BOSTON -- Just like that, the Dave Dombrowski era is over in Boston. It was certainly memorable, with three consecutive American League East titles and a 2018 World Series championship.
Dombrowski, dismissed as president of baseball operations in the early hours of Monday morning, did what ownership brought him in to do -- build around the team’s core of young stars (led by Mookie Betts) and build a champion. Going back to his days as general manager of the Marlins and Tigers, Dombrowski has always been known for big splashes, and he did more of the same in Boston, such as when he signed left-hander David Price and designated hitter J.D. Martinez and made blockbuster trades for closer Craig Kimbrel and ace Chris Sale.
But the Red Sox have decided a new leader is needed for the next phase, which will better balance short- and long-term sustainability. So from that standpoint, the narrative you’re hearing today in some circles -- “They just won the World Series last year!” -- is missing the point.
With all of that in mind, here are five players on the current roster who could be most impacted by Dombrowski’s departure.
Mookie Betts, OF, age 26
The winner of the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2018 is having another strong season (.914 OPS, 27 homers), if not as spectacular as the one he had a year ago. Betts has resisted any overtures from the Red Sox to explore a long-term deal. Instead, he has maintained that he wants to test free-agent waters after the 2020 season.
Dombrowski’s successor is confronted with the following decision this offseason: Trade Betts, perhaps for a prospect haul, or try to win another World Series with him and risk losing him for just Draft compensation.
Given Dombrowski’s win-now philosophy, the team might have been less likely to part with its star outfielder if he had stayed. Things could get interesting with Betts, who has emphasized multiple times in recent weeks that he loves Boston and his decision will be “strictly business.” Perhaps a new leader of baseball operations will be better able to persuade Betts to make a long-term commitment to Boston.
J.D. Martinez, DH, age 32
The right-handed-hitting masher has been closely linked to Dombrowski through the years. It was Dombrowski who signed Martinez to the Tigers after the Astros released him a few days ahead of Opening Day 2014. It was Dombrowski who brought Martinez to the Red Sox as a free agent following his monster '17 season.
Now, Martinez is at another crossroads, as he has an opt-out clause in his contract this offseason. This time, Dombrowski won’t be around to help retain Martinez. The reason this could be a factor is that Dombrowski has always had an excellent working relationship with agent Scott Boras, who represents Martinez. Given the slow pace of the free-agent market the last two offseasons -- and the fact that he’s probably an AL-only player -- there’s a chance Martinez could decide not to opt out. After all, he has another one after the 2020 season. But stay tuned. Martinez’s future is a big issue, considering how impactful his presence is in the middle of Boston’s lineup.
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF, age 29
One thing Dombrowski has always placed a high value on throughout his career is a center fielder who plays elite defense. Bradley has certainly filled that category, though his bat continues to be an enigma. Bradley entered Monday’s game with a .730 OPS and a .219 average, his third straight season of below-average offensive production, based on OPS+. Like Betts, Bradley is eligible for free agency after the 2020 season. If Dombrowski’s successor doesn’t place such a big priority on outfield defense, Bradley could get traded or even non-tendered. The latter would be a stunner, but Bradley will likely make close to $10 million in his final year of arbitration, and if the club is committed to staying under the luxury tax, it could probably replicate his production for a bit less.
Dombrowski’s detractors might say that Bradley should have been traded following last season, when his value was raised by being named the MVP of the AL Championship Series. His supporters might say that it was worth seeing if Bradley was at last ready to reach his potential as a hitter over a full season. One thing to keep in mind is the Red Sox have two other players on their roster who can play center in Betts and Andrew Benintendi.
David Price, LHP, age 34
The first huge move Dombrowski made with the Red Sox was signing Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract prior to the 2016 season. The lefty has had ups and downs with his performance and his health, with the latter usually having a direct impact on the former. But he came up big in the ALCS and World Series last fall, and Boston probably wouldn’t have won it all without him. One of the reasons Dombrowski went all in for Price is because of the relationship the two had built together after Dombrowski (then still with the Tigers) made one of his patented blockbuster deals and acquired Price at the '14 Trade Deadline.
Might a new executive with no personal ties to Price be more inclined to try to trade him? Obviously no team is going to take the balance of Price’s contract. He is owed $32 million in each of the next three seasons. But if the Red Sox were willing to absorb a good bit of the money, would it be worth trading Price for the type of prospects who could bolster the farm system? It might be something the club explores. Price, who is currently coming back from a left wrist injury, has made fewer than 25 starts in two of the last three seasons.
Rafael Devers, 3B, age 22
If the Red Sox part with some of their other big-ticket items under their revamped front office, the player who could benefit directly is Devers, who is having a breakout season. Though Betts has made it clear he doesn’t want to discuss a long-term extension before free agency, Devers might feel differently about the situation. It is worth exploring a long-term extension with Devers now, before his value skyrockets even further.
Devers won’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2020 season, and he might want to cash in on his breakout campaign sooner rather than later. We’ve recently seen a number of young stars sign big extensions well in advance of arbitration, notably Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies of the Braves last offseason, and Devers would fit that mold. In April, Boston and Xander Bogaerts agreed to a six-year, $120 million extension, and a long-term deal for Devers could signify that he and Bogaerts are the cornerstones the club will now build around.