The hiring of Dave Dombrowski has sent some waves through the Phillies universe. A simple Twitter search will show you that the reaction to his hiring has more or less places people on two sides. Either you love it because it shows that the team is going to be doing everything it can to improve the team at the major league level, or you are lamenting the fact that Dombrowski will be gutting the farm system in order to make that improvement a reality, leaving the future of the organization in shambles.
These are both fair and unfair at the same time. On the one hand, we as a fanbase were discussing just this week how John Middleton was more or less betraying what he had said before when he said he would do whatever it takes to win. Telling everyone how he wanted his “f___ing trophy back”, then turning around and saying the team was hemorrhaging money and wouldn’t be able to spend turned public opinion on Middleton. Then the rumors of the team peddling Zack Wheeler after exactly one season with the team to help cover financial losses brought about ludicrous claims of player acquisitions from Middleton himself. There was simply nothing positive to look forward to when it came to following the team.
Now, we have a man being hired in Dombrowski that has won World Series as recently as 2018. His steering the Red Sox ship toward that ultimate goal led to the team hoisting the trophy for the fourth time since 2004. Mentioning that kind of success should make people feel joyous that the team has hired a man who has a clear vision of how he wants to lead a team back to glory.
Then you remember “all the deals” that Dombrowski has done that have hurt the team in the long-term, not just in Boston but also in Detroit and Miami. He made trades that hurt the team’s ability to compete with an influx of cheap, talented players from the minor leagues while also using free agency to saddle the team with onerous contracts that affected their ability to spend in the future. This has been a common refrain from those who disagree with this move, true or not.
There are merits to both of these arguments, but let’s look at another angle here.
Matt Gelb, in his combined reaction story with Jayson Stark for the Athletic, laid out a quote that leads it off that should make Phillies fans take notice.
The Phillies, according to sources, have made it clear to Dombrowski that they do not view this as a quick fix. Instead, they’ll be asking Dombrowski to first examine everything that went wrong over the last five years and, in some cases, undo much of what the previous regime installed. The fact that it had to come to this is an indictment of the previous regime, but a self-evaluation by the team’s ownership unearthed some difficult truths. Dombrowski brings credibility and the Phillies need that more than anything.
There are some things to unpack here, some reading between the lines. If what Gelb is saying is true (and there isn’t much reason to doubt it isn’t), then Middleton has come to the realization that many outside the organziation have been able to see for some time:
Andy MacPhail hoodwinked this organization.
The above quote talks about the “previous regime” that was in power “the last five years”. That encompasses the entire time that MacPhail was in charge of baseball operations in Philadelphia. In that time, MacPhail, as president, was allowed to set the course for the team’s philosophy and how they would proceed with player evaluation and development. MacPhail was also instrumental, if not in charge, of the hiring of Matt Klentak. Klentak was coming into his first job as a general manager, but did have some credentials and cache as an assistant in Anaheim and Baltimore. It’s not as if he wasn’t prepared to be a general manager, but in the case that he wasn’t, he’d have an experienced executive over top of him lending a guiding hand in case things went wrong.
Klentak was allowed to let hire his own manager...twice.
Klentak was allowed to install a program of player development that for the most part has yet to produce much at the big league level outside of Alec Bohm’s debut in 2020.
While it could be argued that that is why Klentak was the general manager, that is what his job was, it comes back to who gave Klentak that leeway in the first place? Who allowed the first time general manager to make these decisions without as much oversight?
From MacPhail, we got our annual “state of the franchise” moments where he was forced to confront the media and explain what had happened to the team. It’s where we got the infamous quote “If we don’t, we don’t” about making the playoffs. It’s where we learned about the team’s bullpen performance in the second half, where they had the fourth-best ERA as a unit, a laughable thought process at the time and one that has become more incomprehensible with hindsight.
Whatever you think of Klentak now, all of this falls back on MacPhail’s shoulders. He was the man placed in charge five years ago, the one who was supposed to develop an identity for the team and how it would return to prominence among the National League. Instead, we rarely saw him and when we did, we saw what looked like borderline apathy towards how the team was being run.
There are some things about Dave Dombrowski that he has done in his past that should give fans pause. There are ways he has gone about building a contender that should make you raise your eyebrows a bit. But at the very least, there is no doubt that he wanted to make the team better. He wanted the team to win, sometimes at all costs. And what we can now take solace in is this one simple fact: he isn’t MacPhail. That alone makes this hiring a good one. How good? Time will tell, but we should all be feeling more optimistic that MacPhail is no longer going to be making decisions about the Phillies. It can only help the team now and in the future.