Dave Dombrowski has made it clear: on his Red Sox, a player's contract should have no impact on whether or not they see regular at bats. Speaking to WEEI on Tuesday, Dombrowkski turned to a quote from former Tigers manager Jim Leyland to make his stance clear:
"It's funny, Jim Leyland would always say, ‘A player's contract big contract would guarantee them one thing, that they had a bigger check to bring home every two weeks. It doesn't guarantee them anything else other than that.' Normally, you hope there is a correlation between the two."
"I thought it was important, because I'm new here, that that was my philosophy, and our philosophy as an organization, that I had a chance to visit with [principal owner] John Henry and [chairman] Tom Werner and know they supported that."
For Dombrowski, this should be a particularly easy year to push manager John Farrell to follow that maxim. After all, they're mostly not Dave Dombrowski's contracts. The players this would seem to be important for--Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rusney Castillo, and Rick Porcello the most obvious of the bunch--are all attributed to Ben Cherington, Dombrowski's successor (in function if not title). Dombrowski's payroll may be saddled with them, mistakes or not, but his reputation and ego aren't tied in at all, which makes it easier to push them to the side if they don't perform.
That being said, that line--"Normally, you hope there is a correlation between the two"--is why contracts kind of should have some impact on playing time. Because nobody is intentionally giving out $20 million a year to Allen Webster. If a player lands a big contract, it's because, at the time, they were deemed to be worth that much. That valuation may fluctuate from team to team, but you're not really going to see players signed to nine-digit contracts when their career-to-date suggests they're actually only worth seven.
And for the Red Sox, the players who this would impact are not so far removed from those signing dates as to invalidate their pasts. Ramirez, Sandoval, Castillo, and Porcello are coming off of one bad year a piece. This time last year, the same was true for Xander Bogaerts. In 2013, that could be said of Jon Lester. While any given fan may take issue with Cherington's valuation of any member of that quartet, they weren't so far off base as to not be deserving of a second chance, in much the same way
So while contracts shouldn't dictate playing time, the skills and results that led to those contracts should. At least to start. If things keep going south, it'll be time to re-evaluate, as the past can only hold out so long against a disappointing present.
Best to just avoid this whole problem in the first place, though. Only pay the good ones, Dave. We can hope, right?