Dombrowski Out?

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T15D23
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Dombrowski Out?

Postby T15D23 » Sat Sep 07, 2019 10:10 pm

Dombrowski’s status a hot topic; my thoughts on Manager of the Year; home runs and more home runs
Ken Rosenthal

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On Aug. 6, longtime columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote in The Boston Globe, “I’ll be shocked if Dave Dombrowski is back with the Red Sox next season.” Dombrowski is under contract through 2020, but his status is a hot topic around baseball. Which raises the question: If the Sox replace him, what will be the expectation for their next top executive?

The way Sox ownership operates, back-to-back World Series titles would figure to be the new standard. Evidently, one championship is no longer enough.

The team’s hiring of Dombrowski in August 2015 prompted the resignation of general manager Ben Cherington less than two years after Cherington won a title. The removal of Dombrowski after this season would be even quicker – the Sox beat the Dodgers in the 2018 Series, remember? Oh, and almost forgot: The team, in its first three seasons under Dombrowski, won the AL East three times.

The current season is not going nearly as well. The Sox – 16 1/2 games out in the AL East and 6 1/2 back in the wild-card race – are almost down to their last breath before their postseason chances expire. And a number of Dombrowski’s signings – most notably left-hander Chris Sale, but also righty Nathan Eovaldi and even bench bat Steve Pearce – have produced poor short-term results.

The Sox owners, of course, can do what they want. They might have perfectly valid reasons to move on from Dombrowski that are not yet known. But if they’re frustrated with Dombrowski’s spending and his use of prospects as trade fodder, well, what exactly did they think they were getting? Dombrowski hasn’t broken from character in Boston, has never disguised his M.O.

If the Sox make a change, some highly regarded executive will jump at the opportunity – it’s Boston, and the chance to steer a historic franchise. But the Sox are about to begin a treacherous offseason. How will they repair their pitching? What if J.D. Martinez opts out? What if Mookie Betts declines to sign long-term, forcing the team to consider trading him rather than get only a draft pick as compensation if he departs as a free agent after next season?

In 2016, Baseball America ranked the Sox farm system as the fourth-best in the game, even after Dombrowski traded four prospects for closer Craig Kimbrel in one of his first major moves. That ranking subsequently dropped to 14th, then 23rd, then 30th entering this season. It since has risen to 22nd in BA’s midseason update, in part because Dombrowski did not trade any major prospects in July.

If ownership wants to rebuild, then Dombrowski probably is not the right choice going forward. But it’s doubtful John Henry and Co. even have an appetite to rebuild, let alone a tolerance for, say, back-to-back third-place finishes. So again, good luck to the next head of baseball operations, who will need to replenish the system, navigate the luxury-tax payroll and keep the team elite while competing in one of the game’s toughest divisions.

No problem!

Manager of the Year: Who ya got?

Years ago, a general manager ribbed me about the voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America for Manager of the Year awards.

When a baseball person starts a conversation with, “you guys,” putting us all under one damning umbrella, you know you’re about to hear it.

“You guys predict which teams are supposed to win at the start of the season,” the GM said. “And then when a team exceeds your expectations, it must be because they’ve got the Manager of the Year. What other explanation could there possibly be for you guys getting it wrong?”

I couldn’t argue – the Manager of the Year vote often is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy in reverse, and always the most subjective of the major awards. This year’s races, as always, are quite interesting. I’ve got some thoughts, and I am happy to inform the above GM (who is still a GM) that not all of them are sinister.

In the AL, the Yankees’ ability to overcome numerous injuries makes Aaron Boone a strong candidate, but managers of teams with $200 million payrolls do not always receive much support in the voting (and yes, we know, Boone’s lineups often were of the Straight Outta Scranton/Wilkes-Barre variety).

The Twins’ Rocco Baldelli, in his first season, also will merit consideration, but some voters might not consider the AL Central to be especially competitive. So, this race might come down to the Rays’ Kevin Cash, the Athletics’ Bob Melvin or the Indians’ Terry Francona, three managers vying for two wild cards, all with injury-depleted rosters and far lower payrolls than the Yankees’.

Get this – if Melvin prevails, he will become both a repeat winner and four-time winner, matching Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa for the most since the inception of the award in 1983. Francona is a two-time winner (no, he never won with the Red Sox) and Cash has yet to win the award.

In the NL, the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts probably will be viewed the same way as Boone and the Astros’ A.J. Hinch are in the AL, cursed by managing a team too good (and too expensive). The Braves’ Brian Snitker could repeat if his club runs away with a division that was expected to be highly competitive. The Nationals’ Dave Martinez might get some votes for rallying his club from a 19-31 start. The Diamondbacks’ Torey Lovullo warrants at least a mention after what his team lost in free agency and trades. But if the Cardinals win the Central, Mike Shildt might be the most deserving of all.

After taking a 44-44 record into the All-Star break, the Cardinals have gone 35-17 since to seize control of the division. Errors are not an end-all, be-all defensive statistic, but it says something that the Cardinals have committed the fewest in the majors after making the most a year ago, when Shildt took over with one game left before the break. As The Athletic’s Bernie Miklasz points out, they are greater than the sum of their parts.

Rocket balls continue to launch

In case you missed it, the switch to the major-league ball at Triple A this season resulted in 2,097 more home runs than in 2018, a whopping increase of 57.4 percent. The projected major-league increase from last season is not quite as extreme – about 1,200 homers, a jump of 22 percent – but it’s quite significant nonetheless.

I wrote in June that the sport needs to deaden the ball simply to get back to normal. My fear, then and now, is that home runs are losing their meaning, their ability to connect the game today with the game of yesterday. And oh, it’s not just pitchers such as Justin Verlander who believe the ball is, “a f—— joke.” Every time I’m in a park, managers and coaches bemoan the state of the game – the disappearance of fundamentals, the dominance of the three true outcomes and, of course, the rocket balls.

MLB is awaiting its latest study on the composition of the ball – commissioner Rob Manfred can’t exactly tell scientists to pick up their pace of play. But even if the study echoes the verdict of The Athletic’s chief justice, Jayson Stark – that the ball is on, uh, a serious bender, baseball must determine how much of the increase in homers is attributable to the ball, and how much is attributable to the way the game is being played in the launch-angle era.

Gee, let’s take a guess. The flyball rate has barely increased – so much for the launch-angle theory – but the home runs to flyballs has spiked to the point where approximately one of every 6.5 flyballs is a homer. Combine that with a soaring hard-hit percentage, and the evidence of the ball’s culpability is fairly clear.

The balls are sewn by hand, so variances naturally will occur from year to year. Within a certain range, such variances are acceptable. And if the manufacturing process, for whatever reason, cannot be improved, baseball can attack the problem from a different angle, installing humidors in every park and tweaking them accordingly to achieve more consistent results.

Ultimately, baseball must decide: What does it want the game to be? Does it want nightly home-run derbies across North America, or something closer to the way the game looked not long ago?
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T15D23

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