Dave Dombrowski admitted he held a quizzical view of the Philadelphia Phillies in the past.
“They’ve got a big market,” he said. “(A) solid owner that wants to spend money to win. Over the last half-dozen years, you sort of scratch your head and say, ‘I wonder why they’re not winning? What’s happening over there?’ They’ve been close, but they haven’t got it going.”
Dombrowski, one of the most accomplished front office executives in baseball history, is now in position to do something about that.
The Phillies announced Friday they had hired Dombrowski as their first president of baseball operations. His hiring gives some certainty and clarity to a franchise that appeared to be foundering after managing partner John Middleton announced in early October that general manager Matt Klentak was being reassigned.
“I don’t think anybody thinks we’re a player away,” Dombrowski said on a video conference with reporters Friday. “We have some holes to plug. How can we do that? I think only time will tell.”
Dombrowski, 64, takes over a team that comes off a 28-32 record in a pandemic-shortened season. Philadelphia collapsed in each of the past three Septembers. The Phillies haven’t made the playoffs or had a winning season since 2011.
The good news is that Dombrowski said the Phillies need to retool, not rebuild.
“I think there are too many good players on the club,” he said. “We have a star player in right field in Bryce (Harper). Anytime you have three good starting pitchers like we have at the top of the rotation (Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin), you’re in a place to be competitive.”
Dombrowski guided three teams — the Miami Marlins, the Detroit Tigers and the Boston Red Sox — to four World Series appearances. He won the 1997 Series with the Marlins and the 2018 Series with the Red Sox.
The Red Sox parted ways with Dombrowski in September 2019. Dombrowski had more recently been working with a group to bring an expansion team to Nashville, Tennessee. He had rebuffed offers from the Phillies and other teams earlier this fall but became more open to the opportunity to join the Phillies after hearing from baseball that any talk of expansion was being put on hold for 2021 because of COVID-19.
“David Dombrowski is one of the most accomplished executives this great game has ever seen, and we are thrilled to welcome him to Philadelphia,” Phillies managing partner John Middleton said in a prepared statement. “Between David and (manager) Joe Girardi, we now have two of the best people in place to set us on the path back to where we want to be, and that is the postseason and contending for world championships.”
Dombrowski is known for his willingness to sign free agents and trade prospects for established stars. He might take a more patient approach with the Phillies, who need a catcher, a shortstop, more starting pitching depth and a rebuilt bullpen.
Dombrowski also doesn’t expect the Phillies to operate with an infinite budget. The Associated Press reported the Phillies lost $145 million last season. The club has laid off several employees this fall. Dombrowski said he expected the team’s payroll to be less than last season.
“I think we will look at each move in an intelligent fashion and assess from there,” he said. “I know (Middleton) wants to win. We have flexibility of finances, but when I say that, I don’t think it’s an unlimited amount of funds. There’s some type of budget attached to that, and we’ll work within that.”
Dombrowski’s executive career began with the Chicago White Sox in 1978. He might be thought of as old-school executive, but Friday he sounded like someone who blends old and new together. He understands launch angle but likes batters who hit to all fields. He wants the bullpen to have depth and a closer. He likes starting pitchers who throw into the seventh inning.
Of course, the biggest issue confronting the Phillies is whether they will resign free agent catcher J.T. Realmuto.
“Everyone in the organization loves J.T.,” Dombrowski said. “I think there’s a unanimous feeling they’d like to bring him back. A lot of us have dealt with free agent markets in the past — can you get something like that done? I am really not sure.”