Dave Dombrowski met with reporters via Zoom Friday afternoon shortly after being named the Phillies’ first-ever president of baseball operations.
The team made the news official just after 1 p.m. with a statement from managing partner John Middleton:
This is a great day for the Philadelphia Phillies. David Dombrowski is one of the most accomplished executives this great game has ever seen, and we are thrilled to welcome him to Philadelphia. Between David and 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.
Notably, that was it from Middleton. No lengthy, show-stealing diatribes about potted plants, no moaning over financial constraints spurred by the pandemic, no citations of second-half bullpen ERAs this time around. Frankly, it was probably a smart play by Middleton and the team to leave him out of the ensuing news conference. In case you have missed it, he hasn’t exactly helped himself or the perception of his franchise during his (and Andy MacPhail’s) most recent media availabilities.
Instead, it was the 64-year-old Dombrowski, a two-time Baseball America Executive of the Year, left alone to answer questions about how his surprising marriage with the Phillies came to be (aside from the whole $20 million part).
How did it go? I thought it went well, actually.
Dombrowski’s ability to adequately navigate a media session is worth half the $20 million.
— Bob Wankel (@BobWankelCB) December 11, 2020
Now for some observations from the nearly 50-minute call.
A Professional Session
Look, not to belabor the point, but the organization’s top decision-makers haven’t exactly knocked it out of the park recently with these things. What jumped out most to me had nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with tone and honesty.
Dombrowski was both thoughtful and elaborate with his answers. Sure, it’s day one and this was not a situation where he was getting grilled over a bad decision or lost season, but this was the first time in a very long time that there wasn’t a total head-scratching moment in one of these sessions. This felt like a professional exchange with an experienced guy who not only has a feel for how he wants to operate but also a feel for how to convey those ideas to inquiring minds.
Philly Will Like Him
Obviously, this one comes with a caveat. The Phillies must ultimately win. In the interim, however, the majority of Phillies fans will like Dombrowski. I mean, tell me this isn’t the ultimate wish list of many disgruntled fans:
- He prefers starting pitchers who can work six or seven innings into games.
- He prefers having a closer capable of finishing games.
- He also likes hitters that can put the ball in play, ones who aren’t all-or-nothing types.
My dad and all of you other “old-school” baseball people are going to love this guy. Crazy, by the way, that the above criteria falls into the category of “old school” thinking.
Dombrowski noted multiple times that he anticipates the team will have “flexibility” regarding its spending. However, he also noted he expects the payroll to decrease from last year’s number (pre COVID-19). The fear of many who are skeptical over the hire is that Dombrowski is a spend big, go big, worry later kind of guy. There’s some truth to that assessment, but it does not seem he will be able to apply such a philosophy here– at least not at first.
When will the Phillies be good again? That’s the question everybody wants answered. Dombrowski, who used the word “retool” not “rebuild,” said he wants to win this year but was also quick to point out the team isn’t one player away.
He is certainly right about that.
My guess is that he will take year one to survey things and make modest moves as he concludes what ails the franchise. So, where does that put the timeline to win? Well, here’s what we know:
- The Phillies aren’t going “all-in” on 2021.
- The Phillies want to win.
- The Phillies haven’t won.
The guess here is that 2022 or 2023 is the believed “go for it” target.
I suspect that Middleton is tired of hearing about his shortcomings as an owner and knows the only way to change the perception is by winning. Speculation on my end, but he strikes me as someone who thoroughly enjoyed his Bryce Harper victory lap back in 2019. He also strikes me as someone who is aware that fans in this city have done a total 180 on him from two years ago.
The Phillies aren’t close enough to be reckless in 2021, but they’re not far enough away to justify (or sell to the fans) another 3-4 year climb. If that were the thinking, there’s no way Dombrowski would even be here. Of course, it’s one thing to project a date. It’s an entirely different thing to hit that projection.
A Weird Fit
One concern I (and others) had about this hire was that Dombrowski is most definitely an exec who prefers traditional scouting over analytics. Not only have the Phillies spent aggressively to build an analytics department in recent years, they’ve been progressive thinkers in terms of hiring data-oriented player development staff. This is an organization that has become increasingly enamored with Driveline, a data-driven player development model, and that seems like an imperfect fit with Dombrowski.
He was asked about his overall scouting vs. analytics philosophy and talked about blending both. I don’t know if there’s any other way to answer that question this early on in the process but it was a reasonable response. That’s the goal– one that previously wasn’t met by the team.
It doesn’t sound like there will be immediate wholesale changes, but I am curious to see if the Phillies stay the course with their current player development models or if those philosophies change a year or two out from now.
Be sure to check out the latest episode of Crossed Up: A Phillies Podcast for more on what the Dombrowski hire means for the franchise moving forward.