Billy Beane was voted the 2018 Executive of the Year because the A's won 97 games and made it to the American League Wild Card game even though Beane spent less money on players than anyone else in baseball this past season. Boston's Dave Dombrowski? He spent more money than
Billy Beane was voted the 2018 Executive of the Year because the A's won 97 games and made it to the American League Wild Card game even though Beane spent less money on players than anyone else in baseball this past season. Boston's Dave Dombrowski? He spent more money than everybody else, and he wasn't even in the running.
I think Beane has been a transformative front-office figure over the past two decades and have written that plenty of times, all the way through this season. But if we're talking about the year in baseball that started Oct. 22, 2017, when Dombrowski hired Alex Cora to be the Red Sox manager, nobody did a better job than Dombrowski did.
In February, Dombrowski signed J.D. Martinez as a free agent, and then he watched Martinez not only transform the Red Sox batting order, but also become an essential team leader. In March, Dombrowski quietly signed relief pitcher Ryan Brasier, who pitched in Japan in 2017, and who would become an essential part of the Red Sox bullpen, especially down the stretch.
Then during the season, all Dombrowski did was pick up Steve Pearce, who became the MVP of the World Series, Nathan Eovaldi, who was every bit as valuable a pitcher in the postseason as David Price was, and Ian Kinsler.
Buck Showalter, in praise of Cora, has said that not everybody knows how to properly play a winning hand. The guy who dealt Cora the cards this season was Dombrowski, whose team ended up beating everybody, and put a veteran baseball man back on top for the first time since his Marlins won it all in 1997.
We have talked plenty about John Henry's ownership since the Red Sox won the last of their 119 games, and Cora, who did the best managing job October has ever seen, and Martinez and Mookie Betts, the AL MVP. We have not talked nearly enough about Dombrowski, who had the season of his life.
Dombrowski's first move -- hiring Cora -- might have been the most important. So was this: He let his manager manage, at a time in baseball when guys in jobs like Dombrowski so often think they're the ones managing from whatever spot above the field from which they watch the games, because of all the numbers and analytics they are provided by an army of young numbers crunchers. Some of these executives think they're the ones who should be making out the lineup cards and, let's face it, they often do.
Cora embraces all the numbers and all the science. But everybody saw the old-time feel he brought to the work he did in October. He took chances. He often managed by his gut as much as Joe Torre once did with the Yankees. So much of this started with Cora being empowered by the man who hired him to manage the Red Sox.
I asked Dombrowski about that on the day before Thanksgiving. Here is what he said:
"I think Alex is a unique individual in today's game that is contemporary with his thought process, open to present-day analytics and yet combines his decision making with on-field knowledge he learned throughout the years of playing. He has the ability to combine that knowledge and also use his instincts to make decisions.
"He presented that ability as well as one can during the interview process. Not only did he impress me, but [he impressed] everyone else that was involved in the process for us. He also possesses great communication skills that allow him to communicate in every direction and in two languages. In addition, he is sincere and has a good heart that is genuine. His players know that.
"[I] have always felt that you should hire a manager and let him make the lineup and game decisions. I always enjoy discussing baseball topics with our manager, but to allow the manager to lead the way he needs and to earn the respect of his clubhouse, players need to know that he is in charge. This is important in every business and the chain of command. To me, if you do not have the confidence in this person to do the job, [you] should probably have someone else in the position.
"Lastly, good people like Alex surround themselves with quality staff members that follow his lead. He also allows them to do their jobs."
So Dombrowski hired a new manager after the Red Sox lost in the AL Division Series to the Astros in 2017. Then he allowed him to do his job. Then Cora allowed his own staff to do their jobs. Dombrowski did not see his manager as an extension of himself. He did not see himself as some kind of puppet master. Maybe it helped that Dombrowski had also brought legendary Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa to the Red Sox and saw how much La Russa trusted and respected Cora once he got to know him in Spring Training.
Again: Dombrowski hired Cora on Oct. 22, 2017. What started there ended when the Red Sox won Game 5 of the World Series against the Dodgers on Oct. 28, 2018. Dave Dombrowski was the top executive of that year.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.