Dave Dombrowski and Joe Girardi have a nice collection of World Series rings (a combined total of six between them) and a long history of winning (a combined total of 21 playoff appearances). Now, for the first time, they are working together and they both say it is a relationship they relish.
“We have a great manager in Joe Girardi,” Dombrowski said last week after becoming the Phillies president of baseball operations. “He has won.”
Girardi returned the praise Monday during a Zoom call with reporters.
“I’ve known him for a long time and I’m really excited because wherever he went he has built a winner,” the Phillies manager said. “I knew of him as a [general] manager because [the New York Yankees] had to compete against those great Detroit teams that he built and a lot of times they knocked us out of the playoffs. You talk about Montreal, I know he left before they got really good in 1994 and then he went to Florida and then Detroit and Boston. I’m really excited.”
Dombrowski’s fingerprints were all over the 1994 Expos, a team that could have saved baseball in Montreal if not for the longest work stoppage in MLB history that led to the cancellation of the World Series.
It’s great that Girardi and Dombrowski have mutual admiration, but the situation they find themselves in with the Phillies is different — and not in a particularly good way — than any they have been in before.
The Expos could have won 10 straight World Series and they still would have been the No. 2 franchise in Montreal. A free-agent spending spree helped lead to Dombrowski’s first World Series title in 1997 with the Florida Marlins and that was followed by a lengthy rebuild with Detroit.
It took five seasons for Dombrowski to build a winner, but when he did, the Tigers won big, reaching the World Series in 2006 for the first time in 22 years. It took five more years after that for Dombrowski’s Tigers to reach the postseason again.
That kind of patience isn’t going to fly in Philadelphia and it shouldn’t. Managing partner John Middleton is not paying a hefty price for Dombrowski to come up with a five-year plan. At the age of 64, Dombrowski doesn’t have time for that kind of patience either.
But this also is not Boston, circa 2015. If Dombrowski found Red Sox fans impatient after consecutive last-place seasons, he might be surprised at the low tolerance level for losing among a Phillies fan base that has not sniffed the postseason since Ryan Howard collapsed in front of home plate on Oct. 7, 2011, a date that lives in infamy down at Citizens Bank Park. The goodwill the Red Sox earned by winning three World Series in 10 years after wining zero in the previous 86 seasons does not exist here.
The other thing the Red Sox had when Dombrowski arrived that the Phillies apparently do not now is a huge appetite for spending. Dombrowski fixed Boston’s pitching problems in a hurry, but it helped that he was able to fill a rotation hole by spending $217 million on a seven-year deal for David Price and that he was able to take on the remaining $37.5 million on closer Craig Kimbrel’s salary that was needed to make a deal with San Diego.
The Phillies have a lot more holes than the Red Sox team Dombrowski inherited and they have a lot less cash with which to fill them.
“We’ve talked about the areas we need to address,” Girardi said. “Obviously we lost our shortstop [Didi Gregorius] and we lost our catcher [J.T. Realmuto]. We’ve had struggles in our bullpen and he’s well aware of that. A lot of that will come down to what our payroll is going to be. You just don’t have endless amounts of money to spend. [Dombrowski] has talked about a lot of different ideas and I’m sure he has a ton of ideas.”
Like Dombrowski, Girardi has never managed in a situation like this one before. Outside expectations were zero when he managed the Marlins and their major-league-low $15 million payroll in 2006. That’s why he was National League manager of the year despite having a losing record. During his 10 seasons with the Yankees, on the other hand, he never managed a team that had a payroll lower than second in baseball.
Girardi agreed with Dombrowski that the Phillies are retooling rather than rebuilding.
“I always believe we can make the playoffs,” Girardi said. “I don’t care what team we go to spring training with. And I do believe it is a retool. We have some really solid pieces, and any time you have three starters at the top of the rotation like we do, I don’t think that’s a rebuild. We had a young player in Alec [Bohm] who came up and was extremely successful and we’re excited about him for a full season. Are there areas we need to address? Yes, and we know that. We still have a lot of good pieces in place.”
The best piece of all, of course, is Bryce Harper and it’s safe to assume he did not sign with the Phillies to hear about a retool in year three of his contract. He’s 28, which should be his prime, and he has made it loud and clear that he’d like Realmuto to remain his teammate. If Dombrowski cannot get Middleton to re-sign the All-Star catcher, Harper is sure to be disappointed, at best, and disruptive, at worse.
“I think you always worry about how players are going to handle things when things maybe don’t go exactly the way they want or the way they think they should go,” Girardi said. “Obviously I’ll sit down and have some discussions with him about [Realmuto].
“I’m sure Dave will probably have discussions with Bryce, saying, ‘Look, we want to win just as bad as you do. Trust us. And we’re going to do everything we can to bring a championship to Philadelphia.’ Sometimes things don’t go exactly the way you want, but you’ve got to trust us. You’ve got to trust Dave and what Dave is going to do.”
Dombrowski and Girardi have won a lot, but the situation they find themselves in with the Phillies might just be the most difficult of their decorated careers.