PHILADELPHIA – Dave Dombrowski is off the table for the Toronto Blue Jays as a replacement for retiring president Paul Beeston, and whether or not he was ever a legitimate option before he joined the Boston Red Sox as president of baseball operations is open to some conjecture.
While the Blue Jays did have some initial conversations with the star executive, there’s a sense the longtime Detroit Tigers president and general manager always had his eye on Fenway Park, especially given his history with team owner John Henry with the then Florida Marlins.
Remember that when the Tigers stunned baseball by releasing Dombrowski from his contract two weeks ago, owner Mike Ilitch noted in a statement that he wanted to “afford him the time to pursue other career opportunities.”
Dombrowski is too clever not to have known something good was out there for him.
That being said, the Blue Jays shouldn’t be too broken up about this, given that a reasonable case can be made that their best move may be promoting general manager Alex Anthopoulos into a president of baseball operations role.
At this point it’s reasonably safe to assume Anthopoulos, whose contract expires Oct. 31, will be offered some sort of extension, at minimum to continue on as GM. He’s earned it, and in some ways, he may be the club’s most important free agent, one sure to be seriously considered for the general manager vacancies in Milwaukee, Anaheim and surely others.
But there are multiple reasons having him assume a president of baseball operations role might be the right long-term play, especially if the ownership at Rogers Communications Inc., reaches the conclusion that the baseball side of the team is in good shape.
If they deem it is, why set up the potential for dysfunction by adding a layer above Anthopoulos that may or may not share his philosophies? Does this kitchen need more cooks?
The Red Sox hired Dombrowski because they’re unhappy with their baseball side, especially after handing out big contracts to Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval that are near-nuclear right now. Dombrowski invited Ben Cherington to continue on as GM, but given the circumstances he opted to resign, understanding that his new boss was brought in to undo at least some, if not much of his work.
Unless the next Blue Jays president wants to strip the club down and reset it – and really, the organization is positioned reasonably well to compete for the next few seasons, so why would you want to do that? – such an influential voice at president isn’t necessarily needed.
Intriguing is that at last week’s owners meetings in Chicago, Anthopoulos travelled alone to represent the Blue Jays. Beeston sent him in his place, and whether there’s something to be read into that isn’t clear, but it marks a noteworthy departure from the norm.
At minimum, it represents some sort of emergence for Anthopoulos, who’s generally been kept away from higher level type functions by Beeston, who’s handled all the club’s planning sessions and strategy work with ownership. That’s meant little exposure at those levels for Anthopoulos, who may be viewed by some as an extension of Beeston.
But much like he had a vastly different approach to the GM job than predecessor J.P. Ricciardi did, he probably has a substantially different outlook than Beeston on how to make the Blue Jays function more effectively as a business within the Rogers corporate structure, and establishing guiding principles with which the baseball team can operate under in the coming years.
The experience Anthopoulos has accumulated sets him up to hit the ground running while maintaining elements of continuity with the ability, and likely a desire, to adapt elements in need of change.
Still, until put into a position to execute his vision, the way he did when he replaced Ricciardi, Anthopoulos will simply fulfil his duties under the parameters Beeston has established.
Sorting through this is all, ideally before the season ends, is important for the Blue Jays given the number of pivotal roster decisions that will arrive in short order after the World Series. Some type of extension for Anthopoulos would certainly help in that regard, but establishing a lasting structure for the coming years is ideal since there are calls with long-term implications at hand.
On the baseball side, decisions loom on extending Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, how far to go in attempting to re-sign David Price and trying to plug significant holes in the rotation, while off the field, work to leverage the club’s current success and planning for renovations at Rogers Centre need to take place.
Maybe Dombrowski was the right man for all that, but it doesn’t matter now. At minimum, Anthopoulos sets up as the right man for at least the baseball end of things, but perhaps he’s the guy for a whole lot more, too.