Joe Girardi was a major-league catcher when Dave Dombrowski was building the Expos into a pennant contender and then the Marlins into World Series champions. The Phillies manager guided the Yankees against Dombrowski’s pennant-winning Tigers and watched Dombrowski turn the Red Sox into world champions.
Girardi, for roughly three decades, competed against teams built by Dombrowski, who was hired last week as the team’s president of baseball operations. Finally, Girardi is happy to be on the same side.
“I’ve known him for a long time and I’m really excited,” Girardi said Monday. “Because wherever he went, he built a winner.”
The Phillies were attracted to Dombrowski for the same reasons that drew them last winter to Girardi. Dombrowski, 64, has won two world championships and possesses a track record — like Girardi — of success.
But there is heavy lifting to be done this winter before the two can win together in Philadelphia.
“I’ve had a number of calls with him since he was hired,” Girardi said. “I’ve probably been on the phone maybe a total of three to four hours with him talking about everything that has to do with our club and it has been good. I’m excited he is here.”
Dombrowski, speaking last week, seemed just as excited about having Girardi as his manager.
“When we played against him, we knew that he knew how to handle a ballclub, handle his pitching staff,” Dombrowski said. “They were always prepared, played hard, played well and they won. I was always impressed with Joe. He’s also a person I’ve gotten to know throughout the years, I’ve really liked him. I know he’s a good baseball man, very intelligent, good family man. We’re thrilled to have him. I think he’s a championship type of manager and that’s what you look to have at every position, so we’re fortunate.”
Girardi expects the Phillies to focus this winter on upgrading their bullpen and also address situations at catcher and shortstop. The bullpen was baseball’s worst in 90 years and will require several new arms this winter.
J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius are free agents and it remains unclear how active the Phillies will be this offseason. The Phillies said they lost $145 million last season by playing 30 home games without fans and they reduced their full-time work staff last month by more than 80 positions.
Even with the Mets out of the Realmuto pursuit, it could be difficult for the Phillies to meet the catcher’s demands. The Phillies had a record payroll last season and Dombrowski said last month that he expects it to be lower in 2021.
“A lot of that will come down to what our payroll is going to be,” Girardi said. “You just don’t have endless amounts of money to spend is a lot of that.”
Dombrowski has had success at every stop and he has used different formulas to win. He was no longer with the Expos in 1994 when they were on pace to win 105 games before the strike ended the season, but Dombrowski did develop the bulk of that roster by beefing up the organization’s farm system.
He joined the Marlins when they were an expansion franchise and won a World Series in season five by adding several high-priced veterans. He took the Tigers through a rebuilding project to turn them from perennial losers into two-time pennant winners and won a World Series in Boston by trading prospects for proven stars like Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale.
Dombrowski inherits a Phillies roster led by Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, and Zack Wheeler but also a farm system ranked in the bottom third of baseball.
It could be difficult for Dombrowski to use his Boston formula — trade prospects — in Philadelphia and it seems unlikely that his Marlins formula — sign free agents — would have ownership’s backing this winter. The Detroit formula — a rebuild — is out after Dombrowski said the Phillies are a “retool.”
The Phillies finished last season in third place and could not crack an expanded postseason field. But there’s still talent on the roster. Dombrowski does have holes to fill — the Phillies could use upgrades in center field and at the back of the rotation along with Girardi’s suggestions — but they can be built into a postseason team. Dombrowski will just have to find the right formula.
“I know he has talked about a lot of different ideas and I’m sure he has a ton of ideas. He has been doing this a long, long time,” Girardi said. “He wants to win, but he also wants to build a consistent winner and not just a one-year fix. So I’m not really sure how that is going to manifest itself because a lot of times you can talk about signing free agents, but it takes two sides. The other side has to want to sign, too. A lot of times it will come down to money or a lot of different things. He is well aware that we have areas we need to address.”