BOSTON -- An executive who has yet to prove he knows what it takes to navigate Boston is now charged with hiring someone to face its media and fans every day, for a managerial job that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski noted brings even more second-guessing than his own.
“It’s just like a general manager’s spot that they’re open for questions and debates and second-guessing, and even more so than a general manager,” Dombrowski said Wednesday. “Because they’re making moves when you can bunt, or hit and run, or steal.”
Both men better hope the fit is right. What the next manager of the Red Sox will prove is whether Dombrowski himself was really the right hire. Whether Dombrowski actually understands what it takes in this city, and whether he understands the psychology of the players he has asked ownership and fans alike to pay millions for.
THE FIRING OF JOHN FARRELL
- Drellich: Dombrowski's criteria for new manager
- DJ Bean: A look at potential candidates
- Farrell thanks management, players, fans
In the search for John Farrell’s replacement, Dombrowksi noted the importance of media savvy. One figures that to mean Dombrowski will value how well his hire handles the Boston market on a whole: all its potential pitfalls, not just the media.
“Probably here, I think your ability to deal with the media probably weighs more than I would say in Detroit,” Dombrowski said. “That's probably an important part, maybe more so than it would have been in Detroit and some other markets.”
The problem is this: What evidence do we have that Dombrowski himself understands the market, the media, the fans? The signing of $217 million David Price screams the opposite. The deterioration of Farrell’s time with the Sox is owed in part to the presence and antics of Price, after all.
On Sept. 30, the day the Sox clinched the division, Dombrowski not only twice said Farrell had done a “great job,” but expressed some surprise at how much heat he receives.
Surprising little town for newcomers, indeed.
“Managing is a tough job, period,” Dombrowski said during the champagne celebration. “I think it’s a tougher job here than maybe anywhere else. The scrutiny you receive. Being in the game as long as I’ve been in the game, I’m amazed somewhat the scrutiny aspect of it. And then when I look at the names behind his desk, the number of pictures and how few guys have stayed a long time. It just shows you it’s a tough job. He’s done a great job. He’s a tough guy.”
Well, that was some empty talk about a “great job” now wasn’t it?
Back in August, Dombrowski was asked about a pair of assertions: that he misjudged Boston himself, and that in turn his lack of understanding led to an unhappy pairing with Price.
“I don’t know I would get into that type of discussion from a public perspective,” Dombrowski said. “I think David Price is a tremendous pitcher. He’s had a difficult year when it comes to injuries. For him starting in spring training, sometimes injuries put you in a position where, just overall from a player perspective, it can knock you off kilter a little bit. He's a very intelligent individual. He’s hard working. So I think my personal feelings on that type of situation will be kept to myself.”
Dombrowski loves keeping things to himself, as Wednesday reinforced. A basic explanation of Farrell’s dismissal became privileged information.
That choice was poor. Continued speculation around Farrell will create more questions for his players and others in the organization, chatter that won’t help the organization or the players move on. Dombrowski had an opportunity to set a basic narrative, and could have done so delicately. He need not drag Farrell through the mud to provide a framework.
Perhaps that type of finesse eludes Dombrowski. He’s a power guy: big trades, big signings. Well, not big enough bats.
Dombrowski acknowledged on Wednesday that the Sox' offensive shortcomings in 2017 were his own. What he did not dive into is the fact you can tie those shortcomings at the plate to his choice not to add significant offense while staying under the luxury tax threshold this year. To an inability to be creative with that luxury tax threshold — or at least, a lack of foresight to do so.
He needs the foresight now. He needs to be able to tell which way the wind is blowing in his locker room.
The next manager of the Red Sox could be someone who has pre-existing relationships with some players, like bench coach Alex Cora does with Dustin Pedroia. It could be someone cut from a more traditional cloth, like Diamondbacks bench coach Ron Gardenhire.
The room itself needs change beyond the manager, likely, as well.
“I think we can get better as a team," Dombrowski said. “We'll see what happens in that regard. I'm not ready to get into all that. I think it's a situation where we went through a transition. We did win the division. You can always get better. We look to get better. I think young players' growth will make a difference in that regard. A new manager coming in will provide just an overall different dynamic, a change. And we'll see what happens in that regard.”
In August, Dombrowski was asked whether today’s managers are players’ managers rather than disciplinarians. If you’re looking for clues Gardenhire or someone like him might be the guy, read into this what you will.
"That’s a very difficult and lengthy answer, I think, because I think that the reality is that the game has changed,” Dombrowski said. “But you still have to be a disciplinarian . . . It depends on how you describe discipline. If players came out and nobody was on time and people didn’t stretch and you needed ‘em to stretch and they didn’t listen to their signs that you’re supposed to do, well, you can’t accept that type of behavior. But I was with Jim Leyland, jeez, 30 years ago and we often discussed it. He said the way he deals with players late in his career was a lot different than he did early in his career.
“Because if he handled them the same way later in his career that he did earlier, he would have lost his players. Because, and, I think it’s the present generation. You just have to be aware of what motivates today’s young people. My son is different than -- what my parents did for me is a lot different than what my son did. It’s really, it's a lot different because when you talk about youngsters, and today is a lot different. You don’t see coaches at other levels just yelling and screaming at people. Or, when I played football coaches pounding in your helmet and hitting those things, you don’t see that anymore.”
“I still think discipline is important,” Dombrowski continued. “And I think also what’s very difficult is for people [from the outside] to evaluate situations. Which, there’s a lot of privacy that’s involved. People from outside are never going to know really what we do behind closed doors. So you don’t know how we approach topics and what topics we discuss and how we discuss them. But I can assure you, I don’t ever remember a topic that since I've been here, that we haven’t approached from a discipline perspective or a thought process on how we want to see things handled.”
Privacy is Dombrowski’s preferred route, then and now. It may be wise at times, but not universally. He needs to be more consistently nimble with his words, just as he need be better distinguishing in his personnel choices.
You don't get to hire a lot of managers before you yourself are fired.