Red Sox

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


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,” 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.


Red Sox, Yankees working to play in London in 2019

Red Sox, Yankees working to play in London in 2019

Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge are about to go global.

Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy on Monday confirmed the Sox are interested to play the Yankees in London during next year's regular season. Bloomberg reported the clubs are nearing an agreement to play two games there in June 2019. Discussions are indeed taking place, but a deal is not done.

MORE - Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

“We would love to participate in a series in London against the Yankees but this is a decision that MLB and the MLBPA will make," Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said.

Bloomberg reported the games would be played at London Stadium, which was the main facility for the 2012 summer Olympics.

MLB has not played any games in Europe before. The Red Sox have made trips before, including to Japan before the 2008 season.


Red Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

Red Sox signal they'll keep Swihart, may trade Marrero or Holt

Blake Swihart’s strong spring seems to have the Red Sox more inclined to deal one of their natural utility infielders, such as Brock Holt or Deven Marrero, rather than Swihart, a converted catcher with high upside who's getting a look in other roles.
"Sounds like they’re holding Swihart to open," a rival executive said. "More likely to move a utility guy."
A true utility guy, that is.


The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported Sunday that Marrero has been drawing interest from other teams.

"We do have depth with our middle infielders," Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Monday. "However, [I] would not get into potential trade discussions."
Swihart, who turns 26 on April 3, is most valuable as a catcher. But he could still be useful in a bench role for the 2018 Red Sox, and a win-now mentality may be the driving force here. (It is possible, as well, that there is nothing available via trade for Swihart that has piqued the Sox’ interest. Marrero or Holt wouldn’t require as much in return.)
The potential drawback is that Swihart won’t grow much if he’s not playing every day -- and in particular, if he's not catching every day. But the Sox may be be at a juncture where they feel his bat is a worthwhile experiment off the bench, at least for this season. They can figure out his future -- and their future at backstop -- later.
"He’s a great athlete," Cora told reporters on Sunday. "We’ve seen it in the batter’s box. It’s not only the results, but the way he’s driving the ball to left field as a left-hander, the quality of at-bats as a right-hander. [On Saturday], as a pinch-hitter, that kid was throwing 99 and he throws a breaking ball and squares a ball up."
Swihart entered Monday with a .283 average in Grapefruit League play, with a .905 OPS and a pair of home runs. But he does not have the infield experience that Marrero or Holt has, and the Red Sox essentially have to carry one of those two to start the year. 
Eduardo Nunez, the temporary replacement for Dustin Pedroia, is coming off a knee injury, and a sure-handed infielder -- Marrero’s glove is particularly good -- is a must. Rafael Devers is still coming into his own at third base. 
Tzu-Wei Lin is available in the minors too, and the Sox could see some redundancy with him, Holt and Marrero. Lin, unlike Marrero, has minor league options remaining. Lin also has some limited outfield experience.
The way the Sox roster looks now, they have two spots available for the three guys: Marrero, Holt and Swihart. Health can change that. Holt, despite being the most veteran of the group, has minor league options remaining, so he theoretically could go to Triple-A to start the season. But if the Sox don't see a role for him on this year's team any way, they'd be wiser trading him, considering he's due to make $2.225 million. It also would be kindest choice for Holt, to let him have an opportunity elsewhere, if one exists.


Swihart has played first base, third base and left field in addition to catching this spring. Perhaps, in time, there will be a way to work Swihart in behind the plate for the Sox. At the least, retaining him would be insurance if Christian Vazquez or Sandy Leon do not perform well offensively.
There was a clear personal-catcher system for the Red Sox in 2017. Leon was Chris Sale’s guy, for example. Manager Alex Cora said he is not taking that approach. As an auxiliary effect, moving away from a personal-catcher system might make it easier for Swihart to receive more time behind the plate, if called on.
"Whoever I feel comfortable with that day behind the plate, he'll catch," Cora told reporters in Florida. "Christian already caught him. Sandy's going to catch him today. And then the next turn, Christian's going to catch him. Everybody's going to work with everybody."