Tomase: Dave Dombrowski gave John Henry a choice, and the result was a World Series title

John Tomase
November 01, 2018 - 12:00 pm

USA Today Sports


Dave Dombrowski’s suite was a whirlwind of activity at the 2016 Winter Meetings as the clock ticked on a potential blockbuster.

The Red Sox had an opportunity to acquire White Sox ace Chris Sale, but the cost would be steep, starting with top prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. Dombrowski reached out to owners John Henry and Tom Werner with a question:

“Would you like to win a championship now and trade the young players?” Dombrowski recalls asking.

Henry’s answer was no. He wanted to maintain the slow build. Werner erred on the side of the known commodity and favored pulling the trigger on Sale.

“But you know what?” Henry told Dombrowski. “It’s your decision,”

Not even two years later, it’s hard to argue with the results. The Red Sox hired Dombrowski to accelerate their title aspirations after the methodical tenure of predecessor Ben Cherington, who built a behemoth of a farm system that Dombrowski promptly gutted to acquire the veteran talent that brought Boston a World Series championship and franchise-record 108-win season.

Dombrowski may have been undertaking a dangerous dance – the window will start closing on this group in the next couple of years as Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley reach free agency – but the ends justified the means. Whatever the current state of the Red Sox farm system, it hardly matters, because Dombrowski delivered a title.

“I’m fortunate,” Dombrowski said on the field after beating the Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series. “It’s the young players that were left by the other people, Mike Hazen, Ben Cherington, Amiel Sawdaye, you tip our cap to all of them. When you win like that throughout the league, it starts at the top and that’s ownership. They want to win, they’re willing to spend, and they have the wherewithal to do it.”

While it’s true that Dombrowski traded a number of the team’s top prospects, he was also smart about whom he kept – he memorably refused to include third baseman Rafael Devers in the Sale deal – and he used his farm system to acquire impact talent.

Sale, closer Craig Kimbrel, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, second baseman Ian Kinsler, infielder Eduardo Nunez, and first baseman Steve Pearce were each acquired for prospects, and all of them helped bring Henry’s ownership group its fourth World Series trophy.

“Look at the job Dave Dombrowski did,” said owner John Henry. “Steve Pearce. Nathan, right? Nate Eovaldi came in. And we're set up for next year. Could we be better set up for next year?”

Dombrowski endured his share of criticism for pillaging the farm system. Did he have to trade four players to get Kimbrel? Could he have acquired Eovaldi for something less than promising left-hander Jalen Beeks?

But Dombrowski has always acted aggressively when he targets a player, and much like David Price will never answer another question about his postseason failures, Dombrowski can’t reasonably be criticized for choosing present over future. Not when the present involves raising another banner.

Besides which, Dombrowski likes to note that not only is the core of the team young – Betts and Bogaerts just turned 26, Andrew Benintendi is 25, and Devers only 22 – but the farm system is being replenished.

“I know people think we don’t have much going in the minors,” Dombrowski said. “Our minor league system is getting better, because we’ve been focused on adding guys and they’re going to start to get to Double-A this year. So you’re focused on doing both things, and we’ve got a lot of good young players on this team, too.”

With two years remaining on his contract, at the very least Dombrowski will see the Red Sox through the next two seasons, which should once again be championship-caliber. He’s looking forward to coming to spring training to oversee an intact champion, which will be a first for him – weeks after his Marlins won it all in 1997, Dombrowski traded veterans Moises Alou, Devon White, Robb Nen, Jeff Conine, and Kevin Brown.

“The one thing I haven’t ever done is go into spring training as the world champion with our club,” Dombrowski said. This will be the first time I’ve experienced that. There’s something special about not only winning a championship, but being in a position -- and who knows what ends up happening -- where you can defend that title and go to spring training with those same guys. That’s a new emotion and feeling for me.”

Whatever Dombrowski’s feeling at the moment, it’s fair to say he earned it.