Considering Dave Dombrowski worked without a general manager for all but one season and the first six games of another in his last 18 years as the head of a team’s baseball operations, Tuesday’s appointment of Sam Fuld to the Phillies’ GM role begged two questions.
Why the need, 12 days into his Phillies tenure, for Dombrowski to hire a GM?
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And how much input will Fuld actually have in big personnel decisions?
“I have a lot of energy and I look to do this for a while,” said Dombrowski, who signed a four-year contract with the Phillies. “I’m not, though, 44. I’m 64. And if I’m doing my job correctly, as Sam progresses, he will be the guy making those types of decisions, the final decisions. That’s where my goal is.”
But Dombrowski remains as hands-on as it gets. At the outset, he said Fuld will “assist me with everything that takes place at the big-league level,” with a particular emphasis on his area of greatest expertise: melding new-age data and technology with traditional scouting and instincts.
In three years with the Phillies, Fuld has gained a reputation as a rising star for his fluency in both languages, so much so that he emerged last month as runner-up for the Boston Red Sox’s managerial vacancy reclaimed by Alex Cora. Fuld, 39, has an understanding of analytics that comes with an economics degree from Stanford and the ability to relate to players and coaches from eight years as a major-league outfielder who had to earn each of his 1,354 career at-bats.
But the choice of Fuld is another indication that Dombrowski has full autonomy over the Phillies’ baseball operations. Despite having not met Fuld in person, he considered only Fuld and Jorge Velandia, who was named assistant GM. Interim GM Ned Rice, a protege of team president Andy MacPhail and top lieutenant of deposed Matt Klentak, wasn’t a candidate and will revert to assistant GM duties.
“What I was looking for in the general manager’s role, [Fuld and Velandia] had the type of backgrounds and personalities that I like in that role and I thought would complement me,” Dombrowski said. “They were the only two that I interviewed.”
The Phillies hired Fuld after the 2017 season to the newly created position of “player information coordinator.” In that role, he helped integrate analytics into game planning, serving as a conduit between a growing research-and-development staff and the coaches and players. He also worked as an outfield instructor on then-manager Gabe Kapler’s staff.
Last year, Fuld moved into more of a front-office position, heading up a four-person “integrative baseball performance” department that was formed in part as a response to a surge of injuries in the 2019 season. Fuld’s group initially was charged with exploring advances in sports science to aid in injury prevention at all levels of the organization, although the focus shifted to minimizing the Phillies’ exposure to COVID-19.
Mostly, though, Fuld was asked to improve the coordination and communication between the medical/training staffs, the coaching staff, and the growing R&D division. As GM, he figures to keep his focus there as Dombrowski addresses other issues.
“I am excited about continuing to integrate our departments,” Fuld said. “There’s so much information. It can be overwhelming. There’s information from the medical side, the R&D side, the pro scouting side, the strength and conditioning side. And I think the really good organizations are able to take that information, synthesize it and digest it and create good ways of evaluating players and developing players. I’m excited about helping that process forward.”
Until now, Fuld appeared to be on a managerial track. Before throwing his hat into the ring for the Red Sox job, the New Hampshire native turned down interviews for multiple openings, including the Texas Rangers’ job that went to Chris Woodward after the 2017 season.
But Fuld explained that he believes many of the skills required to be a good manager are applicable to being a GM. He also isn’t the type to set his sail in one particular direction. If managing interests him again someday, he might look to get back into the dugout.
“I know in the last three years I’ve had my mind changed a lot, so it’s almost a fruitless exercise for me to look too far down the road,” Fuld said. “Some people are lucky to have their 10-, 15-, 20-year plan all paved out in their mind, and I’m just not that. Honestly, I’m focused on being a really good general manager for the Phillies right now.”
In doing so, Dombrowski hopes Fuld can learn as much from him as he did in 1978 from Chicago White Sox general manager Roland Hemond.
“I assisted him with everything, but he grew me and helped me get to the point where I could become a general manager elsewhere,” Dombrowski said. “And I’m at a different phase of my life. I really like to work with young individuals that you can mentor. I think it’s a lot of fun to do that, and that’s my goal.”
Fuld’s goal: “I’m excited to put another [World Series] ring on [Dombrowski’s] finger.”
If he’s able to help, this partnership will work just fine.