BOSTON (CBS) — Dave Dombrowski has been here for nearly two years now, has tweaked the Red Sox and taken them to the playoffs, tweaked them further with designs on winning a championship. Now the Red Sox are 37 games into the 2017 season, possessors of a mediocre and uninspiring 19-18 record, and one cannot help but start to wonder if their president of baseball operations has backed himself into a corner.
1. The Red Sox don’t have a great contingency plan at third base.
Certainly Dombrowski inherited Pablo Sandoval, who is back on the disabled list with a sprained knee. Maybe Sandoval will come back and play at a level far closer to his capabilities. But if he does not, we will be left to wonder whether Dombrowski did enough to protect the Red Sox from a seemingly deteriorating player who effectively missed all of last season with a shoulder injury and spent the winter at the fat farm.
In Sandoval’s absence and ineffectiveness, the Red Sox’ “solution” at third base has included Brock Holt, Marco Hernandez, Jeff Rutledge and Deven Marrero. Combined, those players have produced both the worst offense and the worst defense at the position in the American League. How does Dombrowski fix the problem? Good question. Because with Rafael Devers still early in his development and the Red Sox seemingly intent on staying below the luxury tax, the options seem limited.
2. The starting rotation lacks depth.
This has nothing to do with having a stud as the No. 5 starter. It has everything to do with viable options at the sixth, seventh, and eight spots in the organization in the event of injury. In Dombrowski’s defense, the Red Sox have had a rash of ailments in the rotation. At the same time, they entered the season with three starters (Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz) who came with durability questions.
So what was the solution? Kyle Kendrick, Brian Johnson and Henry Owens. While Owens hasn’t pitched in the big leagues this year, Johnson and Kendrick have posted a combined 10.80 ERA. Is that really the best a team with the Red Sox’ resources could do?
3. The bullpen has been what amounts to a money pit.
Of course, we use this term figuratively. Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg don’t make a lot in real dollars, but the Red Sox traded, among others, starter Wade Miley, prospect Mauricio Dubon and third baseman Travis Shaw to acquire them. Two of those players (Miley and Shaw) might help address the Red Sox’ current needs, which is not an attempt to second-guess those deals. Rather, it’s an attempt to point out that the Red Sox gave up something else and made themselves vulnerable in the process.
Here’s the real second-guess: Dombrowski had to trade for Thornburg because the acquisition of Smith, who was an obvious injury risk, blew up in his face. Now Thornburg is hurt, too. The good news is that Dombrowski also acquired Craig Kimbrel, but the bottom line is that he has sunk an awful lot of resources into a bullpen that still doesn’t seem very reliable or consistent, no matter the overall numbers.
4. The managerial situation is no better than it was a year ago and might actually be worse.
This is obviously a matter of perspective because there is every chance Dombrowski regards Farrell as baseball’s modern version of Jim Leyland. But we doubt it. Prior to last season, the Red Sox gave Torey Lovullo a contract that made him the Bruce Cassidy of the Red Sox – a seeming replacement-in-waiting. Dombrowski had his chances to dismiss Farrell, but didn’t and Lovullo is now gone.
And then, he said this after the season: “I do not feel that in-game strategy is the biggest thing as a manager. I think it’s important but there are other things that are probably more important. As I’ve often told managers, to me the most important thing for a manager is that the club plays up to their capabilities day in and day out, which means they’re communicating with their player.”
Is Farrell to blame for this early-season mediocrity and generally uninspiring malaise? Not entirely. But the Red Sox aren’t playing “up to their capabilities” either. Remember that the Red Sox currently have few in-house solutions for their problems and want to remain under the luxury tax. They don’t have a ton more money to spend. If and when the team’s substandard play persists, Dombrowski may be forced to fire a manager he could have fired a long time ago, all after ownership subsequently picked up Farrell’s option for 2018 and sunk even more money into him.
At the moment, there is obviously a lot of baseball to play.
But if you’re Dave Dombrowski at the moment, your options to fix a team for which you built a short championship window (three years or so) seem decidedly thin.