Red Sox Review: Boston kisses 2019 goodbye with a sloppy dismissal of Dave Dombrowski; so now what?

It feels like this Red Sox season has just been one excruciatingly long, drawn-out road to get to the point where we can finally, officially give up on them. Given the incredibly frustrating roller coaster season that this team has had, it feels safe to assume that a good number of fans soft-quit on them weeks (or even months) ago. But perhaps there still remained a sliver of hope that they'd somehow get hot and find a stretch of sustained success to close out the season and sneak into the playoffs. 

But, for better or for worse, it's finally over. The long road finally brought us to its final destination over the weekend, and that destination arrived in very emphatic fashion -- with the firing of Dave Dombrowski. 

Boston's President of Baseball Ops was axed in the middle of the Red Sox-Yankees game on Sunday night and, if it came as a surprise to you, just know you're not alone. Apparently it caught a number of people within the Red Sox organization by surprise, too -- including Dombrowski and manager Alex Cora. 

Though the Red Sox aren't yet mathematically eliminated from postseason contention -- they're eight games back of the second Wild Card spot with 18 games remaining -- this season is over, and the firing of Dombrowski recognizes that. As a fan, what better reason to give up hope than the team itself giving up hope? 

At long last, you're free from the infuriating grasp of the 2019 Red Sox -- one of the most frustrating and disappointing Sox teams that I can remember. 

But before we close the book on this team, this season and this weekly column, let's dive into the Dombrowski firing a bit and take a look ahead at what might be in store for the 2020 Red Sox.

Then: September 10, 2018: 98-46, 1st in AL East, 8.5 game lead Now: September 10, 2019: 76-68, 3rd in AL East, 18.5 games back

The Dombrowski aftermath

It's not entirely surprising that the Red Sox decided to part ways with Dombrowski. It might feel a bit sudden, especially considering the club is less than a year removed from a third straight AL East crown, a World Series title and arguably the best season in franchise history. But that's also part of the reason that this season has been such a massive disappointment. 

This is largely the same team as the one that reached historic heights last season, and there's really no excuse for why the wheels have fallen off so hard this year. The team is on pace for an 86-76 finish this year, which may not seem horrible in a vacuum, but when you've got a top-five offense and the highest payroll in baseball, it's unacceptable and someone has to pay the price. 

It makes sense for Dombrowski to be that guy considering the way this season has played out and the reported disagreements over organizational approach and spending. What makes less sense, however, is the way that both the firing and the aftermath was handled by the Red Sox. 

I guess we shouldn't be too shocked that Boston's ownership group has made a mess of a leadership change. After all, this has become kind of their thing. They win, then they find an ugly way to move on, raising plenty of eyebrows in the process. 

It's not just that Dombrowski was fired -- again, that's understandable. It's that he was fired during the middle of a game at Fenway Park, less than an hour after standing on the field as part of pre-game ceremonies with the executive leadership of the club. It's that the Red Sox caught him off-guard, then dropped the news dump shortly after the Patriots' season-opener. It's that, the next day, they left Cora all alone to field a barrage of questions about a firing he apparently knew very little about. 

Then, on top of that, they brought David Ortiz back to throw out the first pitch on Monday night in what was his first appearance at Fenway Park since being shot in the Dominican Republic in June. It's something that Red Sox fans have been waiting for, and it should have been an incredible celebration for arguably the most beloved Red Sox player of this generation. But instead, because of the timing, it felt a little dirty. You couldn't help but escape the feeling that it was a hastily thrown-together PR move on behalf of an ownership that will do anything to deflect from taking blame. Ortiz deserved better than that. 

And the thing is, the more the Red Sox senior leadership has tried to step out of the way of the Dombrowski firing, the more they've stepped in their own way, at least from an optics standpoint. All they had to do was show face, thank Dombrowski for his work in putting together a World Series championship but say this season was unacceptable and they're looking for a change in direction and leadership at the top level. Who's going to fault them for that? Is that so hard? 

What does this mean for the 2020 Red Sox?

It'd be just lovely to be able to sit here and write that Dombrowski's firing means nothing but roses ahead, but it seems like the new leadership is going to have to deliver Red Sox fans a bitter pill to swallow this winter. That pill may taste like losing Mookie Betts or J.D. Martinez -- or possibly both. 

When Red Sox ownership hired Dombrowski after he was fired by the Tigers, he came to town with a reputation. He was known for quickly building winners, even if it meant he had to spend tons of money and deplete farm systems to do so. With that in mind, nobody can really be surprised that that's exactly what he did in Boston -- he cut checks and traded prospects, and as a result Boston got its 2018 World Series title. 

But it also shouldn't come as much of a surprise that ownership wasn't overly thrilled with Dombrowski's spending habits, especially once the wins slowed. John Henry had to pay nearly $12 million in tax overages this season, and it wasn't exactly $12 million well spent when you look at the standings. If you're going to spend a ton of money -- even with a franchise as rich as the Red Sox -- you're going to have a shorter leash if things don't go right. 

Now, with Dombrowski out of the picture, the Red Sox reportedly want to get below the luxury-tax threshold ($208 million next season) to reset their penalties. According to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, that means they're likely to part ways with Betts and/or Martinez this offseason.

In re-signing Eovaldi and then reaching a long-term deal with Chris Sale, Dombrowski put the Sox in a position where – based on their payroll projections and a significant desire to get under the luxury tax threshold sometime in the next two years to reset the penalty structure – they'll likely end up parting with J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, or possibly even both this winter.

Obviously, that's probably not going to come as welcome news to Sox fans. Betts and Martinez have been two of the best players not only in Boston's lineup, but in the entire league over the past two years, and now we're facing the reality that they may be shipped out because the billionaire owner of a highly lucrative organization would rather not cut a check to keep them around. 

Pardon my French, but f--- that. 

It's especially tough to grasp the idea of letting Betts go. The 26-year old is a top player in baseball, just one year removed from an MVP season. He does just about everything right and is the kind of superstar that teams like the Red Sox have the luxury of being able to afford. 

The sad reality of baseball is that stars like Betts often come up in smaller organizations that don't have the ability to keep them around once they hit the open market, where teams like Boston often are quick to swoop in to poach them with a blank check. And yet here we are, with the Red Sox now apparently willing to let an elite talent -- one they nurtured and grew themselves -- go elsewhere not because they don't have the money, but because they're too cheap to shell it out. 

And for what it's worth, Betts, who has always been insistent on making sure he gets fair market value (as he should), sounds like he knows this could be his last season in Boston. 

Martinez can opt out of his contract after this season, so perhaps he chooses to hit the market and ownership is satisfied enough with his savings that they elect to keep Betts around. That seems like the better of (at least) two evils, but it would still be disappointing considering how impactful Martinez has been since arriving to Boston.

But even if they do ultimately carry Mookie into next season, that's not necessarily an automatic win considering he's currently one year away from free agency. Without a long-term extension this winter, you head into next season with an extra year of Betts in his prime, but at what cost? There's a very real possibility that he could walk for nothing, and then you have to live with knowing you passed on the opportunity to cash in with a big trade return, only to lose the player anyway.

So, yeah, it's shaping up to be a very long and stressful offseason with plenty of uncertainty. Buckle up.

What's next?

Boston, welcome to football/hockey/basketball season.

Pete Blackburn is from Boston, so there's a good chance you don't like him already. He has been a writer at CBS Sports since 2017 and usually aims to take a humorous and light-hearted approach to the often... Full Bio

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