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Revising History Won’t Help Us Now

You don’t have to love Dave Dombrowski, but the record speaks for itself.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays
Better times.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, Evan Drellich, who’s as good a baseball reporter as there is, posted a weird tweet as a way of dipping his toe into the Chaim Bloom wars:

The weird part about this tweet is not the second part but the first. As I wrote in a follow-up tweet, the Red Sox won 93, 93, 108 and then a middling 84 games over Dave Dombrowski’s tenure—the final year aside, this is precisely what “a team that could make the World Series every year” looks like.

I understand what Drellich was getting at: Having depleted the farm system, he implies that the Red Sox would no longer have been able to continue to compete for World Series titles under a continued Dombrowski regime. I strongly disagree with this, and I think the evidence supporting it is flimsy at best, regardless of how you think Bloom is doing in “rebuilding” the Red Sox organization.

Bloom’s first major move—the one that likely led to Dombrowski’s departure in his refusal to acquiesce to such an absurd demand—was to trade Mookie Betts for Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong, a disastrous transaction that no two weeks (or, frankly, years) of a scorching-hot Verdugo bat can atone for. Fold the Betts move into the slapdash 2020 season, which was a disaster from head to toe for the Sox, and, looking back, it looks like this cratering was inevitable; e.g., Dombrowski had set the team up for it.

This is bullshit. Trading Betts, who would be the best player on the 2020 World Series-winning Dodgers team, sabotaged the team from the get-go. J.D. Martinez forgetting how to hit, for which neither Dombrowski nor Bloom can even passingly be blamed, was also disastrous. That said, if the Sox were destined to be another 84-win team in a hypothetical full 2020 season, it would fall under the category of a team that could not be expected to make the World Series.

As the 2021 season showed, however, they weren’t that far away. The 2021 team came within two games of accomplishing that goal. A lot of Bloom’s signature moves made this the case, but they couldn’t have gotten there without the foundation Dombrowski built. Of course, the same is true with Dombrowski with respect to Ben Cherington; the fact is, all Red Sox GMs in the Fenway Sports Group era have been pretty good, with Bloom the only on whom the jury is still (necessarily) out.

So I fully reject the implicit premise that the Red Sox couldn’t have competed in 2021 or 2022 (or beyond) under Dombo with a core of Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. The idea that being up against the cap would cause Dombrowski to turn into a corncob and stop making decent transactions is utterly mystifying. Case in point: remember when Bloom got Kyle Schwarber on the cheap last year? Me too. That was rad! About as good a deadline deal as you could make... but then Bloom didn’t re-sign him. You know who did? Dombo! And now Schwarber leads the National League in homers. The price wasn’t right for Boston, but salaries don’t hit homers. Players do. Talent does.

Dombrowski’s eye for talent still works. His approach is more stars and scrubs that Bloom’s ground-up approach, but nothing about the former’s efficiency, even over the long term, has anything to do with the efficiency of the latter. We can tell ourselves that the farm system is the basis for sustained success, and it’s one way to do it, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Bloom’s approach may work and it may not, but Dombrowski’s did, and would have likely continued to work, and no amount of claiming otherwise will make it true.