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Q&A: Dombrowski on career, endgame for Sox

March 15, 2017

Dave Dombrowski is smiling.Why wouldn't he be? His Red Sox are favorites to repeat in the American League East, and with the recent news that ace David Price's elbow won't require surgery, Boston's outlook for 2017 remains healthy.The 60-year-old president of baseball operations has been through quite a bit during

Dave Dombrowski is smiling.
Why wouldn't he be? His Red Sox are favorites to repeat in the American League East, and with the recent news that ace David Price's elbow won't require surgery, Boston's outlook for 2017 remains healthy.
The 60-year-old president of baseball operations has been through quite a bit during his career as a baseball executive, which dates back to the late 1970s. From building a team in Montreal to literally constructing a new franchise in Florida, Dombrowski has been running Major League teams for nearly 30 years.
PODCAST: Listen to the full interview
Following a successful run in Detroit, Dombrowski made the move to Boston in August 2015. The Red Sox, who had finished below .500 in both 2014 and '15, rebounded in Dombrowski's first full season, winning 93 games and a division title.
Dombrowski recently sat down with in his office at JetBlue Park to discuss his career, the decision to trade for Chris Sale, what the Red Sox will miss most about David Ortiz and why nobody should look past the Yankees this season.
:: General manager Q&As :: You were hired as the Marlins' GM in September 1991, but they didn't start playing until 1993. What were the first 18 months like, running a team, trying to put together a team that hasn't played a game yet -- and won't for quite some time?
Dombrowski: It was enjoyable. There was never really a down time, per se. It seems like such a long time period, but when you think about it, it was always an inspiring situation for me because when you think you're the first person to be a part of the baseball end of the operation, there was nobody else there. They hired me, and then you could build your organization. So you start talk about hiring a scouting director, a director of player development, your Latin American operations, your Major League scouts preparing for the expansion draft, your international operations; all of a sudden you start doing those and it's very time consuming.
The manager was on the back-burner; we weren't going to worry about hiring a manager for another year. But when you start talking about preparation for scouting for an expansion draft, even that winter time of '91, even though the expansion draft wasn't going to take place until November of '92, winter ball was taking place so you could hire some scouts and they would go out and they'd watch that. Also, there was a lot more PR than you would normally think of because there were no players in the organization, so they wanted to talk to you. I remember I had a television show on a Sunday night that would be a regular show when I was in town. You would never think of doing that now, but they just had so much interest in what was going to take place with the team.
There were so many steps to take, but being part of an expansion team was one of the most exciting things in my career and one of the most rewarding. The bonds you made with the people that were starting the organization, the great people that we had, the scouts that were part of it and helped us supply the talent for the expansion draft. And then eventually growing it to win a world championship, it was really an exciting time. You moved on to Detroit at the end of 2001. For all the success you've had, you also endured a 119-loss season with Detroit in 2003. What is it like to oversee that kind of team?
Dombrowski: It's painstaking. Nobody likes to lose in this game in our positions; we're all competitive. Even though you knew it was going to be painful because, going over there, we didn't have a good big league club and our Minor League system wasn't very good. You knew it was going to be painful as far as having to make moves. You're trying to add talent, so you're trading some of your better players at that time to try to acquire young talent. It's going to be painful.
I remember the old adage, when I was a young guy people used to tell me -- Tommy Lasorda always used to say it -- "You're going to win 54, you're going to lose 54 and it's the other 54 in the middle that make the difference." Well, we blew that adage away because we didn't win our 54. So it was painful. At the time, we talked about if we were going to rebuild the organization, we're going to do it to the best of our abilities. We're not going to shortcut it. If we run out of time, then we run out of time. Fortunately, we didn't run out of time and the club started to get better as time progressed. That was a very painful season. Not an enjoyable one at all. Fast forward a few years and you guys win the AL pennant in 2006. How satisfying was that so closely removed from 119 losses?
Dombrowski: Extremely. It's hard to describe those feelings, especially when you start with a club that, our record was so bad, they hadn't won in a long time, and you come out of nowhere, really. We had a good team that year, too. Even though we got beat in the World Series, you could argue that we just as easily could have won it if you looked at the talent on the field. So that was a very rewarding year, very exciting for all of us.
All of a sudden, you look at the club around there and you're just a whole different operation. It rejuvenated baseball in Detroit. We had players that wanted to play in Detroit with the Tigers again, compared to when we first came there and players would give you every reason why they didn't want to play there. So it was rewarding, it was fun and it was a very enjoyable experience. Having been in Montreal, Florida and Detroit, what enticed you most about Boston?
Dombrowski: Boston, a couple of things. 1) it's a great baseball city. When you start talking about iconic franchises, you start talking about the Boston Red Sox as one of the most iconic sports franchises, not just baseball, in professional sports. Very appealing situation. Secondly, a great relationship with John Henry before I came here, and I've been able to build upon that with our owners, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon. John Henry, knowing the type of person he is, how dedicated he is to winning and how he treats people, that was very important for me.
And then the other part of it was -- it's interesting because when you come to a market like Boston, people think of me as being a big-market, big-payroll (GM) like I was in Detroit, but the first 15 years of my being a general manager never was with a payroll except for one year that was in the top half. Montreal we had a low payroll, Florida we had a low payroll. Here, you're in a position you can do things from a payroll perspective with your club, but you can also do the other things in your organization. In an age where so many teams are hesitant to trade top prospects, you dealt a package of players for Chris Sale this winter. How tough is it to deal away a player such as Yoan Moncada and some of these prospects that you've dealt? And how do you balance that against bringing in a talent like Chris?
Dombrowski: It is tough. We did trade some good prospects and we've traded some here, but I think that what you're trying to do is win a world championship. If you have the ability to win a world championship with your club -- and you have to be able to analyze that yourself; it doesn't mean you're going to win it, but you have a club that can do it -- I think you do within reason what you can to try to win. I think you also have to realize that at times, it's painful.
The best trades there that work, for instance, the White Sox are looking towards the future and we're looking to try to win. Not that we're giving up the future and not that the White Sox don't win as many games as they possibly can this year, but those are the ones where you can balance those type of deals. I think you have to be strong in this job, too, because you're going to get criticized. That's just the way the game is. Most decisions aren't 100 percent to zero percent; a lot of the toughest ones are 51 percent to 49 percent. So when you think about that, the 49 percent, if you make the 51 percent decision fans are going to be critical of you. What really makes it happen is if you win with your decisions, they will balance out.
But you have to be able to take the criticism when somebody is later playing successfully that that's just part of what you do in your job. Because if you don't do those things, eventually, you probably won't win because you're in a spot where guys who are aggressive that will make moves, they usually end up being successful and can provide their organization with a need at a particular time to get them over the hump to win. Sandoval showed up in really good shape this spring and there's been a lot of talk about him. How much of a lift would it be for your lineup if he can revert to the form we saw from him in San Francisco?
Dombrowski: It would be a real plus for us, because that's one spot that last year was not our most successful spot in the lineup, third base. Pablo has been a successful Major League player for many years and I think he can come back and do that for us. We don't need him to carry us, either. We just need him to be a real solid performer. Go out there and be a good, solid everyday player, play solid defense and contribute from an offensive perspective. And really when you look at most of Pablo's numbers throughout his career, he's not a .320-type hitter with 20 or 25 home runs. If he can go out and hit you .275 or .280 with a dozen to 15 home runs, knock in his runs and play a real solid third base for us, that would be a real pickup for our ballclub. Aside from his obvious production, what do you think the Red Sox are going to miss most about David Ortiz?
Dombrowski: Just his overall presence. David Ortiz, what he brings to an organization and to a ballclub is very unique. Getting away from the ability, because he's such a good player, but his overall presence in our community -- he's iconic, really. When he walks around or walks out on the field, people look at him in a different perspective. So you lose that presence.
We have a lot of good, young players and I think they'll play well -- and I know they still talk to David, because people say, "I talked to David!" -- and he's very happy to help out wherever he can because he feels like he's part of this organization and he will always be a part of this organization. You can't replace that presence; people just don't have that type of overall (presence) when they walk into the clubhouse, they walk out on to the field or they walk on to an event where everybody is oohing and aahing. It's David Ortiz. Last question -- and you knew you weren't going to get through this without hearing about the Yankees once -- they're going through an interesting phase right now, rebuilding while trying to compete. What do you think of the job Brian Cashman has done in the past year of trying to accomplish both of those things? Do you look at them going into this season as a legitimate threat in the AL East?
Dombrowski: I sure do look at them as a legitimate threat -- and Brian wants you to think that they're not a legitimate threat. But they are a legitimate threat and they want to sneak up on you. They wouldn't make some of the moves that they did unless they felt they had a chance to win, because they've added some people, too.
Brian Cashman is a very good general manager, an outstanding general manager. He's done it for a long time; he's built world championship clubs and I thought they really did a nice job this wintertime in collecting some young players over the winter and at the Trade Deadline last year. I think they're in a spot that they have a good club right now, they're going to get better with some of the young players and I don't think anybody should take them for granted.

Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for