Two weeks after the Tigers fired him as president and GM, veteran executive Dave Dombrowski has landed on his feet in Boston. Yesterday, the Red Sox announced they had hired Dombrowski as the president of baseball operations. Ben Cherington, Boston’s general manager, stepped down following the announcement.
Not much has gone right in Boston this season. Despite signing Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval in the off-season, the Red Sox have struggled to compete in the parity-ridden American League and currently sit in last place in the AL East at 53-66.
But landing Dombrowski is a game changer for Boston. Although Dombrowksi won’t swing a bat or throw a single pitch, advanced analytics suggest that Dombrowski is just as valuable as an MVP-calibre player, and a lot more cost effective.
According to research done by Lewie Pollis, a baseball statistician who used sabermetrics to quantify the value of baseball executives as his senior thesis at Brown in 2014, Dombrowski ranked as the 6th best GM in the MLB over an 18 year period (1995-2013). As Pollis laid out in a piece written for Deadspin from 2014, a good GM can cost his or her team about 7 or 8 wins. For comparison’s sake, Byrce Harper currently leads the majors with 7.1 WAR (wins above replacement), and AL MVP front-runners Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson boast 7.07 and 6.65 WARs, respectively.
Just after Dombrowski’s firing, Rob Arthur at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com took a close look at Pollis’s research and ultimately called Dombrowski the best free agent in baseball. Just two weeks later, the Red Sox have already locked him up and the off-season hasn’t even started.
But perhaps the most interesting nugget from Arthur’s piece is the fact that, despite his extremely high value, Dombrowski will be a relatively cheap acquisition for the Red Sox. Arthur notes that based on the money the Dodgers paid GM Andrew Friedman last year, it’s unlikely Dombrowski will make more than $US10 million per year.
Considering Dombrowski’s value is up there with the likes of Harper and Trout, $US10 million per year is a great deal for the Red Sox. To land a player of that calibre, the team would either have to make some sort of blockbuster trade that included top talent and prospects, or pay a huge sum well north of the $US10 million per year range.
Now, it’s tricky to quantify the actual value of any given executive both because there aren’t stats to measure front offices’ success and because a team’s record isn’t always indicative of how “well” an executive has done. Pollis nevertheless suggests that Dombrowski has historically done a better job in trades than in signing free-agents. Perhaps his best trade came in 2007, when he traded Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller (then-prospects) to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera. Considering how disappointing Sandoval and Ramirez have been in Fenway, Red Sox nation will undoubtedly be hoping Dombrowski will use some of this trade savvy to get rid of them and right the ship before next season.
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