Red Sox

Dave Dombrowski's reputation, autonomy and the pursuit of J.D. Martinez

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Dave Dombrowski's reputation, autonomy and the pursuit of J.D. Martinez

Dave Dombrowski without Mike Ilitch might be a Different Dave.

The J.D. Martinez pursuit is Dombrowski’s moment, a gambit and a gut check as we near the midpoint of his first Red Sox contract, a five-year deal as president of baseball operations.

From the outset, ownership appeared to give Dombrowski more clearly delineated autonomy than it did his predecessors. Any signing as large as Martinez remains an ownership-level matter. That will never change. But if the big bosses are letting Dombrowski handle the bulk of the Martinez pursuit — this is your job, Dave, you tell us what you want to do and when — the need for Dombrowski to nail this choice only increases.

A baseball source with knowledge of the negotiations said Martinez has indeed been a pursuit handled by Dombrowski primarily, as opposed to being spearheaded by ownership.

For Dombrowski, the motivation to drive down Martinez’s price is two-fold. The first is self-explanatory: no one wants to overpay. 

But Dombrowski has a reputation for doing just that, overpaying. For being inefficient with resources, both in trades and free agency. At the midpoint of Dombrowski’s deal in Boston, the Martinez pursuit is a chance for Dombrowski to cast himself in a different light. Dealer Dave can turn into Shrewd Dave.

But at what point is such an effort outweighed by the risk? He can’t change his reputation on one deal.

Dombrowski’s reputation is exaggerated at times. For one, look how great Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel have been, even if they were costly pieces. (On the other hand, the David Price contract was a huge assumption of risk because of health and we’ll see how it plays out.) 

But, going further into Dombrowski’s past, his rep doesn’t fully incorporate the role late Tigers owner Mike Ilitch had in Detroit’s expenditures. 

Ilitch was the one who would often push Dombrowski to do deals. Some contracts — like Magglio Ordonez’s in February 13 years ago — were ones that the Tigers were actually better off doing, but certainly not all. 

“Ilitch makes most of his baseball decisions that way,” SI.com wrote in August 2015 of Ilitch’s emotion-driven approach. “Dombrowski knows that better than anybody, because that’s how he got the job in the first place. It’s also how he ended up with Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and [Prince] Fielder. It’s part of the deal when you work for Ilitch.”

That dynamic may not exist in Boston. Does autonomy, to the greatest extent that term actually exists in a baseball management setting, best serve Dombrowski and the Red Sox?

As written previously here, the overwhelming evidence says the right move is to sign Martinez. Dombrowski must know that baseball’s market will look vastly different a year from now. The Yankees and Dodgers are expected to reset their luxury tax threshold this year. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are free agents to be, and Clayton Kershaw may be as well. Nickels and dimes now will look like pennies in 12 months. 

John Henry, who made his fortune on commodities futures, presumably has looked at the future markets as well. 

Should he push his own convictions, whatever they may be, in a way Ilitch would have?

The pursuit of Martinez is about a lot more than just the pursuit of Martinez.

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Report: Ex-Red Sox reliever Reed gets deal with Twins

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Report: Ex-Red Sox reliever Reed gets deal with Twins

He was dubbed "Closer B" by Red Sox manager John Farrell when acquired at the trade deadline last summer, now Addison Reed is "Closer B Gone"...to the Twins.

The right-handed reliever, 29, has agreed to a two-year, $16.75 million free-agent deal with Minnesota, pending a physical, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and TheAthletic.com reports. 

Reed began last season with the Mets and had 19 saves and a 2.57 ERA before being traded to the Red Sox, where he had a 3.33 ERA in 29 games (27 innings) without a save as a setup man for Craig Kimbrell.  
 

Red Sox, Mookie Betts far apart on salary and heading toward arbitration

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Red Sox, Mookie Betts far apart on salary and heading toward arbitration

The Red Sox and star right fielder Mookie Betts intend to go to an arbitration hearing in February, and there were signs this was coming even a year ago.

Betts was the only arbitration-eligible player on the Red Sox who did not settle on a contract with the team on Friday, when a deadline arrived for all teams and arbitration-eligible players to exchange 2018 salary figures. Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Drew Pomeranz were the biggest names to avoid hearings.

Betts filed for a $10.5 million salary and the Red Sox filed at $7.5 million.  Betts and the Red Sox agreed previously that if no figure could be settled on by the Friday deadline, they would proceed to a hearing, assistant general manager Brian O'Halloran said. 

A three-person panel of arbitrators therefore is set to determine what Betts makes in 2018: either the $7.5 million figure the Sox filed or the $10.5 million figure Betts' camp submitted. The arbitrators won't settle on a midpoint for the parties. 

O'Halloran noted to the Globe there are no hard feelings involved.

Nonetheless, such a large gap would seem to provide incentive to settle. The parties technically could still decide to do so, but that would take a change of course from the present plan. The idea was to settle any time before Friday, and they did not. 

Betts is asking for near-record money for a first-year arbitration eligible player. Kris Bryant set the record Friday with a $10.85 million settlement.

The hearings can be difficult for player-team relations because teams have to make the case in front of the player that he is worth less money than he wants.

Betts, 25, hit .264, with 24 homers, 102 RBI, 25 stolen bases and a .803 OPS in 2017, numbers that fell from his American League MVP runner-up performance in 2016, but were nonetheless very strong and coupled with first-rate defense.

This offseason is Betts' first of arbitration eligibility. In the first three years of service time in a players' career, there's no recourse if you don't like the salary a team is offering. Teams can pay players anything at league minimum or above. 

The only option a player has in those first three years is to make a stand on principle: you can force the team to technically "renew" your salary, which notes to everyone that you did not agree to the salary. Betts and his agents did that in 2017 when the Sox paid him $950,000, a very high amount relative to most contract renewals.

Some of the standard thinking behind forcing a team to renew a contract is that if an arbitration case comes up down the road — and one now looms for Betts — it's supposed to show the arbitrators that the player felt even in seasons past, he was underpaid.

Still, the Sox may have effectively combatted that perception by paying Betts almost $1 million on a renewal. Per USA Today, that $950,000 agreement in 2017 was "the second-highest one-year deal ever for a non-arbitration-eligible player with two-plus years of big league service." Mike Trout got $1 million in 2014.