Trying to make sense of a really bad look for Dave Dombrowski

Rob Bradford
August 01, 2019 - 7:43 am

It took until after the midway point of his 25-minute press conference Wednesday afternoon to find the logical talking point.

"This is our group," said Dave Dombrowski, "let's go."

That should have been it. Definitive. Defiant. 

We think this team -- the one I constructed using the highest payroll in baseball -- is good enough to win another World Series. You can have your misguided opinion on a bullpen arm saving the day, and maybe this group of starting pitchers haven't found their rhythm yet, but it will work. You know why? Because we believed it when drawing up the blueprint before the season, and we believe it now!

It would have been logical tone and tenor after 4 p.m. came and went. Instead, the Red Sox president of baseball operations kicked things off with his version of a sad trombone.

"We're battling for a spot," said Dombrowski just more than a few minutes in. "Hopefully we win a division, but I sit here, realistically we're probably playing first for a Wild Card spot. I look at that a little bit differently, as far as what you're willing to do and the risk that you're willing to take. I'm not disappointed, because the ultimate decision is, I don't know that there was a player out there that was trade that we couldn't have acquired, it's just that we didn't like the price that was asked. And I guess the other part of it is to know that as we talked about our farm system over the years, we got asked about a lot of our players that we just didn't want to make moves on."

Ouch.

From the moment that "I look at that a little bit differently, as far as what you're willing to do and the risk that you're willing to take" line was uttered it seemed as though Dombrowski was talking in a circular fashion the rest of the way. Take, for instance, when he was pressed on the trade deadline motivation being altered by the perceived path his team might take when reaching the postseason ...

"We are going for it," he declared. "It’s just you still have to -- every year you go for it as much as you can. ... We’re all in. but the all-in to me is what we have. And if you said, and I'm not going to use players’ names - but if we traded this prospect or that prospect, we could’ve had this player. Well, that could’ve happened but we decided we did not want to do that. And you make those decisions every year."

Huh?

So, are we to believe there are two levels of "all-in," one that is for teams which are contending for the division and the version we're left with now with the Red Sox' postseason hopes riding on a Wild Card berth? Either you are or you aren't. Dombrowski already started his presser saying he wasn't because of the risk that exists with being one-and-done in the Wild Card world. Fine. But it can't be both.

Besides the varying levels of motivation to make a trade, there were other mysteries that surrounded what transpired when it came to how Dombrowski chose to position the Red Sox' heading into the final two months of the regular season.

Sam Dyson. Sergio Romo, Aaron Sanchez. Joe Biagini. Nick Anderson. Daniel Hudson. Mark Melancon. All were relievers who might not be blowing anyone away but probably would have represented the kind of extra bit of certainty the Red Sox could truly use these days. And none of them were going to come at an uncomfortable cost. Would the acquisitions been the ultimate difference-maker for Dombrowski? No. But championship teams are at least somewhat about filling in the gaps, as the Sox did with players like Ian Kinsler and Steve Pearce a year ago. There is undoubtedly a hole (or holes) in this bullpen that need be plugged.

As for the big-ticket item that many anticipated when it came to fixing that relief-pitching problem, Dombrowski was correct in his assessment that for the most part the acquisition costs simply weren't worth it.

"We talked right to the deadline," he said. " Our primary focus was relief pitching, it was our primary focus. Not back end type guys, but the reality of back end guys when we start getting in those conversations, I don't know of any back end -- well Shane Greene is one guy that moved -- back end guys that any of the ones we had on our list really moved. Part of that was the acquisition price. So there were more people that we thought could add another arm to our pen. We tried to do that. We just didn't like the asking price, so we went right to the very end."

About Greene ...

The former Detroit closer was truly the one guy who was moved that could be defined as the kind of game-ender so many thought the Red Sox should be prioritizing. And what did the Braves have to pay? An underachieving former first-round pitcher in Joey Wentz (who carries a 4.72 ERA in 20 Double-A starts this season) and minor-league outfielder named Tyler Demeritte -- also a former first-round pick -- who isn't viewed as a Top 10 guy by anyone.

So why isn't Greene in a Red Sox uniform? Good question. Some in baseball believe that when it comes to dealing with Detroit there was going to be one price for Dombrowski and another for everyone else. That was the perceived case when Arizona got J.D. Martinez for a lesser package than what the Red Sox were offering a few years ago, and a similar line could be drawn in this case. The former Tigers boss did not leave on good terms, and that sting might very well still be lingering. If that isn't the case then it is truly difficult to decipher how and why the Red Sox did not get Greene.

So, now what?

What you should take stock of is what John Henry told WEEI.com a month before. His message wasn't all that dissimilar to what Dombrowski attempted to articulate Wednesday, reminding us that a good team had already been paid for and if that collection of players lived up to their billing a postseason berth should be a foregone conclusion. As the principal owner said:

"It’s not a luxury tax issue, it’s a question of how much money do we want to lose. We’re already over budget and we were substantially over our budget last year and this year. We’re not going to be looking to add a lot of payroll. And it’s hard to imagine fielding a better team. If we play up to our capabilities we’ll be fine. That’s the question: Will we? We’re halfway through and we haven’t.

"It’s a worthy team because we invested. Two years in a row we have the highest payroll. It’s not a matter of investment, it’s a matter of playing well. If we play up to our capabilities we will easily make the playoffs. That’s how I see it."

Sound familiar? A month later Dombrowski was singing the same tune. Evidently, the impression left by that 5-2 stretch against the Rays and Yankees weren't quite enough to offer the kind of optimism that left no room for interpretation a year ago.

Listen, it's understandable that the Sox boss didn't want to overpay. The Yankees' Brian Cashman lived the same life, although his pool of players -- elite starting pitchers -- was a whole lot more shallow than the relief-pitching market the Red Sox diving into. And the reality of this Red Sox team still hinges primarily on a position it had already cast its lot in life, the starting pitching.

But the way Dombrowski initially presented his approach and mindset there was no other way to surmise that he doesn't feel all that confident this team can go where the highest payroll in baseball is expected to go. 

Remember when Alex Cora was asked about having to set his sights on the Wild Card instead of the division? His answer: "Our goal is to win the World Series."

It's a line Dombrowski should have used Wednesday. But he didn't. It was a bad look on a bad day for the Red Sox.