Dombrowski has proven conclusively that he knows how to build a winner. All it takes is experience, intelligence, and ownership with deep pockets and an unquenchable thirst for a trophy. What he hasn't figured out is how to sustain that winning.
Are you the gambling type? You know, the kind of person who gets a kick out of wagering a few shekels now and then? You are? Well, I have a great tip for you. Ya wanna hear it? Okay, lean in a little closer, I'll whisper because we don't want to let the word get out; it might drive down the odds. Alright, put all your money -- yes, all of it -- on the following trifecta:
1) By 2023, give or take a season, the Philadelphia Phillies will have an absolutely terrific team, they'll be favored to win the World Series;
2) By 2025, give or take a season, the Phillies will be gasping for air at or near the bottom of the National League East; and
3) Dave Dombrowski will be available in the job market -- again.
If the past is prologue, and it usually is, this is the closest thing to a sure-fire bet since Rudy Giuliani announced that he had irrefutable evidence that would overturn the results of -- wait a minute -- strike that. Anyhow, your trifecta bet can't miss.
The Phillies recently named Dombrowski as their new president of baseball operations. There is no doubt that he knows how to build winning teams -- but it comes at a price.
In 2013, he had built the Detroit Tigers into a baseball juggernaut. Their starting rotation was anchored by two hall of famers-to-be, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer; they were joined in the rotation by Rick Porcello, who, in a few years would win a Cy Young Award while pitching for the Red Sox. The Tigers' fearsome batting lineup featured Miguel Cabrera, the 2012 Triple Crown winner and possessor of three batting championships in a row; right behind him were hitters such as Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter, and Prince Fielder. They had been to the American League Championship Series for three straight years and made it all the way to the World Series in 2012. They were favored to win it all in '13.
First, though, they had to get by the Red Sox, who were very good that year but didn't compare to the Tigers on paper. The Sox in 2013 had two things going for them, though -- they had great team chemistry, and they got red hot at the perfect time of year: October. A hot team on cold nights is an unbeatable combination. They upset the vaunted Tigers in six games in the ALCS and went on to win the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Detroit's time to shine would soon be a memory. Within a few short years, they were just a shell of their former selves. Scherzer was off to the Washington Nationals and later Verlander would become a Houston Astro. Porcello was traded to Boston. Cabrera was still a Tiger but with rapidly diminishing skills, and Dombrowski had signed him to a huge contract that was impossible to move. Prince Fielder got shipped to Texas, Hunter retired and Martinez wasn't far behind. By 2015, the Tigers, the former scourge of the American League Central, had quickly sunk to being its bottom feeders. And there was one other change, Dave Dombrowski was let go and was looking for a new job.
He didn't have to look for very long; in fact, the job came looking for him. The Red Sox had followed their unlikely championship of 2013 with last-place finishes in the AL East in '14 and '15. The Sox didn't like living in that neighborhood and, late in 2015, they recruited Dombrowski to get them out of it. His mandate as Boston's president of baseball operations was to win the Sox another championship and to do it in a hurry. The team already had a strong core with Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts at its center and a farm system that was rich in prospects. Dombrowski, unhampered by budgetary restrictions, quickly committed $217 million dollars (not his money, but belonging to John Henry and friends) to sign pitcher David Price; he then shipped four prospects to San Diego for ace closer Craig Kimbrel. The following off-season, he sent four more blue-ribbon prospects to the White Sox for southpaw Chris Sale. He followed that by signing designated hitter J. D. Martinez for $110 million. The result was that in 2018 the Red Sox blew the doors off all opposition on their way to another World Series victory. All was well in Red Sox Nation.
Then the bills came due. Faced with draconian luxury tax penalties, a grossly obese payroll, and a farm system stripped bare of prospects, the Red Sox parted ways with Dombrowski, then they traded away their best player: Betts. In 2020, they were back in the cellar of the AL East. It was the same nosedive that the Tigers had taken just a few years before.
Dombrowski has proven conclusively that he knows how to build a winner. All it takes is experience, intelligence, and ownership with deep pockets and an unquenchable thirst for a trophy. What he hasn't figured out is how to sustain that winning. Come to think of it, neither has anyone else for the last two decades. The last team to repeat as champion was the Yankees, who had a three-peat from 1998-2000.
Now, the Phillies have signed on to the Dombrowski roller coaster. It won't be dull, and when it's over there's a good chance they'll have been to the top of the hill and then fallen into the dumpster -- and that Dave Dombrowski will be looking for another job.
Fasten your seatbelts, Phillies fans, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Meanwhile, your trifecta bet is looking better than ever. If, by some quirk of fate, it turns out to be a loser, don't feel too bad. Rudy Giuliani's sure thing didn't turn out to be such a sure thing, either. It's not for lack of trying, though. If Tommy Lasorda bleeds Dodger blue, then Rudy bleeds hair dye brown.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.
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