It’s been said a thousand times, 900 of those times by me, but this Red Sox season has been a complete team effort that has extended from the top down. From the executives to the coaches to the stars to the role players to the Quad-A guys, everyone fell in line. Insofar as one person can carry the narrative for the season, Alex Cora will probably be that guy. That’s well-deserved, too. As a first-year manager, his ability to connect to the team right away, his ability to communicate his intentions so well, his ability to handle this tough media atmosphere with ease, not to mention his actual on-the-field managing, it was all incredible to watch. He’s earned every bit of praise in print, audio and visual media that he’s going to get over the next few months and beyond. The Red Sox are very lucky to have him, and hopefully will for a long, long time.
My one concern with Cora getting so much praise — and, again, it’s beyond deserved! — is that it will overshadow the job that Dave Dombrowski has done for this team. We’re long past the point of front office executives not getting their due, but there’s only so much page space to go around. Cora was the story of immediate success, flourishing with his first test. For Dombrowski, it was a story of redemption, putting a decades-plus worth of narratives behind him and emerging as a champion. And for as great as Cora managed and as much as he put this team in the best position to succeed, ultimately the talent on the field is the one who does the job. The talent did the job, and it was Dombrowski who took the talent and put the puzzle together.
We know the narratives with Dombrowski, and we knew them before he even joined the Red Sox. He can build great regular season teams, and he did it year after year with the Tigers. His rosters just don’t come together in the postseason. They come up short, and they always will. The biggest reason? Dombrowski simply cannot build a bullpen. He’s obsessed with big arms and ignores actual pitchers, and it’s to the detriment to the team. At some point every October, a Dombrowski bullpen will cost his team the series. At least that first part continued with the Red Sox in his first two full seasons, and the narrative was only building.
Now, it’s over. This wasn’t Dombrowski’s first World Series — he presided over the 1997 World Series-winning Marlins and much of his work led to the 2003 championship in Miami as well — but it had been over 20 years. That’s an eternity in baseball, and you could tell that was the case by Dombrowski’s reaction to the final out. The Red Sox President of Baseball Operations was incredibly emotional, and it showed just how badly he wanted this.
He obviously deserves this victory lap, in no small part as a victory lap for all of the great teams he’s built over the last 20 years that have come up short. And, ya know, the team that didn’t. Dombrowski doesn’t get full credit for this roster, of course. Ben Cherington’s and even Theo Epstein’s fingerprints are still all over this roster, and Boston doesn’t get where they are without those guys. But Dombrowski took the pieces in place and made the optimal decisions to get this done.
His trades were, by and large, perfect. The Travis Shaw/Tyler Thornburg deal notwithstanding, Dombrowski got what he wanted and more out of every deal. For this season in particular, his trade deadline acquisitions of Steve Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi will go down in Boston sports lore for the rest of time. Even if Santiago Espinal and Jalen Beeks blossom into stars — and, while I wouldn’t predict that I am relatively high on Beeks’ future — these trades worked out perfectly. That doesn’t even include Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel, who are decent, and previous trade deadline acquisitions like Brad Ziegler. Dombrowski is a trade genius. It also doesn’t include the pieces he didn’t trade, including both Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi. Dombo is always known for trading his prospects, but the guys he kept were just as important.
Really, though, the story of Dombrowski simply one of going all-in, particularly in this age of long rebuilds and building from within. Again, the young core built by Cherington was a massive part of this success, but Dombrowski put the pedal to the metal when most everyone wasn’t. This past offseason took that attitude to the extreme around the league, and the Red Sox made one of the few big signings by bringing in J.D. Martinez. That worked out, I’d say. (One of the only other teams to go all-in this winter was Milwaukee, who was one of the final four clubs.)
Then, there’s the bullpen. If Dombrowski wanted to take a victory lap — there’s no indication he does, but I’m here for it if he changes his mind — this is where the focus should be. All of his life (or, ya know, the last decade-plus) he’s had to hear about his bullpens, and the cries were loud this summer. That includes from us! It was unbelievable he didn’t acquire any help. Well, it worked. His guys — Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly and Ryan Brasier — stepped up and his manager used his rotation in relief and the late-inning pitching won them a damn World Series.
Dombrowski has dealt with criticisms for years, and at this point he’s probably used to it. There will always be critics of his style, too, and those who will point to the core that was already in place when he got here. It’s all fair. Dombrowski isn’t afraid to make the big move to put a team over the top, even if it will lead to massive criticism if/when it doesn’t work out. Most of the time, just because of the nature of the sport, it’s not going to work out. But if he’s going to get that loud of criticism when it doesn’t, he sure as hell deserves a ton of praise when it finally does.