BOSTON — Dave Dombrowski is considered by many a “good baseball man.” However, it doesn’t take a “good baseball man” to figure out what his No. 1 priority will be upon joining the Red Sox.
Dombrowksi was introduced Wednesday as the team’s president of baseball operations. Dombrowski will hit the ground running, eventually hiring a general manager, as he gets a stronger feel for what he’s dealing with in Boston.
Of course, the biggest issue is blatantly clear. Much of Dombrowski’s Boston tenure will be defined by what he’s able — or unable — to do with Boston’s pitching woes. The Red Sox remain at or near the bottom of Major League Baseball in almost every meaningful pitching statistic. They’re 28th in ERA, making last season’s 23rd ranking seem good by comparison. They’re 26th in WHIP, down from 22nd last season.
“I guess we need to find some better pitching is what it comes down to,” Dombrowski said Wednesday at Fenway Park, stating the obvious.
The Red Sox rotation has been a revolving door. Boston traded away arguably its two best pitchers at the deadline last season — Jon Lester and John Lackey — and ultimately failed to re-sign the former in the offseason. Re-signing Lester, of course, would have given the Red Sox a true No. 1 at the top of the rotation. Instead, they opted to compile a rotation of middle- or back-of-the-rotation guys, and the results speak for themselves.
The Dombrowski hiring could signal a shift in that thinking, though. Dombrowski admitted Wednesday he would like to add some a top-of-the-rotation talent as part of his overhaul.
“Normally, if you’re going to have a world championship club, you need to have the No. 1 type of guy,” he said. “Normally, that’s the case. But again, when we talk about flexibility and building the roster, it doesn’t mean that you might have more middle-of-the rotation guys if your bullpen is extremely good. Ideally, you want to have a top-of-the-rotation guy as you go forward.”
Since Dombrowski brought it up, it should be noted the bullpen needs work, too. Sox relievers are 25th in the league in bullpen ERA and have the third-worst batting average against. That unit will probably need an overhaul, too, considering the closer, Koji Uehara, turns 41 the day before the club’s 2016 season opener.
How the Red Sox go about fixing these issues under Dombrowski will be fascinating to watch. We’ve got an idea what kind of players Dombrowski might be targeting. He admitted Wednesday he “loves” power pitching and his track record, especially in Detroit, supports that notion. The Tigers consistently were one of the American League’s best clubs under Dombrowski with big-armed starters like Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez toeing the rubber over the years.
Finding pitchers like that is easier said than done. Dombrowski gushed about Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, calling him a potential No. 1 starter. After that, though, there are questions, and there will need to be external options. That’s where another clash of theories between Dombrowski and ownership might play out. The Tigers were in “win now” mode during Dombrowski’s tenure. That led to big-money contracts for big-name players. Those contracts now, however, look like burdens moving forward. Conversely, the Red Sox have gotten away from doling out big contracts to players nearing the end of their primes, the greatest example being the tendency to shy away from starting pitchers in their 30s, like Lester.
“We all know the free agency route has its pluses and minuses,” Dombrowski said. “We know when guys reach a certain age, and there are exceptions, that a lot of times you have production up here and they start to decline. … I think in general, philosophically, we all know that. When those times come up, we’ll discuss them and see some guys age better than others, some guys have better deliveries. But there are no certainties when it comes to the pitching when it comes to the long term.”
He’s got one thing right: There are no certainties when it comes to pitching. However, it’s now Dombrowski’s chief job to ensure the Red Sox can at least get some consistency on the mound moving forward.
Thumbnail photo via Charles Krupa/The Associated Press