Red Sox fire Dave Dombrowski: Five questions facing Boston's next GM, including the futures of Mookie Betts and Alex Cora
The Red Sox will no longer be guided by Dombrowski, and they have a lot of questions to answer
On Sunday, the Boston Red Sox just 11 months after winning the World Series. No official reason has been given on why Dombrowski was booted (and the team will not hold a press conference about the decision), but his teams had won at least 93 games in all three of his full seasons at the helm. While the Red Sox have disappointed this year, they remain on pace to win 86 games.
Anytime a team unexpectedly changes course like this, it's bound to have big-picture ramifications. As such, we wanted to address some of the biggest questions facing whomever becomes the next top Red Sox decision maker.
Below you'll find our examination of the five most pressing matters in Boston.
1. What to do with Betts?
How Dombrowski's dismissal impacts the Mookie Betts situation is the obvious starting point. For those unaware, Betts will become a free agent after 2020. He's made it known that he intends to test the open market as a means of ensuring he receives his market value. (Fair enough.) Yet .
That would seem to be a misstep, given Betts is one of the top players in baseball. He's the reigning AL MVP, a 26-year-old who plays a mean outfield and who has a career 134 OPS+. It seems unlikely the Red Sox will receive a better long-term player in return than Betts himself.
Still, Red Sox supporters were probably not encouraged by Betts' comments on Sunday night, when he said that the Dombrowski firing shows that baseball "is still a business."
Betts is right, of course, and he's right in a way that suggests he won't put some ill-conceived notion of loyalty above getting the best possible contract for himself.
If the Red Sox do shop Betts, it'll be interesting to see how the market plays out. Teams have shied away from sacrificing top prospects for one-year rentals -- particularly those who will cost more than $20 million, like Betts -- yet if there's ever a player worth paying the ransom note for, it's someone like Betts, whose addition can push a fringe contender into the playoff picture.
2. Will payroll remain a luxury?
Betts' status as it pertains to the Red Sox will go a long way in dictating Boston's payroll. But whether or not Betts remains, it's worth wondering how much the Red Sox intend to spend.
The Red Sox have the highest payroll in baseball, and have invested at least $230 million in each of the last two seasons. Boston has exceeded the luxury tax in three of the last four seasons, and last winter owner John Henry had to dish out a tax payment of nearly $12 million. Henry will have to cut another (relatively) sizable check this winter, too.
Because the Red Sox have a lackluster farm system, their best avenue of improving their roster is to spend money. Yet if Henry decrees the Red Sox must get back under the luxury-tax line ($208 million next season), then that shapes how Boston's next point guard goes about business.
As it stands, you have to figure David Price and his $31 million tax number will return. Ditto for Chris Sale ($25.6 million), Nathan Eovaldi ($17 million), and a few others. J.D. Martinez could theoretically opt out, sparing the Red Sox $22 million in tax costs in the process. Cot's Contracts projects the Red Sox to have about $77 million in breathing room before hitting the tax line.
If the Red Sox do move to stay under the tax, it wouldn't be too surprising. The rest of the league has treated the luxury tax like an unofficial salary cap. It will be disappointing, however, given the core in place and the Red Sox's standing as one of sports' most powerful brands.
3. What does this mean for the rotation?
Arguably the most disappointing aspect of Boston's team this season has been the rotation. Chris Sale has been hurt and has performed worse than his usual excellence; David Price has also been hurt; and beyond them Eduardo Rodriguez (who may earn down-ballot Cy Young consideration) is the only Boston pitcher with more than five starts and an ERA+ over 90. Turns out it's hard to win when 40 percent of the rotation is flirting with replacement-level.
The Red Sox were going to need at least one new starter anyway, since Rick Porcello will qualify for free agency at year's end. But if the Red Sox elect to go cheap this winter, that will complicate their attempts at fixing their starting five. It could open the door to them auditioning internal fixes -- think Bryan Mata, Tanner Houck, and Mike Shawaryn, among others.
Those aren't the kinds of names one typically associates with a competitive high-payroll team. So, is there any reason to think the Red Sox will do something radical and tear things down?
4. Is there any reason to rebuild?
You'd think not.
As previously mentioned, the Red Sox have a number of high-priced commitments already in place. They also have a number of talented youngsters under team control for years to come. Xander Bogaerts was kept off the free-agent market with an extension back in the spring, meanwhile Andrew Benintendi (2022) and Rafael Devers (2023) are under team control for at least four more seasons apiece.
Yes, those well-compensated veterans will likely see their performance decline with age. Yes, Betts could theoretically leave after next season -- or be traded this winter. But we're talking about a team with the spending potential of the Red Sox here, not the Tampa Bay Rays.
Embarking on a full-scale teardown would seem to accomplish just one goal: saving Henry money. That isn't something Red Sox fans should willingly sign up for, no matter how disappointing this season has been.
5. What happens with Cora?
You have to feel a little bad for manager Alex Cora, who could find his job status speculated about despite winning something like 194 games over his first two seasons.
Our guess is that Cora is safe, in part because of his contract. The Red Sox signed him to an extension back in November that tacked on a guaranteed season plus a club option for 2022. Teams that are enjoying champagne showers sometimes make regrettable decisions. But there's no reason to rush to dismiss Cora -- not with his track record, not to just start over again.
But, of course, weirder things have happened -- like the architect of a championship club getting fired less than a year into the honeymoon period.
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