PHILADELPHIA -- Dave Dombrowski’s reputation preceded him to Philadelphia. World Series expectations followed.
He built world championship teams with the Red Sox in 2018 and Marlins in 1997. He took the Tigers to the World Series in 2006 and '12. Dombrowski wins wherever he goes. It is why teams hire him. It is why the reaction Friday to the Phillies hiring him as their first president of baseball operations has been nearly unanimous: The Phillies are not going to take a step back in '21. They are going to try to win.
Those same people assume the Phillies will hand Dombrowski a blank checkbook and tell him to do his thing. He is known as somebody who likes to acquire big-time talent, regardless of the cost in dollars or prospects.
So, sign the players you need to sign, Dave.
Trade the players and prospects you need to trade.
Go for it.
Except that is not the short-term plan. Dombrowski said as much Friday on a Zoom call with reporters. His words echoed comments from Phillies sources over the past couple of days. The Phillies are expected to reduce their payroll from a franchise-record $203 million in 2020. Dombrowski’s arrival does not change that. How far does the payroll fall? It remains to be seen, but the idea that Dombrowski can re-sign J.T. Realmuto, plus spend big money to fill holes at shortstop as well as in the bullpen, rotation and outfield is unlikely.
Dombrowski will have to strike a balance, but he should give the Phillies a fighting chance to find value at the margins.
“We all want to win, but you also want to do things that you just don’t sacrifice your long term, unless you think you’re a championship-caliber club,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t think from my conversations with anybody, I’m speaking with John [Middleton], speaking with Andy [MacPhail], speaking with Joe Girardi, speaking with Ned [Rice], speaking with Matt [Klentak], and I will speak to many more people, I don’t think anybody thinks like we’re a player away. I mean, we have some holes to plug. How can we do that?”
They can be smarter. They can be better. They can listen to more people, be more open-minded to different opinions and not rely exclusively on analytics.
Dombrowski is known as an “old-school” executive, but it does not mean he is anti-analytics. He should not be. The best teams in baseball use the information provided by their analytics departments. But it should not guide everything, either. It will not be everything to Dombrowski.
“I know you get reputations,” he said. “This is how I try to do it: I tried to equally use scouting and analytics. 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.”
That approach will be a welcome change of pace for many inside the organization. The Phillies’ previous regime talked about striking a balance between modern and traditional approaches, but some outside the analytics department did not feel entirely included in the club's decision making. Indeed, several scouts did not have their contracts renewed after the season, while the analytics department went untouched in a recent round of layoffs.
Besides Middleton, MacPhail, Girardi, Rice and Klentak, Dombrowski said he will start calling everybody in the organization in the coming weeks. He wants to hear what people have to say. He also said he planned to call former general manager Pat Gillick, who is a Phillies senior advisor. No doubt Gillick has opinions on the state of the franchise, and his council was very rarely sought over the past five years.
“Pat’s one of the best baseball men over my timeframe in the game,” Dombrowski said. “I definitely will reach out to him and welcome his feedback with everything. As well as our other advisors, you’ve got Charlie Manuel, Larry Bowa. There’s some impressive people I’ll have a conversation with when the time allows.”
If Dombrowski is committed to that line of thinking, then he already is changing the culture inside the Phillies at a time when it's needed.
“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. But also, we want to win this year. We will do what we can.”