombrowski is priority number one for

the team because whoever that person turns out to be, he (or she!) will have to have a say

in all the other important decisions that have to be made.

If the Red Sox decide to hire that new head person from within the organization, it will be

one of the four who have been dubbed interim decision makers while the search for a

successor goes on. They are Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero, Zack Scott, and Raquel

Ferreira. All are well-thought of within the organization, but we have no idea of what the

mind-set of either John Henry or Tom Werner is – and they are the ultimate decision

makers. Ferreira is a particularly intriguing candidate since she would become the highest

ranking female executive in baseball history (There have been women owners.). She has

been with the organization for 21 years and is currently Senior Vice President of Major

and Minor League Operations, so her credentials are impressive.

Mike Hazen, an alumnus of the Red Sox baseball ops department, currently runs the

show for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was quickly signed to a five year extension by

the D’backs once the Boston job opened up, thereby taking him out of consideration.

Theo Epstein, the president of the Cubs and former boy wonder of the Red Sox, is under

contract (and a big one it is) for two more years, so he doesn’t appear to be in the

running. Stay tuned; we should get a final decision sooner rather than later because

whoever the next head of baseball operations is will have a full plate of work in front of

him or her.

First on the agenda will be Mookie Betts. He doesn’t become a free agent until next year,

but a decision on him has to be made this year. He has made clear his commitment to

testing the market in 2020 and has already turned down several attempts the Red Sox

have made to sign him for the long term, so the question becomes do the Sox wait until

his free agency and risk losing him for just a draft choice, or do they deal him now in

order to get something of real value in return? Whoever Dave Dombrowski’s successor is

will spend some sleepless nights trying to figure that one out.

Then there is the matter of J.D. Martinez. He can opt out of his contract this year if he

thinks he can do better than the current one he has with the Red Sox, which pays him a

total of $109.95 million for five years and has three years to run. What happens with him

depends a lot on what happens with Mookie. It gets complicated.

Rick Porcello is a free agent this year. Although tantalzing us with an occasional gem, he

had a below average season in 2019, especially since he’s been making $20 million a

year. The Sox will probably let him go to free agency, but do they make him a qualifying

offer first? What if he takes it? It’s enough to give you a headache.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. will be a free agent in 2020. Do the Red Sox sign him to a contract

extension this off-season? Do they want to? He is, as everyone knows, an elite center

fielder, but he can be maddeningly inconsistent at the plate. The next head of baseball ops

will decide on his future sooner rather than later.

Brock Holt is a free agent this year. He is a model citizen on the field, in the clubhouse,

and in the community. His current contract pays him $3.5 million, he’s 31 years old, and

this is his chance to set up his family’s future. The Red Sox love him, but how much are

they willing to pay? That’s an important consideration because the Sox are determined to

get their payroll under the tax threshold to avoid paying excessive taxes in 2020, when

the threshold figure will be $208 million. That means they have to lop off around $40

million next year. That’s a tough row to hoe when you consider the big money contracts

that are already in place. David Price and Chris Sale, for example, will make $60 million

a year between them for the next three years. They combined for just 13 wins in 2019.

Oof.

When you add in the fact that the farm system has been severely depleted in recent years

as the team has acquired big name stars, you have a whole a bushel of problems that need

solving. And they’ll drop right into the lap of the next head of baseball operations on his

or her first day on the job.

Oh, and the new person will not have what Dave Dombrowski had, which is complete

autonomy. Dombrowski had no one looking over his shoulder as he spent millions to

achieve his goal of capturing baseball’s holy grail. He did that, but the bill is now coming

due. You can bet that Sam Kennedy, the team’s CEO and the guy the guy in charge of

bringing in all the dough that baseball ops spends, will have an input into how that money

is put to work.

To be the chief honcho of baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox is to have one of

the most prestigious jobs in the game – and one of the toughest.

But look at it this way: at least Pablo Sandoval’s $17 million a year is finally coming off

the books.

Musings: The Demise Of Dave Dombrowski

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

THE DEMISE OF DAVE DOMBROWSKI

When Dave Dombroski was brought on to head up baseball operations for the Boston

Red Sox, he was hired to win “now” – and he did. His problem was that “now” doesn’t

have a very long shelf-life; it soon becomes “then.”

The Sox had the most successful season in their history in 2018, winning a total of 119

games as they romped and stomped their way to a world championship. But 2018 isn’t

“now” any longer; it’s “then.” Now they are a team with the biggest payroll in baseball,

limping toward the finish line of the 2019 season, well back in the pack. They have made

history again, this time as most expensive also-rans in the annals baseball.

Last off-season, when he was still a genius – remember? – Dombrowski elected to stand

pat. He resigned at exorbitant rates some of those who had brought him to baseball’s holy

grail (Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Lamont Cranston – oops, I mean Steve Pearce) and

essentially went with the same roster this year as that which won for him in ‘18. With

that, he signed his own death warrant. The truth is that in baseball, as in other competitive

lines of business, when you think you’re standing pat you’re really losing ground because

everyone else is still swimming against the tide while you’re drifting backwards.

Ownership realizes as it looks toward the future it’s going to be saddled with huge

contracts that will continue to make the Red Sox one of, if not the, highest paid teams in

the game; plus they’ll have hard decisions to make regarding the contracts of Mookie

Betts and J.D. Martinez. That doesn’t even take into consideration the unsettling fact that

the farm system has been pretty much stripped of A-list prospects who have been used as

chips to acquire big-name players.

Is it any wonder, then, that the guys who pay the bills decided to say, “Just step this way,

if you will, Mr. Dombrowski, and rest your head comfortably on this chopping block.

This won’t take but a minute.”

And it didn’t. Before the sun came up the morning after still another dispiriting loss to the

dreaded Evil Empire of Gotham City the deed had been done; carried out with the cold

efficiency of a Whitey Bulger hit. The miracle worker of 2018, the same guy who had

morphed into the over-spending doofus of 2019, was gone.

Baseball is a great game. It’s also a cold, tough business.

An old pal and I were commiserating about that and other issues relating to the mortality

of man while having lunch on the day after the news broke of Dombrowski’s demise. He

– my pal, not Dombrowski – and I have known one another for about half a century,

dating back to when he was a young reporter assigned the the state house and I was a

wet-behind-the-ears press aid and speech writer. We were the same age, had common

interests, and just seemed to hit it off. As time went by he developed a long and

productive newspaper career as a writer and editor, while I gravitated toward the

electronic media. Our careers followed parallel paths, but he was busy with his, and with

his family, and I with mine, and we didn’t see one another for years. We were always

aware of what other other was up to – I was with him, anyhow, and he became a big deal

at the Boston Globe, but our paths never crossed.

A few years ago we reconnected (more to his credit than mine) and have since fallen into

a pattern of having lunch together every five or six weeks. We are still, alas, the same age

and neither one of us hears nearly as well as we used to, so on days when the restaurant

we go to (always the same one) is busy and the hum of many conversations fills the air,

we have trouble hearing what the other guy is saying. So we do what old guys do. We

fake it. We nod sagely in agreement when the other makes a point we haven’t quite

picked up on. As a result both us are convinced that the other is a pretty smart fellow

because he seems to agree with us on so many things. If we ever break down and get

hearing aids, we might discover that most of the time the other guy doesn’t know what

the devil he’s talking about.

That said, we have each been around long enough not to be shocked when someone in the

news – someone like Dave Dombrowski - falls from a position of lofty heights. After all

we remember when President George H. W. Bush had approval ratings of 90%, only to

lose the next election to Bill Clinton. Conversely we also remember when Tom Menino

was thought of as an accidental mayor, just inhabiting the office until a real one came

along. Menino, of course, wound up being the longest serving mayor in Boston history.

So you never know. None of us does.

Think of the odds you could have gotten if you had placed a bet last New Year’s Day that

Dombrowski would be out of a job before this season was over. But when you factor in

that David Price, Chris Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi have only fourteen wins between them

with less than twenty games left in the season, and that all are locked into contracts that

will cost the Red Sox 77 million big ones next year alone, his axing seems foreordained.

It was the suddenness of the execution that came as a surprise. Nobody saw it coming,

maybe not even John Henry and Tom Werner. But when there was still another beatdown

at the hands of Damn Yankees, it became too much to bear. In retrospect we should have

seen it coming.

Hindsight is always 20/20; foresight is always myopic.

Musings: At Least They Haven't Quit

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author

AT LEAST THEY HAVEN’T QUIT

I’ll say this for the 2019 Red Sox: they haven’t quit.

Things have not gone well this season, not by a long shot. But the team has hung in

through all the disappointments and kept plugging away. There is something to be said

for that. The Sox stumbled coming out of the gate and it was apparent early on that this

was not going to be a replay of the magic carpet ride of 2018.

If someone had told you back in March that Eduardo Rodriguez would fulfill his potential

of becoming one of the American League’s elite pitchers and a genuine threat to win 20

games – something that is not accomplished very often in this day of five man rotations,

pitch counts, and manager’s quick hooks – and that Rafael Devers would emerge as a

bonafide star at the age of 22, you’d have started saving up for World Series tickets right

on the spot. But if that same someone also said the ace of your staff, Chis Sale, would

compile a less than mediocre record of 6 wins and 11 losses before being shut down for

the season; that David Price would be injury-prone and win only 7 games as of the

second week in September; that Rick Porcello’s evil twin would show up for half of his

starts; and that Nathan Eovaldi would go down early in the season with a bad elbow,

never hit his stride upon returning, and have but a single win going into the home stretch,

you’d have put a hold on that World Series ticket order and gone into a deep depression.

And who could blame you?

Give the Red Sox credit, though, despite the fact that the starting pitching (with the

notable exception, of course, of Rodriguez) has been in total disarray all year, they have

hung in there and have managed to stay in the conversation all season long, if not for the

Eastern Division championship, at least for the wild card. It would have been easy to just

pack it in and do the old “wait’ll next year” routine, especially after that late July and

early August eight game losing skid. But they didn’t. To borrow from an old Dorothy

Fields lyric, they picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and started all over again.

That takes character. It also take leadership, for which Alex Cora deserves real credit.

The Sox have never split into factions, never bickered among themselves and never just

mailed it in. They’ve fought every step of the way.

On the other hand, neither have they been able to put together an extended period of

winning baseball. Every time they have seemed on the brink of going on a winning binge

they’ve stumbled, again. There a reason for that: you can’t win without good pitching.

When four-fifths of your starting rotation is performing at a below-average – in some

cases way below average – rate, you’re not going to win enough in the long run – no

matter how good your offense might be. And, make no mistake about it, the Red Sox

offense is very, very good.

It’s a little early to be issuing final report cards on position players, but it’s not too early

to make progress reports on a position by position basis, so here goes.

First base has been handled pretty much by committee this year. Mitch Moreland,

Michael Chavis, and Sam Travis have been the most prominent committee members, and

they’ve been pretty good, but is that good enough? Then there is also Steve Pearce –

anyone remember Steve Pearce? Last year’s World Series MVP has been this year’s

MIA. He’s been hurt all year and unable to contribute much when healthy.

At second base Brock Holt, always a fan-favorite, has been a wonder. He’s hitting more

than .300, been terrific in the field, and seems –for this year, anyhow - like the second

coming of Dustin Pedroia.

Rafael Devers is at third base, hopefully, for years to come. He does not look to me like a

flash-in-the-pan; he seems to be the real deal, a consistent .300 hitter with power and a

superstar in the making.

Shortstop – Xander Bogaerts is rock-solid. He’s a Bobby Doerr kind of player, totally

dependable in all situations, offense as well as defense, and a real leader by example. The

Red Sox were wise to sign him to a long term deal this past off-season.

In left field Andrew Benintendi is a good, really good player, but I’ve always felt like he

could be even better. Maybe because his swing is so pretty that he looks like he should be

hitting .300 plus every year instead of in the .280-.290 range.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. is one of the best center fielders in baseball, but at the plate he’s below

average although capable of going on streaks that make you forget about all those weak

ground balls to second base.

Mookie Betts owns right field, not just in Fenway Park but also throughout the American

League. He is the gold standard for that position. He got off to a painfully slow start this

year and was still hitting in the .260s at the all-star break, but his average and power

numbers have steadily climbed since then and show no signs of letting up.

Catcher Christian Vazquez has been terrific, hitting around .280 all year before dropping

off lately, as happens often to catchers as the wear and tear of the long season grinds on.

Sandy Leon is Vazquez’s capable substitute; he’s an elite catcher but he can’t hit.

J.D. Martinez is the designated hitter, now and, we should fervently hope, in the future.

Anyone who hits .300 and in the 40 home run range every year is a prize worth keeping.

We should all say a prayer every night that that’s what the Red Sox will do – find a way

to keep him..

There is no need to revisit the car wreck that is the starting pitching; besides, I’d just as

soon not get depressed all over again. It should be noted, though, that in the bullpen

Brandon Workman and Darwinzon Hernandez have been great.

So, while this season has not been a great one by any means, the team as a whole has

given it its best shot. The results don’t look like they’re going to be what we were hoping

for, but they never bailed out on us.