BOSTON -- Almost immediately after last October’s World Series triumph over the Dodgers, Red Sox owner John Henry had a feeling that president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski had a different vision of the organization going forward than ownership did.
In part of a 24-minute session with the media on Friday that also included chairman Tom Werner, Henry said that he had hoped Dombrowski would change his view of the way the organization should look over the next five years or so.
As the weeks and months went by, it became obvious to Henry that Dombrowski’s vision wasn’t going to mesh with ownership’s.
And with a disappointing 2019 season nearing its final weeks, and Dombrowski’s contract up after ‘20, ownership decided on Sept. 8 to part ways with the executive who led the Sox to three consecutive division titles, including last year’s World Series championship season. Henry, Werner and team president/CEO Sam Kennedy made the decision unanimously.
“We can talk about what he did wrong, but I prefer to talk about what he did right,” said Henry in his first public comments since the front office shakeup. “He was, as I said earlier, I think the right person at the right time. Right after the World Series, I think it became clear to me that perhaps we weren’t going to be on the same wavelength going forward. But I was hopeful throughout the year that maybe that perception would change. It didn’t.”
It was a difficult move for Henry to make, given his long-standing relationship with Dombrowski that dates back to when they worked together with the Marlins from 1998-2001 and then reunited in '15 in Boston.
The direction the Red Sox want to go in the early part of their next five-year window includes deepening the farm system and trimming payroll to get below the first luxury-tax threshold of $208 million.
“If you don’t reset [the competitive balance tax], there are penalties,” Henry said. “So, we’ve known for some time now we needed to reset as other clubs have done.”
“Our real intention is to be competitive every year, and we’ll do whatever we have to do to do that,” Werner said. “But the solution to that isn’t always having the highest payroll in baseball.”
Whether it was with the 1997 Marlins, his perennial contenders in Detroit or his teams in Boston, Dombrowski’s best teams had higher-tier payrolls.
“Moving forward, we just thought that in order to be successful the next five years, we needed to improve in a number of different areas,” Werner said. “He was, as I said, the right man for the time, and moving forward, we’re going in a different direction.”
Since Dombrowski’s departure, assistant general managers Eddie Romero, Brian O’Halloran and Zack Scott have been running baseball operations along with senior vice president Raquel Ferreira, who has taken on an expanded role during the transition.
While Henry and Werner both praised the current quartet, Henry said that the search for the next leader of baseball operations will start outside the organization for someone with previous experience running a front office.
“This is a tough job. This is a tough offseason, too. We talked about the challenges for the CBT, but I think we would all agree, this is a challenging offseason,” Henry said. “So, to put one of the [internal] candidates in charge and responsible for that, that’s sort of a tough way to start your career as a general manager. So, we are starting the search looking outward.”
And it figures to be somebody who has experience building a farm system and building a championship-caliber team with a more efficient payroll than Boston’s recent teams have had.
“One of the things we observe, and I think we all observe, is first of all, there are teams that make the postseason with half the payroll the Red Sox have,” said Werner. “Look at the success Oakland has had this year and the Milwaukee Brewers. And we have resources. And I would just like to say that while we would like to get under the competitive balance tax threshold, we have had years we’ve been above it, we’ve had years where we were below it. There may be certain circumstances that we exceed it.”
The new general manager will have some big decisions to make going forward. One of the biggest will be to gain as much clarity as possible going forward on the contract situation of star right fielder Mookie Betts, who is eligible for free agency at the end of 2020.
The Red Sox had extension talks with Betts multiple times in recent years, but it has never led to a long-term deal. Betts has said repeatedly since Spring Training that he plans on going to free agency before signing his next contract.
“We think he is one of the great players in baseball. Hopefully there is a meeting of the minds going forward,” said Werner. “We’ve stated publicly that we would hope he would stay with us the rest of his career. We have made proposals to him in the past, and he did want to test free agency, which is his right.”
It’s at least possible the Red Sox will explore trading Betts this winter if they don’t think a long-term deal is feasible.
“And we’ll have some conversations with him going forward,” Werner said. “But obviously there’ll be a point where hopefully we can make a deal [with Betts], or we’ll decide at that point what is Plan B or Plan C. But we haven’t gotten to that point, and we’re very open to continuing discussions with him.”
In the ownership led by Henry and Werner, the Red Sox have won four World Series championships after not winning any for 86 years.
Theo Epstein was the architect of the first two, guiding the front office from 2003-11. He left because he wanted a new challenge with the Cubs. Ben Cherington took over in ‘12, won a World Series in ‘13 and left after opting not to take a demotion when Dombrowski was hired in August of ‘15.
And now the team is looking to replace Dombrowski, just one year after he built a World Series champion.
Both owners scoffed at the notion that recent turnover in the front office makes Boston a less-desirable place to run a front office.
“We all know Boston is an incredibly great sports town,” Werner said. “It's also very demanding. We want to be excellent year in and year out. But I consider this position to be the most coveted, or one of the most coveted, in all of sports."
“I think we take our responsibility very seriously, and we always opt when we can to have, whether it’s a general manager or a manager, [stability] as long as possible,” said Henry. “We don’t look to make changes willy-nilly. I think in this case, we were unanimous that we needed to make a change. But I don’t feel like we’re going through general managers.”
Henry and Werner said there is no timetable to name Dombrowski’s replacement.