The Phillies handed the ball to Dave Dombrowski on Friday, making him the first president of baseball operations in club history. That's the title you get when you've been in the game for 40 years, presided over the baseball fortunes of four different clubs, taken three of them to the World Series, won it all twice, and been lured to a victory-starved town with a four-year, $20 million contract — not to mention the short-term challenge of breaking a nine-year postseason drought and the long-term challenge of getting John Middleton's bleeping trophy back.
Polished, confident and oozing a sense of "I know what I'm doing here" that was clear even in a video conference, Dombrowski spent about 45 minutes speaking with reporters Friday. Over the next few days, we'll be digging into a lot of what he said and the challenges he faces as the Phillies' new baseball chief, but for now, here's a broad look at where he stands on a number of topics.
WHY HE TOOK THE JOB
Dombrowski had been connected to a number of GM/president of baseball ops jobs this fall and had continually made it clear, even to repeated overtures by the Phillies, that he was not interested because he'd moved to Nashville and joined a group trying to bring a big-league team to that city. Dombrowski said he has no doubts Nashville will one day get a team, but he'd recently learned that, in the COVID world, the timetable would not be moving as quickly as he'd hoped. So, when Andy MacPhail checked in one more time earlier in the week, Dombrowski was ready to talk. MacPhail set up a call between Dombrowski and Middleton and it all came together quickly.
"It was really John Middleton reaching out and really trying to make me part of the Phillies organization," Dombrowski said. "I feel very comfortable with him. I've known him throughout the years. He has a great reputation. I think he's a great owner. He wants to win. He's a Philadelphia fan. He'll do what he can to win and he's somebody that I look forward to working with. That was really the story behind it."
OK, let's look at some of the stuff you really want to know, like ...
ARE THE PHILLIES BACK IN A REBUILD?
No. Not at all. No way a guy with Dombrowski's resume, at age 64, takes a rebuilding assignment. And no way do the Phillies target a guy like Dombrowski, at that cost, to preside over a rebuild.
"I consider it a retool, not a rebuild, for sure," Dombrowski said. "I think there are too many good players on the club ... we have a star player in right field in Bryce (Harper) and some other good players around him. Any time you have three good starting pitchers like we have at the top of the rotation, you're in pretty good shape to be competitive. Now, there are things I think that need to be done. But when you talk about (Aaron) Nola, (Zack) Wheeler and (Zach) Eflin, that's a good place to start, so I think it's a retool."
CAN THE PHILLIES WIN IN 2021?
They hope to. Dombrowski will look to fill holes in the bullpen, at shortstop and at catcher — more on that later — but realistically, this team is probably more than one offseason retooling away from making what you might call a deep postseason run. All teams suffered revenue losses because of the COVID pandemic in 2020 and there could be more in 2021. The Phillies will not carry a (pre-pandemic) payroll of $207 million again in 2021, but Dombrowski seemed confident he could fill holes and inch things forward while still using the team's existing strengths — one of them being manager Joe Girardi — to make a run at the postseason.
"I know John wants to win," Dombrowski said. "We have flexibility of finances, but when I say that, I don't think it's an unlimited amount of funds. You always realize there is some type of budget attached to that. We will work within that.
"We want to win this year. We will do what we can. We have a great manager and he has won. I think it's more important, too, that we build an organization that can be competitive year in and year out, so that will really be the focus in addition to trying to win.
"I don't look at this as a situation as we are one player away from winning. I think we need to do a few things with this team. And I really don't want to be sacrificing people that might be part of our future success for short-term gains if it's not the difference-maker in trying to be a championship club."
AS FOR YOUNG PLAYERS
Dombrowski has been criticized in some previous stops for giving up young players in trades. He made it clear that he likes young players. He was especially complimentary of pitcher Mick Abel, the Phillies' No. 1 pick last June. But he also indicated that his goal was to build a strong, prospect-rich farm system so the Phils would have the capital to make deals when they thought they were close to a championship.
OK, WHAT ABOUT J.T. REALMUTO?
The Phillies need a shortstop and several bullpen pieces. Can they get all that and still have the payroll to re-sign the All-Star catcher, who is now a free agent?
"I don't know that because I really haven't gotten into specifics," Dombrowski said. "I do know everybody in the organization loves J.T. So, I think there's a unanimous feeling they'd like to bring him back."
Time will tell on this one. It's really all about where the market goes. Though Dombrowski is now in charge of any negotiations the Phillies have with Realmuto, this decision will be made at the ownership level.
FIXING THE BULLPEN
Dombrowski said he will be "aggressive" in trying to fix what was the worst bullpen in the majors during the 60-game season in 2020.
He tipped his hand a little, saying how much he valued a dependable closer. There are several on the market.
"In general, most good clubs have a guy who closes the game and I still believe in that," he said. "I do think you need more depth (of relievers) than you used to. The negative part is that our bullpen needs a lot of fixing. We have some holes. The positive part is that it's an opportunity and hopefully people are choosing us because there's opportunity here. So we need to be aggressive. We need multiple people out there to try to help us. We have some young arms that are developing that may fit out there. But we'll be in a position where I'm sure we'll be very aggressive in adding arms."
ANALYTICS VS. SCOUTING
The game is as torn as the nation's political scene when it comes to old school vs. new school, scouting vs. analytics and data. The Phillies devoted much resource to analytics in recent years and that devotion has not produced a winning season.
Though his history clearly leans toward scouting and he has flat-out been called an old-schooler, Dombrowski said he has relied on analytical input in the past and will continue to with the Phillies, who have spent a fortune building that department.
"Some people may favor scouting strictly, some people may favor analytics strictly, I believe in combining both of them, and then working together and using whatever information you possibly can to make the best judgment," he said. "I very much welcome whatever information we have. You're older so you're not supposed to believe in (analytics) and you hear these reputations. That is not an accurate assessment because I'm very supportive of all that type of information and will continue to do so."
The analytics age has given the game terms like "launch angle" and led to starting pitchers being pulled from games before facing a lineup a third time. It was interesting to hear Dombrowski say a couple of things on those subjects.
"The one place I would say that I'm a little old fashioned compared to what the contemporary is, I still like our starters to give us six to seven innings, especially if you're a good starting pitcher," he said. "I like seven innings out of a starting pitcher, but I also don't believe seven innings and 140 pitches either. I think you win with starting pitching."
He added: "I'm comfortable with launch angle, but, and other people may not agree with this, I do like people who use the whole field in hitting. I'm not just a pull-oriented guy, a home run or nothing individual. I still like the approach when people aren't pulling off the ball on a consistent basis."
Dombrowski will have the freedom to make changes and build a baseball operations department, from scouting and player development to the big-league roster, the way he sees fit.
He said he's not in a hurry to make personnel changes, said he wants to meet and evaluate people first, said former GM Matt Klentak, still in the organization with two years left on his contract, may be "part of the decision-making process when we talk about things."
As for hiring a GM under him, that might not immediately happen. There used to be a saying that there was nothing more limited than being one of George Steinbrenner's limited partners. It's similar with Dombrowski. He might have the fancy title, but he's not a guy who stands in a tower and barks instructions through a bullhorn. He mixes it up. He's out there, in front and in charge. When and if he hires a GM, that guy will essentially be his assistant — with a nice title.
ON PHILADELPHIA, THE BASEBALL TOWN
"It's a big market with a solid owner that wants to spend money to win, and when you usually have that combination, it's a good baseball situation," Dombrowski said. "It's the passionate East Coast baseball city, right? Quick to boo if things don't work but quick to cheer when they do. There's a lot of upside potential.
"I'm really enthusiastic about it. I think the Phillies, we have a chance to be really good as time goes on. When you talk about ownership, city, support, the players we have to start with in the organization, I'm thrilled about the opportunity of making it happen."