BOSTON — In this unmitigated age of tanking, it’s important to recognize teams and executives who not only strive to make the playoffs annually, but actually do so.
Money is a prerequisite for those teams, naturally. The Red Sox are case in point. And what’s the skill in winning with a large pile of money, you wonder?
Well, turn the question around: what’s the skill in tanking? If you can’t win after losing for several years, if you can’t find success after stockpiling talent and shedding contracts, you probably aren’t cut out to be a general manager in any circumstance.
The Red Sox’ 13-2 start is owed to many people, many choices. New manager Alex Cora has the right brew so far. New hitting coach Tim Hyers is the conductor on the launch-angle train. There’s good health and improved chemistry and the LeVangie Advantage.
You've even witnessed some good luck. Three grand slams to begin this season compared to zero for all of 2017 has something to do with the Baseball Gods.
Yet, no matter how you build your pie chart for April’s bloom, the boss who put the pieces in place, Dave Dombrowski, needs credit. Who hired the manager, after all? Who presides over all of this?
The money discussion is relevant, but just one part of the picture.
Four years ago, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman misheard a question I asked him. Perhaps I mumbled it. Either way, it leads to a poignant quote.
I was trying to ask if Cashman ever looked at the tanking teams and said to himself, boy, I wish I could do it that way.
Cashman didn’t hear that question — probably because, for so long, he’s heard people say they wish they could do it his way. Meaning, with a ton of money.
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He told me what he would tell those people.
"This is a very fast-moving Ferrari," Cashman said. "And in many cases, those same people who talk that talk would be an insect smashing against the windshield and getting splattered all over the place because they can't believe the amount of velocity that this car is moving at."
(If you're keeping track, the GM of the Yankees suggested some GMs are bugs whose guts would explode everywhere were they in his shoes. Carry on.)
"You have to manage and deal with expectations, and that's a big thing," Cashman continued. "It's a lot of pressure when you're expected to win on a daily basis. So yeah, it's an easy thing to throw around all the time about, 'I wish I could do it that way.' We have the ability because of our market. If something's broke, you go out and fix it. And we're lucky for that; I'm thankful for that. But it doesn't come without heavy lifting.”
Dombrowski’s driving a pretty fast car too.
His Red Sox are carrying the highest payroll in baseball. He had high-priced teams in his time in Detroit as well.
Cora’s success is still Dombrowski’s. After the clubhouse issues that arose a year ago, Dombrowski chose not to make major changes to the roster aside from adding J.D. Martinez. He appears to have read the situation, and solution, correctly.
Dombrowski has not spent every dollar he’s been allotted with the greatest efficiency. But Dombrowski also hasn’t made any major gaffes. He didn’t sign Pablo Sandoval, or Rusney Castillo. He inherited them. (The jury is out on David Price’s $217 million deal.)
Dombrowski arrived in Boston with a mandate to get the Sox back into contention. The day he was introduced, he harped on adding pitching. He came through, with moves that hurt the farm system but also carried serious upside — not only in terms of performance, but flexibility.
Look at Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale, whom Dombrowski acquired on team-friendly contracts. Dombrowski may not be a wizard at creating roster flexibility, but adding some stars on below-market contracts goes a long way. Those acquisitions allow for others. Even the new clean-up hitter, Martinez, was a relative bargain.
A lot can change. Dombrowski built a good bullpen a year ago, but this year’s is likely going to need a midseason upgrade. The holes don’t disappear because the Sox are off to a scorching start. But the success shouldn’t either.
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Dombrowski’s spent a lot of money. He hasn’t spent it perfectly. The Sox don't appear as well positioned as the Yankees in the long run. But if you look at the team's 13-2 record and look past the president of baseball operations, you’re forgetting how fast that Ferrari can go — and that not every GM is equipped to drive it in the first place.