The Phillies made the hiring of decorated executive Dave Dombrowski as the new club president official on Friday. On his extensive resume, Dombrowski boasts World Series rings with the Marlins (1997) and Red Sox (2018) while also having built a near-perennial contender with the Tigers (winning the pennant in 2006 and 2012).
He now takes over the Phillies, who went through a rebuild but have recently been unable to turn the corner, going 80-82 in 2018, 81-81 in 2019 and 28-32 last season.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from Dombrowski's virtual and relatively brief introductory press conference.
1. Don't say rebuild
Dombrowski made sure to stress that there wouldn't be a rebuilding effort in Philly, but he instead used the word "retool." He's done both, succeeding with a rebuild -- and later a retool -- in Detroit while also retooling the Red Sox for an all-time great 2018 team.
As noted, the Phillies potential turn after a period of rebuild has stalled with them hovering as a mediocre, non-playoff team the last three seasons. There is too much talent on the roster to justify a sell-off and with the climate around baseball regarding how few teams want to take on salary, they couldn't unload much even if they wanted to.
That means the retool of which Dombrowski speaks will come around the core of Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen et al.
2. Realmuto still a question; payroll going down
Noticeably absent there in mentioning the core was All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto. He's sitting right now as a free agent who would be an excellent fit with the Phillies and, really, just about any team wanting to contend in 2021. The problem is the unknown. In general, few have a grip on the COVID-19 fallout both from 2020 and 2021 on spending moving forward. Dombrowski himself said as much on the call (via David Lennon), "I don't think anybody knows where this free-agent market is going."
On the Phillies specifically, no, Dombrowski doesn't yet know exactly where they will be. He does, however, know it will be less than what the full-season payroll of 2020 was set to be. He said as much on the call.
Now, the full-season payroll last year would've been roughly $207 million and baseball-reference.com estimates right now the Phils are set for somewhere in the ballpark of $138 million for 2021. In theory, that should be enough to bring Realmuto back. Dombrowski also expressed that there is desire to retain Realmuto, so it's possible.
We also don't know how much payroll the team is looking to shed and there are additions needed elsewhere to improve the ballclub.
Taking these top two bullet points together, it appears the task in front of the new Phillies prez is to balance lowering payroll while also trying to keep the major players on the nucleus together and building around them with outside additions. Oh, and then open a multi-season window of contention.
3. A note on expansion
Many were surprised the Phillies were able to land Dombrowski because he had previously stated he wasn't interested in an MLB job other than with a potential expansion team in Nashville. He was working with Music City Baseball and committed to making it happen. Given that he'd already won two World Series rings, many took him at his word. So what changed?
Dombrowski said that he learned MLB wasn't even going to listen to expansion proposals for the 2021 season (via Tyler Kepner), meaning he didn't really have much to do in the short term.
On that note, Music City Baseball released the following statement following the Phillies hire of Dombrowski:
"Music City Baseball is proud for our advisor, Dave Dombrowski as he joins the Philadelphia Phillies as the President of Baseball Operations. We are pleased that Dave will maintain his advisory role with Music City Baseball as we strive to bring an expansion or relocating MLB franchise to Nashville.
Music City Baseball has recently learned that, due to COVID-19's significant impact on baseball and all sports, our request to MLB to secure a franchise is likely delayed for at least one year while we continue to move forward with other priorities. In this unprecedented environment, these understandable delays may change our timing in securing a team, but not our unwavering effort to bring Major League Baseball to Nashville. The momentum behind Music City Baseball is escalating and our strategy is long-term. So, although our timeline for MLB in Nashville may be delayed due to issues beyond our control, we are progressing toward securing a team for our great city. Dave Dombrowski, as one of the country's leading MLB professionals, will continue to advise us and will be important to our effort."
While the focus here is specific to Nashville, it can be applied broadly to any cities (Portland, Las Vegas, Montreal, etc.) in hopes of landing an expansion MLB team any time soon. Tom Petty once said The Waiting is the hardest part, but that's where MLB is with possible expansion.