Friday, December 11, 2020

Beware the Dreaded Dombrowski

As if things aren't tough enough for Mets fans who are still left longing for a real impact free agent signing, now Ken Davidoff of the Post is describing the Phillies' hiring of Dave Dombrowski to run things in the City of Brotherly Love as a "haymaker" delivered right in the schnoz of Steve Cohen's stated mission of winning a title with the Mets. Apparently, fans of the team like myself should now quake in fear of what this hiring means for all of our hopes. So, thanks to Ken Davidoff, Dave Dombrowski joins the long line of boogeymen that the New York media utilizes to beat Mets fans over the head. In his honor, I have included the picture of my favorite fictional Dombrowski, Louis, who I'm pretty sure anyone much short of retirement age will need to Google. You're welcome.

I remember when Dombrowski's name came up as a potential candidate for the Mets PBO job. I didn't think there was much of a chance he would be handed the keys. To be honest, I wouldn't have been in favor of that, despite all of his previous success. This excerpt from Tom Verducci's column in Sports Illustrated on Dombrowski's firing by the Red Sox pretty much says it all in describing the reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for the guy:

 ...the reasons the Red Sox hired Dombrowski no longer existed. What they need now, at least in the vision of owner John Henry, is a process-oriented architect who can steer the franchise efficiently through a difficult transition toward its next championship team. That person was not the 63-year-old Dombrowski.

"Dave was the kind of guy who didn’t have much a process," said one source familiar with the team’s thinking. "He is very good at making decisions right now based on instincts and advice. John likes a more process-oriented approach. And based on where the team is right now–the next couple of years could be rough–they don’t trust him to make those decisions."...

...The farm system, thinned by the trades Dombrowski made, is one of the leanest in baseball.

I've written recently about the Phillies' so-far unsuccessful attempt to tank themselves back into relevance. Dombrowski's forte has been going all in on winning now, not building something sustainable. Dombrowski has won with the Marlins and Red Sox, but the aftermath of his tenure in both places was someone else having to come in and be the architect of the next championship. I'm genuinely curious to see how he proceeds without much of a prospect base from which to make trades.

In many ways, I think the Phillies are in the same place as the Mets, needing to add to their current roster to compete now while trying to fix the deficiencies in their scouting and development to compete going forward. The description from Verducci's article of "a process-oriented architect" seems to be what's required for both franchises. So, essentially, what they are asking Dombrowski is outside of his demonstrated wheelhouse. Can he do it? Maybe. Is he the best guy for the job? Good question.

Either way, my purpose here isn't to trash the Phillies' decision to hire Dave Dombrowski. He's enjoyed enough success in different places to be given the benefit of the doubt. Besides, I'm not a Phillies fan, and I really don't care all that much about who they hire. Whether that executive seems to me to be the right person for the job is immaterial. Going further, I'm not even hoping for Philadelphia to get an incompetent leader, even though that seems counterintuitive for a fan of another team in the same division. I promise that it's not some sort of false bravado.

One of the lessons that I've learned from a lifetime of following this sport is that what your team does is much, much more important than what its competitors do. If your team is well-run and makes mostly smart decisions you're going to have a decent shot at winning, even if the competition in your division is pretty strong. Especially these days, where more than a single playoff team can come out of a division. Moreover, I think better competition makes a team better — both in forcing them to build a better roster in the offseason and getting used to being pushed when they face the best teams in the postseason.

For what it's worth, I look at the run of success the Braves enjoyed in their 14 straight division titles from 1991 to 2005, yet they only have one World Series title to show for those years. Look at their competition for much of that stretch. The Mets were awful most of the time, and when they weren't they always had substantial holes in their roster. The Expos were a dead team walking for many of those years, the Marlins were what they've always been, and the Phillies mostly weren't a real threat. If the rest of the division had been more consistently competitive, the Braves wouldn't have had that streak of division titles, but my bet is that they would have been better prepared for the playoffs.

If the Mets hopes in winning division titles going forward rests on the remainder of the division being mediocre or worse, that's a problem. So, Dave Dombrowski finding some magic to make the Phillies a good team doesn't particularly scare me. Based on what we know about the guy, I'm betting Steve Cohen isn't feeling any heat from this, either, despite what Ken Davidoff believes. You don't get to be a self-made multi-billionaire by worrying what the competition is doing.

It's been, admittedly, a bit frustrating since Cohen and Alderson took over, waiting for that big piece of news — either front office hiring or big free agent signing, even though that's the way the hot stove generally goes. For all of that, I'd rather be a Mets fan right now where we are, rather than a Phillies fan where they are, even with Dave Dombrowski coming on board. I'm not saying things can't work out in their favor, but I like our chances better. It's been a long time since I've felt that way.

Even with the Braves, well-run and stocked with current and future talent, I'm not dismayed over the idea of competing with them head-to-head for the next several years. If Alderson and whoever he brings on do what they need to do, with Steve Cohen providing resources, I don't feel as if Mets fans need to lose a lot of sleep over our chances in competing with them. The reality is still likely that the Braves will be the class of the division for 2021, but going forward I think there's plenty of room for the Mets to have a say in things in 2022 and beyond. I welcome the chance for my team to compete with the best of what the rest of baseball has to offer, with the goal of one day celebrating that elusive championship. The Wilpon regime didn't offer much chance of that from year to year.

Being in a division with other successful clubs isn't a walk in the park. There will be some years where things go their way and not yours. There won't be a lot of coasting to a title, and a couple of lengthy key injuries might force you to go into the postseason as a wild card or, in a really tough year, not making the playoffs at all. But there's something to be said to being battle tested and being pushed by your competition. The main challenge for the Mets will still be from within — building something smart, durable and sustainable. If the can do this, I think we'll be pretty happy most years no matter what the competition does.

Thanks for spending some time here with us today. Please stay safe, be well and take care.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos


  1. I tend to agree with you Mike, although I admit I have more negative feelings about the Phillies than you. I actually do find some joy in their losing ways.

    I have read the same thing about Dombrowski and his approach to building a team. The issue I see with the Phillies is that they have way too many holes to fix to become a contender in 2021. Their pitching staff is in disarray after Nola and Wheeler - right thru the bullpen, and other than Harper, maybe Bohm, and perhaps Hoskins, they need help pretty much everywhere. And when you see the press that they have lost as much money as they did last year, you wonder how they can move forward at all?

    I think if the Mets can fill three (maybe four) holes, they are set up to challenge the Braves for at least a couple years. Centerfield, catcher, one strong starter, and perhaps another starter and they are as good on paper as anyone. Third base may need to be addressed, but you could do worse than Davis.

    The Braves seem to always turn up a lot of good fortune. While I cannot deny the depth of their organization pitching, they got a lot more than they could hope for from Donaldson in 2019 and Ozuna in 2020. Perhaps one year contracts is the way to incent guys .. seems to have worked for them. They do have a strong core with Freeman, Acuna, and Albies, as well as Swanson, but they have some holes as well. Will they have another find like the two aforementioned for next year?

    Perhaps not quite on topic, but I have not heard anyone mention anywhere that if the Mets had swept the last 3 games of 2020 from the Nats, they would have been in the playoffs. With the atrocious back end of the staff (anybody not named deGrom or Peterson), horrible baserunning, horrible situational hitting that kind of defined the year, they were still in the thick of it. A few tweaks and improvements to the staff and they'll be a fine team.

    Sorry about the 'stream of consciousness' comment - it is Friday evening :-)

  2. I don't have any great love for Philly fans. I remember the gloating in 2007 and 08. Still, I can't help but put myself in their place on this one. The frustration of watching your team being run by idiots is all too familiar.

    The Braves have enjoyed some good fortune, but they also do a great job in scouting and development. I think it's all to the good that the Mets will need to up their game in those areas to compete and then surpass them.

    Great comment, as always. Thanks


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